It is no secret that the Obama administration has a tense relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu due to sharp differences on key foreign policy issues and clashing world views.
But an Israeli press report last Thursday suggested that the White House is considering going beyond the usual criticism and is mulling stronger actions.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that an anonymous Israeli official said that White House and State Department staff began a series of meetings to plan “active measures” to discourage the building of Israeli settlements soon after Netanyahu’s October visit to Washington.
The report surfaced the day after the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, agreed to hold new elections. The source probably was a liberal opposition leader who sought to undermine Netanyahu’s leadership by leaking the matter to Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper.
Right-wing Israeli commentators have dismissed the story as “political scare tactics” ahead of Israel’s elections, now scheduled for March 17.
The State Department also denied the report on Monday. Although the Obama administration has criticized settlement building as “illegitimate” and “counterproductive,” it has stopped short of taking action to penalize Netanyahu’s government, at least for now.
Now that Israel’s campaign season has begun, such an action could be interpreted as interfering in Israel’s internal affairs. It might even backfire by helping Netanyahu gain greater popular support by resisting foreign pressure.
The White House would be better served by pressing sanctions on Iran, rather than Israel. But it continues to oppose bipartisan congressional efforts to ratchet up Iran sanctions.
As long as the White House remains more concerned about engaging enemies than alienating allies, it will gain more of the former and less of the latter.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal