Netanyahu’s Dilemma

Helene Cooper reports a fascinating tidbit that the Obama administration may back away from America’s near uniform support of Israel at the United Nations should the Netanyahu government fail to halt settlement activity.

What would this mean in practice?  For one, it could portend a new dynamic at the Human Rights Council, which the United States is set to join in just a couple of weeks.   The council has in the past not been shy in addressing Israel, and currently on the Human Rights Council docket is the so-called Goldstone investigation of alleged Israeli and Hamas crimes during operation Cast Lead. 

Israel has so far not cooperated with the investigation. But should the United States in some symbolic way voice its support for the investigation it could have a profound effect on domestic Israeli politics.   Israeli voters place a high premium on their leadership’s relationship with the United States president. (Indeed, Netanyahu had a famously frosty relationship with President Clinton, and one of his main goals in visiting the White House two weeks ago was to show the Israeli public that he can get along with Democratic administrations.)

The point of this kind of “threat” is not to punish Netanyahu so much as make it easier for Netanyahu to face down his allies on the right, who adamantly oppose the dismantling the settlements.   For his part, Netanyahu will have to decide what matters more to him politically:  staying on Obama’s good side or hewing to the demands of his right-wing coalition.

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