The Two-State Dissolution?

If you haven’t already, take some time this weekend to read David Remnick’s article on Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, the shaky status of the two-state solution, and the resurgent chatter about an alternative. Remnick explores the history of the one-state idea and interviews a wide range of Israeli and Palestinian figures – from Sari Nusseibeh to Caroline Glick – on why it’s in the headlines again. No excerpt quite captures the substance of the piece in its entirety, but here’s the gist of it:

The one-state/two-state debate is highly fraught not least because of proximity. Too much history, too little land. This is not India and Pakistan; the map of Ireland is a veritable continent compared with Israel and the Palestinian territories. Gaza is about as close to Herzliya as Concord is to Hanover; the West Bank, as Israelis are quick to point out, is seven miles from Ben Gurion Airport. Any two-state solution with a chance of working would have to include federal arrangements not only about security but also about water, cell-phone coverage, sewage, and countless other details of a common infrastructure. Talk of a one-state solution, limited as it is, will never be serious if it is an attempt to mask annexation, expulsion, or population transfer, on one side, or the eradication of an existing nation, on the other. Israel exists; the Palestinian people exist. Neither is provisional. Within these territorial confines, two nationally distinct groups, who are divided by language, culture, and history, cannot live wholly apart or wholly together.

Meanwhile, escalating violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere – centered as usual on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif – has raised fears that a third Intifada may be afoot.

The situation in the city got precarious enough last week that Israel temporarily restricted access to the holy site, leading to widespread protests and prompting an emergency meeting of Netanyahu, John Kerry, and Jordan’s King Abdullah (the restrictions were lifted today):

Jordan recalled its ambassador to Israel last Wednesday in protest at what it described as “the increasing and unprecedented Israeli escalation in the Noble Sanctuary and the repeated Israeli violations of Jerusalem,” the Jordanian state news agency reported. Netanyahu called Abdullah last Thursday, assuring him that Jordan’s special status regarding the Temple Mount and the Muslim holy places in Jerusalem, as specified in the peace agreement between the two countries, would be preserved.

Like many of Remnick’s sources, Daniel Gordis is bearish on prospects for peace at the moment, especially after the latest Gaza War:

There is simply no incentive for Israelis to compromise. What’s in it for them? they ask. Would a deal neutralize Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon? Would it stop Islamic State? Then why move the border closer to Israel’s capital and international airport? France may soon recognize a Palestinian state, as Sweden recently has, but none of that will change life for ordinary Palestinians. Israelis and Palestinians have lost all goodwill. The Israeli administration detests Obama and believes that a renewed poisonous attitude to Jews and Israel in Europe makes European capitals anything but fair arbiters. And with the Arab street ever more radicalized, the other side is no more inclined to be accommodating.

And Mazal Mualem wonders how long Netanyahu’s popularity can last, given the state of things:

The Protective Edge campaign that lasted 50 days and undermined the personal security of Israeli citizens from the Gaza envelope to the Tel Aviv area put the veteran prime minister in a new situation. He can no longer flatter himself that there was no war during his term of office, versus Olmert, who fought two. Netanyahu is now responsible for the longest round of fighting in Gaza, a campaign that brought no clear victory and did not tilt the balance.

Netanyahu faces what is emerging as a third intifada. Soldiers and young Israelis are being murdered in central Israeli cities in stabbing and vehicular terror attacks; Jerusalem is burning while concrete blocks and police are posted in bus and train stations. The atmosphere in Arab localities within the Green Line is tense, explosive. What will Netanyahu tell Israeli citizens in the coming election campaign that will probably take place in 2015? That he defeated Hamas? That he brought security? That he “forged a secure peace”?

Hadassah Rodham Clinton?

U.S. Hosts Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks

If she’s elected, Aaron David Miller predicts that the second President Clinton will bring a quick thaw to American-Israeli relations:

Given the lack of competition, unless he stumbles badly, Netanyahu may well outlast Obama. And that brings us to the matter of Hillary Clinton. Those of you looking for a new sheriff in town — one who is willing and able to teach those Israelis a lesson, cut them down to size, and make it clear to them as Bill Clinton, who exploded in frustration following his first meeting with Netanyahu in 1996, did when he said, “Who’s the fucking superpower here?” — best lay down and lie quietly until the feeling passes.

That’s not Hillary Clinton.

Indeed, she conceded in her book Hard Choices that she was never comfortable playing the bad cop with Netanyahu to Joe Biden’s more even-tempered good cop. And yet, she has some natural advantages that would help mitigate some of the gratuitous tensions that have made an already tough relationship tougher and perhaps lay the groundwork for more productive cooperation. Should she become president, on one level, better ties with Israel are virtually guaranteed.

But while a more accommodating White House would be a boon to Netanyahu’s government, Larison stresses that it won’t exactly be good news for anyone else:

Miller’s main argument is that Clinton will probably manage the relationship with Israel more successfully than Obama has. That could be true, but it is worth noting that in practice this “better” management will be little more than endorsing and backing whatever the Israeli government does. Obama has occasionally, briefly put a little bit of pressure on Israel to maybe modify its most obnoxious policies ever so slightly, and the relationship is at its lowest nadir in twenty years and Obama is reviled for his supposed “hostility” to the country. The Bush approach was to enable and excuse almost everything that the Israeli government did or wanted to do, and Clinton seems interested in imitating Bush’s example.

(Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talks to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton during the first day of direct trilateral negotiations about a Middle East peace plan in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the Department of State on September 2, 2010. By Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Curious Case Of Zivotofsky v. Kerry

Since 1948, the US has declined to formally recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem, maintaining that the final status of the city remains unsettled as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does. But in 2002, Congress passed a law regarding “United States policy with respect to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”, which, among other provisions, permitted US citizens born in Jerusalem to have their place of birth listed as “Israel” on their passports. State Department policy is to list only “Jerusalem” without designating a country. Bush signed the legislation but issued a signing statement protesting that it interfered with his authority to conduct foreign policy.

Enter Menachem Zivotofsky, the plaintiff in Zivotofsky v. Kerry.

When Zivotofsky was born in Jerusalem shortly after the 2002 law was enacted, his parents requested “Israel” as the place of birth on his passport. The State Department denied the request, so the Zivotofskys went to court, arguing that State had violated the law. The government countered that the law infringed the president’s constitutional power to decide whether to recognize foreign nations. The DC Circuit first dismissed the case as a “political question” that the courts could not decide; SCOTUS reversed that decision and sent the case back to the circuit court, which ruled in the government’s favor. The family appealed, and the case is now before the Supremes for a second time. Amy Howe reviews Monday’s oral arguments, in which “lawyers for the two sides painted very different pictures of the potential effects of the law”:

Representing the United States, Solicitor General Don Verrilli told the Justices that the “question of the status of Jerusalem is the most vexing and volatile and difficult diplomatic issue that this nation has faced for decades.”  He cautioned the Court that upholding the statute would undermine the president’s credibility in the Middle East peace process, and he reminded the Justices that the passage of the law had prompted “mass demonstrations in Jerusalem, thousands of people in the streets, some turning violent.”

Alyza Lewin, representing Zivotofsky, downplayed the government’s warnings about the possibly dire international consequences of the law, dismissing them as “grossly exaggerated.” Eventually, she suggested, listing Israel as the birthplace on the passports of U.S. citizens born in Jerusalem would “become a non-issue.”  And Congress has the power to require the State Department to do so, she maintained, pursuant to its power to regulate passports.

Though he suspects that the amici curiae care more about whether the US recognizes Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem than about the separation-of-powers question at the heart of the case, Noah Feldman doesn’t buy Lewin’s argument:

Congress has indeed passed laws authorizing issuance of passports, and it’s not obvious that the world would shake if a handful of passports read “Israel” instead of Jerusalem. The problem is that the argument undercuts itself. After all, why is Zivotofsky bringing the case in the first place if not to make it appear that the U.S. has now recognized Jerusalem as part of Israel? Why, for that matter, did Congress pass the law if not to send that message?

In the real world, if the court held for Zivotofsky, it’s true that sophisticated observers would understand that Congress, not the president, had set the policy — but that would precisely reflect a conflict between the different branches of government, a circumstance that the Constitution for the most part has been interpreted to prohibit. Of course, it’s impossible for a tripartite government truly to speak with one voice on foreign affairs. But it’s definitely a goal toward which a rational constitutional system should aspire.

Jack Goldsmith favors the government’s position and urges the court to rule that Congress never had the authority to enact the 2002 law in the first place:

The beauty of ruling against petitioner on the basis of a lack of congressional power for the statute is that it allows the Court to avoid the super-hard problem of defining the contours of exclusive presidential power based on the vague and uncertain textual materials in Article II.  In other words, the Court can resolve the case, and mark off a narrow presidential power to determine what country should be designated on a passport, without reaching or discussing Article II (at least not discussing it very much), by focusing instead on the more precise terms of Article I.

And for you legal realists out there, this way of resolving the case satisfies two larger imperatives, somewhat in tension, that will certainly be in the back of the minds of many Justices: (1) not wanting to cross swords with the Executive on an important Middle East policy at a very fraught time of Middle East relations; and (2) not wanting to grant the president a large or vague exclusive presidential power related to recognition.

But Yishai Schwartz sees the case differently – as an opportunity to reassert Congress’s authority in international affairs:

Congressional supremacy is the basis of our entire constitutional system, and congressional oversight our best protection against tyranny. To be sure, a powerful executive, capable of acting against sudden threats and during periods of Congressional dysfunction (like now), is essential. Someone must fill the void. But allowing presidential discretion to become presidential supremacy undermines basic principles of democracy. In a democracy, after all, it is the people that are sovereign. It would be bizarre if their representatives, tasked with confirming treaties, regulating international trade and declaring war, had to bow to the president in smaller matters of foreign policy.

Dahlia Lithwick contends “that the worst-situated government agents to decide Mideast peace policies and whether what’s written on passports perhaps implicates Mideast peace policies, are the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court”:

Nobody is quite sure, after argument, which side will cobble together five votes, or for what. One thing that is certain is that even if the court wants to try to look neutral on the subject, it will have taken sides, in a massively consequential fashion. And while it’s always fascinating to hear the nine Justices bat about matters of foreign policy “Taiwan!” “Crimea!” “Barcelona!” the way they might do at a dinner party, it’s clear that dinner party knowledge is pretty much what they have to offer. And by deciding who the decider will be, at least on matters of foreign policy, even the neutral justices, aren’t.

Garrett Epps hopes the court rules clearly and decisively, noting that separation-of-powers cases can have surprisingly broad consequences:

Consider that a minor dispute over the sale of machine guns to Bolivia is still quoted today. That 1936 case, United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., provided the opportunity for Justice George Sutherland to proclaim (though the issue was not even present in the case) the “the very delicate, plenary and exclusive power of the President as the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations”—language that presidents have relied on since in issues more important than Bolivian arms sales, most notably George W. Bush’s claim of unilateral authority to attack foreign nations without congressional authorization.

Who’s The Real Chickenshit?

President Obama Meets With Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu At The White House

The White House, answers Stephen Walt, for lobbing childish insults at Netanyahu via anonymous officials rather than acknowledging the real problems with our relationship with Israel. Indeed, in his view, chickenshit-gate itself demonstrates just how messed up that relationship is:

Netanyahu’s decision not to attack Iran wasn’t a show of cowardice (or being a “chickenshit”); it was a sensible strategic choice. The war talk from Israel was intended to distract attention from the settlements issue, keep Iran in the crosshairs as Public Enemy No. 1, and convince the United States to impose stiffer sanctions in the hopes of securing a better deal from Tehran over its nuclear program. But an actual attack was never a serious possibility. Bibi’s bluster might have fooled journalists like Goldberg — who has raised bogus alarms about an imminent Israeli attack on more than one occasion — but sensible observers should not have been taken in by all this folderol.

In the end, this minor incident mostly confirms the unhealthy effects of the “special relationship” itself. The sad truth is that top U.S. officials still can’t say openly what they really think about Israel’s behavior, or what they really think about the relationship itself. The mildest criticism invites automatic abuse from the lobby, and of course, anyone aspiring to a top foreign-policy position still has to mouth embarrassing platitudes and repudiate any previous criticisms in order to get appointed and confirmed. Just ask Samantha Power and Chuck Hagel how this process works. Ironically, it is U.S. leaders who mostly lack courage on these issues, not Netanyahu.

Walt is right so far as he goes – but what administration would want to directly confront the Greater Israel lobby, when it could manage to make some progress by other means?

And look at the long game with Israel – which, beyond the daily headlines, really has been fruitful. Not so long ago, we were warned (by Jeffrey Goldberg among others) that Israel was determined to attack Iran’s nuclear program unless the US intervened and did so itself. This was an existential issue, we were told. The task of the United States was, as ever, to fall in line behind the policy of the state of Israel. The Obama team handled this bluff – and what kind of government bluffs about what it calls an existential threat? – with varying levels of equanimity and exasperation. But they also constructed truly potent sanctions against Iran to prod Tehran to come to a deal.

The sanctions worked. Netanyahu railed against the policy, holding up his famous cartoon bomb at the UN, which measured the Iranian progress. But as the Iranians agreed to talk, and temporarily suspended parts of its program, the threat receded.

We’re now in the critical stages of a negotiation that could provide a breakthrough, relieve the sanctions and enable a reliable inspections process to ensure that the West gets a year’s notice if the Iranians decide to renege on their commitment against a nuclear bomb. If an agreement is reached, Netanyahu will be on the opposite side of all the major international powers, and Israel isolated as never before – but also more secure than before.

This maneuvering – around rather than against the Israel lobby – puts the US in a much stronger position vis-a-vis the two state solution. With the Iran threat neutralized, Netanyahu’s constant provocations on the West Bank will appear more egregious than ever. And as Matt Duss argues,

the U.S. might then be less energetic about providing diplomatic cover for Israel in various international venues, especially as the Palestinians consider a new strategy to put pressure on Israel in organizations like the United Nations, possibly through another resolution condemning settlement activities, and the International Criminal Court.

Netanyahu will then look for salvation from the Clintons (but he royally pissed them off a long time ago) and, of course, from the GOP’s neocons. But his preferred policy – a US-led attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities – is hardly likely to play well in American public opinion, fearful (and rightly so) of yet another lurch into the unknown in the Middle East, with incalculable and unknowable consequences for the entire region and the world.

Well, and I guess I haven’t been saying this very often lately: meep meep.

(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama, left, looks on as Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, speaks in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, March 3, 2014. By Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty images.)

What The Hell Is Happening In Jerusalem (This Time)?

Clashes In East Jerusalem After Israeli Activist Shooting

For the first time in 14 years, Israeli authorities yesterday closed off the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in the Old City of Jerusalem and prevented men under 50 from praying there this morning, out of fear of escalating tensions in the city amid whispers of a third intifada:

Palestinian leaders had called for a “day of rage” because of the closing on Thursday and the killing by Israeli forces of a Palestinian man suspected in the assassination attempt Wednesday night against Yehuda Glick. Mr. Glick is a right-wing activist who promoted increased Jewish access and prayer at the site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. By midafternoon, Israel Radio reported that there were “riots” at several locations in the occupied West Bank, including Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem and the often-tense city of Hebron.

The situation remained mostly calm today but tensions remain high, and the situation could get worse before it gets better. Daniel Gordis describes the Israeli public’s reaction to the attempt on Glick’s life and the killing of the alleged shooter:

“How had he been found so quickly?” people wondered.

Then came the disturbing news that the gunman had worked in the restaurant located in the Begin Center. To complicate matters, it was soon reported he had ties to the Islamic Jihad, had attacked jailers while in an Israeli prison, had made a video in which he boasted of wanting to be a thorn in the throat of Zionists — and despite all that, was not under surveillance and was allowed to work in a place frequented by public figures. It was, popular mood quickly decided, a shocking security blunder. Blunder or not, the attack on an unarmed rabbi (who, though right wing, had advocated that Jews and Muslims pray together on the Temple Mount, a hugely significant site for both religions) in a supposedly safe place crossed an unspoken red line.

Anshel Pfeffer fears that Glick’s once-extreme views on the Temple Mount have gone mainstream, with predictably disastrous consequences:

Make no mistake, the campaign to reestablish a more permanent Jewish presence on Mount Moriah is dangerous. Their Judaism is one that exalts sacred stones and hallowed soil above human life, and threatens to take the Zionist endeavour down a dark alley where it was never intended to go. Many of those involved are blatantly trying to provoke exactly the kind of violent Muslim reaction that will lead to a downward spiral of bloodshed, that they believe will once and for all end any possibility of a territorial compromise between Israelis and Palestinians. That was the express intention of Yehuda Etzion and his Jewish underground, who tried in the early 1980s to blow up the mosques in the hope it would derail the Camp David Accords.

Elhanan Miller calls the low-level unrest that the city has seen over the past four months the “Jerusalem intifada”:

Sparked by the July 2 kidnapping and murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, apparently by Jewish extremists, the disturbances consist mainly of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails — haphazard activities reminiscent of the largely spontaneous First Intifada launched in late 1987 across the Israeli-controlled West Bank and Gaza. But the “Jerusalem Intifada” has its own unique characteristics, experts say. Namely, it has scarcely spread beyond the confines of the capital, and lacks the grassroots leadership that characterized the two previous Palestinian uprisings.

Talking to some experts on the conflict, Zack Beauchamp weighs the chances that the tensions will spiral out of control:

The situation is very bad. Even a slight provocation by either side could set off a wider conflict. But is this already a Third Intifada — another Palestinian mass uprising against Israel, like the First Intifada beginning in the late 1980s, and the far deadlier Second Intifada of the early 2000s? It’s tough to say. “Simmering tension/violence is not the same thing” as an intifada, [Brent] Sasley argues, “though it could well develop into [one].” Rather, he says, “what’s going on now feels more like a demonstration of frustration, rather than an uprising.”

Moreover, the pressure is largely concentrated in Jerusalem, and hasn’t yet spread to Gaza or the West Bank. “One of the reasons it’s getting out of hand is precisely because there’s no Palestinian Authority there to keep a lid on it,” [Matt] Duss writes. In his view, it’s easier for Palestinian security forces to contain popular outrage than for their Israeli counterparts to do the same. The PA stands “between the people and the occupation” in the West Bank, but not in Jerusalem.

But Keating doubts another genuine intifada is afoot, for a number of reasons:

The Palestinian leadership isn’t as united and the populace is less well armed than in 2000. Other Arab governments, distracted by a myriad of other crises, aren’t as focused on the Palestinian issue as they used to be. (Though the al-Aqsa closure is likely to irritate the government of Jordan, the official custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites, which has been coming under increasing pressure over its relations with Israel.) There has also not been much enthusiasm among Palestinian leaders for another intifada given that the violence of the previous two didn’t do much to advance the cause.

Another big difference is that Abbas is president today, not Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian foreign minister has gone on record saying, “as long as [Abbas] is in charge, there will be no third Intifada.”

The unrest also comes at a moment when Israel is increasingly isolated on the world stage, facing a chill in its relationship with the US (e.g. chickenshitgate). Sweden’s decision to recognize a Palestinian state on Thursday has not gone over well in Jerusalem either. “Yet none of this,” Gregg Carlstrom laments, “has prompted new thinking”:

Netanyahu has nothing to offer the residents of Jerusalem beyond throwing an additional 1,000 police at the problem; Abbas is encouraging unrest that he has no means to control; and Hamas, keen to discuss anything other than the disastrous conditions in Gaza, held a rally in the strip earlier this month urging Jerusalemites to follow its “successful example” and revolt. All three parties are still acting as if the status quo of the past seven years remains intact. “It’s a deadlock everywhere,” said Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a Gaza-based political analyst. “Nobody is serious, not Hamas, not Fatah, not the Israelis. And it is making people more and more pessimistic … it’s an unsustainable situation.”

A “Crisis” In US-Israel Relations?

There was a little kerfuffle yesterday as Goldblog reported on an Obama bigwig calling Bibi a “chickenshit.” My favorite bit of the column was this nugget:

“The Israelis do not show sufficient appreciation for America’s role in backing Israel, economically, militarily and politically,” Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, told me. (UPDATE: Foxman just e-mailed me this statement: “The quote is accurate, but the context is wrong. I was referring to what troubles this administration about Israel, not what troubles leaders in the American Jewish community.”)

Heh. But the more troubling aspect of the column is this idea that any obvious clash of views or interests between the US and Israel is some kind of “crisis”. It certainly isn’t a crisis for Obama or the US. Paul Pillar makes a good point (seconded by Larison):

Sweep aside the politically-driven fiction about two countries that supposedly have everything in common and nothing in conflict and instead deal with reality, and the concept of crisis does not arise at all.

Nor does it really matter if Netanyahu “writes off” Obama in his last two years.

Obama can get the critical nuclear deal with Iran without the Israelis and without the Congress, for that matter, and the deal will (and already has) made an Iranian nuclear bomb much less of a threat than it once may have been. With the Iranian threat neutralized, Netanyahu will have to find another excuse to justify his creeping annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But with the Iran issue bracketed, the Obama administration can adjust its UN veto in defense of Israel, expose it to greater international isolation over the occupation, and publish the official American view of what the borders of the future Palestinian state will be.

It was always Obama’s strategy to offer Israel and Netanyahu every chance to abandon its neo-colonial enterprise, to do everything possible to reassure Israel about its security (the Iron Dome/the security guarantees and arrangements proposed by Kerry), but, in the end, to pursue America’s core interests in the region, if Israel and its powerful lobby refuse to budge an inch.

I suspect the Israelis have under-estimated Obama’s steel in this regard; and they may be particularly foolish to write him off in his last two years, when a president often has more leeway in conducting foreign policy, when Obama’s long game is designed to reach a conclusion, and when the president has nothing left electorally to lose. If the end result is a tamed Iranian nuclear program and progress toward a real two-state solution, it will have been well worth waiting for, won’t it?

Know hope.

How Do You Say “Chickenshit” In Hebrew?

After a “senior Obama administration official” calls the Israeli prime minister a “chickenshit”, Goldblog wonders whether the strained relationship between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations is finally reaching a breaking point:

What does all this unhappiness mean for the near future? For one thing, it means that Netanyahu—who has preemptively “written off” the Obama administration—will almost certainly have a harder time than usual making his case against a potentially weak Iran nuclear deal, once he realizes that writing off the administration was an unwise thing to do. This also means that the post-November White House will be much less interested in defending Israel from hostile resolutions at the United Nations, where Israel is regularly scapegoated. The Obama administration may be looking to make Israel pay direct costs for its settlement policies. …

Netanyahu, and the even more hawkish ministers around him, seem to have decided that their short-term political futures rest on a platform that can be boiled down to this formula: “The whole world is against us. Only we can protect Israel from what’s coming.” For an Israeli public traumatized by Hamas violence and anti-Semitism, and by fear that the chaos and brutality of the Arab world will one day sweep over them, this formula has its charms. But for Israel’s future as an ally of the United States, this formula is a disaster.

The “chickenshit” comment referred in part to the Obama administration’s realization that, for all his bluster, Bibi will never follow through on his repeated threats to start a war with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program. Larison considers that a reasonable assessment, reiterating that a US- or Israel-led war with Iran would likely be a disaster:

Two years ago, Daniel Levy made the case that Netanyahu was too risk-averse as a politician to do anything as hazardous and potentially disastrous as starting a war with Iran. That seemed very plausible at the time, and I still find it persuasive. It has never made much sense that the Israeli government would launch an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Even if Netanyahu were inclined to do this, which he reportedly isn’t, starting a preventive war against Iran wouldn’t prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. On the contrary, a foreign attack would probably make the acquisition of such weapons a priority for the Iranian government.

Walter Russell Mead mulls what it means if the administration’s “chickenshit” assessment of Netanyahu is correct:

If this is in fact the conclusion U.S. senior officials have reached, their Middle East policy becomes clearer: The Israelis and the Sunnis are whiners who complain about U.S. policy toward Iran but are unable to do anything about it or come up with an alternative. If the threat of Israeli military action is really off the table (and we should remember that this wouldn’t be the first time a U.S. administration misjudged Israeli intentions), then it’s very unlikely that a strong international coalition in favor of tough sanctions against Iran can long survive. Many of the European countries that have supported sanctions on Iran have been trying to deter Israeli military action as much as to influence Iran’s behavior. If Israel has missed its chance for military action, or is perceived to lack the will to take it, then as that perception spreads we will have to expect significant changes in the politics of the region and in the attitudes of the Europeans.

Allahpundit, on the other hand, finds the insult outrageous:

Let me understand this. Netanyahu considered attacking Iran, we pressured him not to do it, and now we’re mocking him as a “chickensh*t” for taking our advice?

John Allen Gay is mystified at what purpose this sniping serves. He believes it could damage the chances of a nuclear deal with Iran:

The Iran negotiations come to a head on November 24. If there’s a deal, the administration will come under immense pressure at home, particularly from Israel’s strongest defenders in Congress. A better relationship with Israel would mitigate that pressure. And if there’s not a deal, the administration may wish to extend the interim deal with Iran—another political friction point in which pro-Israel factions will be at odds with the administration. Yet the White House has opened fire early, and rather than attacking Netanyahu’s Iran approach, it’s engaging in playground name-calling. It’s hard to see what good this will do, and the damage could be serious. There has been a growing feeling in Washington that Israel would not have been willing to push Congress to confront the president on Iran, that it would prefer to live with a tolerable deal than to have an open battle with its closest ally. If Congress is already attacking Obama on Israel and if Israel and America are already fighting each other, these incentives change.

Larison is less concerned about that:

That’s possible, but the administration may assume that it is going to bypass Congress on the nuclear deal anyway so that this doesn’t matter as much. More to the point, Netanyahu already made his opposition to the interim deal very clear, so it’s doubtful that Israeli opposition to a final deal would be kept in check by keeping these criticisms under wraps. The administration may also assume that the Iran hawks in Congress intent on sabotaging the deal will be committed to doing so no matter what the state of the U.S.-Israel relationship is, so there is nothing to be lost by broadcasting that the relationship is in very bad shape. That’s the trouble with being implacable foes of diplomacy–no one has any incentive to treat you as anything more than an obstacle to be overcome. That appears to be how the administration sees Netanyahu as well, and they are treating him and the rest of his government accordingly.

Ilan Ben Zion rounds up the reaction in the Israeli press, which had some difficulty translating the key term:

Israel Hayom writes that the vulgarity expressed by American officials in the Atlantic article brings relations between the two countries to an all-time low. It explains to its readers that chickenshit is “a derogatory slang term whose meaning is ‘coward.’” Haaretz simply translates the insult that put the two allies’ relations on tenterhooks as “pathetic coward.” Yedioth Ahronoth uses the same translation, and also includes the litany of terms American officials used to berate Netanyahu that Goldberg listed.

Update from a reader:

I find it surprising that all of the pundits (and the Hebrew translators) are assuming chickenshit = coward and seem totally unaware of the meaning that the word has long had in the US military. While it is possible that the unnamed “senior Obama administration official” did indeed intend to call Netanyahu a coward, I think it’s just as likely, if not more so, that he meant this:

“Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige; sadism thinly disguised as necessary discipline; a constant ‘paying off of old scores’; and insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances.”

― Paul Fussell, Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War