Last week the Israelis handed the Obama administration an important advantage in the continuing struggle between the US and Israel over policy towards the Palestinians. By announcing a decision to move forward with 1600 housing units in East Jerusalem, the Israelis embarrassed the administration in a way that created problems for Prime Minister Netanyahu and gave Washington an opportunity to push back. But by going public with a set of tough demands without securing its domestic support, the Obama administration may lose the advantage it gained.
With Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu scheduled to address AIPAC’s annual meeting next weekend in Washington, the stage is set for high drama. The greatest danger at this point is that one or both sides may misjudge the state of American public opinion. Israel’s political support in the United States is ultimately based much less in the highly visible network of organizations like AIPAC than it is in the strong support for Israel well beyond the Beltway. I’ve been writing a series of posts over the last week about this; it is the gentile supporters of Israel, not American Jews, who ultimately define the boundaries of American foreign policy on this issue, and the Obama administration’s ability to put pressure on its most important Middle Eastern ally ultimately depends on the reaction of American gentile supporters of Israel to administration policy. The administration may be in danger of overestimating its support in a drawn out debate.