Israel Gets a Better Reception from Berlin than Washington — That's a Man Bites Dog Story
If the re-elected Obama administration has not quite shown its true colors, it's given the world a peek. As former UN Ambassador John Bolton observed, the Palestine Authority could not have swung a UN vote for "observer" status without the passive support of Washington. After Israel responded to the Palestinian end-run around the Oslo Agreement by approving 3,000 new apartments in a Jerusalem suburb, five European countries--Spain, Britain, Denmark, France and Sweden--formally reprimanded Israel by summoning its ambassador, an unprecedented diplomatic step. As the Daily Telegraph wrote Dec. 4, the gang of five did so in connivance with the Obama administration.
The newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, quoted unnamed Israeli diplomats as saying the outcry could not have occurred without the complicity of the Obama administration, which has profound differences with Mr Netanyahu over settlements.
“We would not be mistaken to say that Europe was acting with Washington’s encouragement,” the paper’s commentator, Shimon Shiffer wrote. “The White House authorised Europe to pounce on the Netanyahu government and to punish it.”
One Israeli official told the Daily Telegraph that while the US was unlikely to have ordered such a move, it may have signalled approval.
“It’s more likely that they [the Americans] have been informed and have not raised any objection, but also showed some understanding and maybe even more,” he said. “There’s probably an understanding between the US and the Europeans that this is the right thing to do at this point.”
But it really doesn't matter what Britain, Spain, Denmark, France and Sweden think. There's only one European country whose opinion matters, and that is Germany -- where Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received a warm welcome from Chancellor Angela Merkel. Washington sandbags America's closest ally while Berlin gives it backing. The world is changing. Obama's strategic withdrawal, while lamentable, has one good side: it limits Obama's capacity to do damage.
Here is how Akiva Eldar read the Netanyahu-Merkel meeting in AI-Monitor, a Middle Eastern news site that tilts towards the Arab viewpoint:
The summoning of Israel's ambassadors to the European capitals in the wake of the decision to approve the construction of some 3,200 housing units between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim took place only after those countries rejected Israel's demand that they vote against the admission of Palestine as a nonmember observer state of the UN. The parties to the left of the right-wing Likud Party as well as some political pundits portrayed Germany's decision to abstain at the UN General Assembly vote and its strong protest against the decision regarding E1 as a colossal diplomatic failure. They called the crisis in the relationships with Chancellor Angela Merkel — Israel's greatest supporter in Europe — as a monumental failure by Netanyahu's government.
But lo and behold, at the end of that week, Israeli voters saw Netanyahu sporting a broad smile while standing next to Merkel at the press conference in Berlin shortly after their meeting. The prime minister had good reason to feel content with his host; the headlines that had previously reported a rift with Germany were supplanted by the chancellor's wishy-washy statement that "with regard to the settlements, we agreed to disagree. That topic has been addressed time and again, yet this doesn't prevent us from exchanging similar views on security issues that are important to Israel […] As close partners, we can convey our assessment whether it would be correct or incorrect to promote the two-state solution, and there's disagreement on this point." Merkel explained that "Israel is a sovereign state that will make its own decisions."
"When an important state such as Germany brushes a flagrant violation of the law and international consensus under the red-carpet treatment it gives Netanyahu, it in fact endorses the joint Likud-Beitenu slate as well as the settlements in the eyes of the Israeli voter," Eldar fulminated.
The conservative daily Die Welt, the newspaper closest to Chancellor Merkel, interviewed Netanyahu at length and gave the Israeli prime minister space to make a full and eloquent defense of Israel's position. Like Merkel, the Die Welt journalists registered their regret over expansion of "settlements," but in the context of softball questions. All this praising by faint damn is of great help to Netanyahu.
What explains Chancellor Merkel's sympathy towards Israel? Part of it is simple righteousness. Mrs. Merkel rose through the democracy movement in East Germany during the last years of the Cold War -- she speaks Russian with Vladimir Putin -- and came to believe in democracy the hard way. Second, the German chancellor is a righteous Gentile who believes that Germany has a special obligation to the State of Israel and the Jewish people. She has demonstrated this again and again, for example, by intervening to insure that b'rit milah -- Jewish ritual circumcision-- remained legal in Germany despite attempts to prohibit it. And third -- and in this case most important -- Mrs. Merkel is a practical woman of high intelligence, trained as a scientist and toughened by years in political life. She has no patience with Obama's utopianism.
Germany is changing. Its economy is doing reasonably well despite the European recession, because it is exporting more to Eastern Europe, Russia and China. A recent opinion poll asked Germans to name the world's most important economy. Sixty percent said China and only 30% said the United States. As Germany acts in its own economic interests in the absence of American leadership, it will continue to gravitate towards strong and vibrant countries such as Israel and disengage from hopeless losers like Spain -- or the Arabs. Nothing succeeds like success, and Israel's reception by the practical Mrs. Merkel is further proof of its standing in the world. A lot of things will change in the next couple of years. I just don't know whether we'll hear about them here in the United States.