President Obama was not waiting for the polls to close on Tuesday evening. While Israelis were still voting, his spokesman reiterated that the United States “will continue to make clear that only through direct negotiations can the Palestinians and the Israelis… achieve the peace they both deserve”. The pointed reminder of the absence of such talks during the last four years was hardly an endorsement for the Likud or its leader.
The recent election season lifted the lid on the Obama-Netanyahu relationship. With their eyes on their respective electorates, name-calling seemed to replace political discourse. In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama this week characterised Netanyahu as a “political coward… unwilling to advance the cause of compromise”.
Netanyahu’s response was to remind Obama that “only the citizens of Israel will determine what Israel’s vital interests are…” It is tempting to imagine that this is the sum of the US-Israel relationship — politics as a primary school playground. Tempting, but misleading.
Whatever coalition Netanyahu now forms, his priority will be to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions. For that, he will need military and intelligence co-operation, and financial support that only the US can provide. For his part, Obama has defined the stagnation on Israeli-Palestinian talks as a threat to American interests. Without such progress, his ability to act against Iran is limited.
The elections are over, and so is the name-calling. Knitted together in a relationship that both leaders and peoples need and want, playtime is over. It is time to get back to work.