Israel and Obama have had a troubled relationship since before he even took office, as Israel invaded Gaza two and half weeks before his inauguration and then withdrew all troops out just before he became President. It was a clear attempt to get in the last punch before the rules changed, though it failed to save center-left Kadima from losing to center-right Likud in elections held three weeks later.
Meanwhile, as Obama worked hard to improve U.S. relations with the Muslim world through a speech in Cairo, he also took a tough line with new Israeli Prime Minister “Bibi” Netanyahu on settlements. Perhaps with a Jewish Chief of Staff and, bona fide friend of Israel, Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State Obama thought he would have enough wiggle room to reposition the U.S. as a fair actor in the region. However, from Netanyahu supposedly calling David Alexrod and Emanuel “self-hating Jews” to the vitrol and paranoia in the streets Jersulem to a poll in June where just 6% of Israeli’s said that Obama was pro-Israel it seems he misjudged the mood of the country.
Israelis look at everything they have sacrificed for peace, like offering to partition Jerusalem and withdrawing from Gaza and Lebanon, and sees only rockets and violence in return. Compounding this is the existential dread at the possibility of a nuclear Iran, a reality that is not understand as gravely outside of Israel. The election of Netanyahu and the support for Avignor Leiberman are a reflection of the sense that the problems in Israel are intractable and that it is time to retrench.
However, Obama has actually done far more than he is getting credit for in Israel. For example, in his speech to the Muslim world, he went out of his way to highlight the U.S. pact with Israel: “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.” He has also made it clear that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, though the turmoil since the elections has made progress difficult. Further, a better relationship with the U.S. relationship with Arab world could only benefit Israel.
No matter what the mood is in Israel right now, the fact remains that the situation as it stands in is untenable. Fortress Israel is heading for a demographic calamity even as it secures itself on a day to day basis. The makeup of greater Israel is something like 54% Jewish at this point, however by 2020 it is estimated that Jews will only make up 47% of the population. A minority population administering over a second class majority is impossible to justify, and it will turn Israel into an international pariah. Only a separate, truly sovereign Palestinian state can diffuse this time bomb.
Obviously, that is no small feat, but it starts with Israel understanding its own impending crisis and getting serious about even small steps like a total settlement freeze.