Obama Buries the Hatchet—in Netanyahu's Head

Those who favor close relations between Israel and the U.S. are in for a rocky 22 months. Reuters/Jason Reed

Update: Obama has called Netanyahu to congratulate him "on his party's sucess in winning a plurality of Knesset seats."

It was obvious that after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's clear election victory the Obama administration and the president himself would try to bury the hatchet. After all, Obama and Netanyahu must survive the next 22 months together as heads of government.

But that was wrong. Yesterday, Netanyahu received congratulatory calls from many world leaders including the Canadian and British prime ministers. But not Obama. The excuse offered, that Netanyahu's victory is not yet official, is embarrassing; Obama apparently called Netanyahu after his last election victory without such a wait for official cover.

Moreover, Obama's standards here are nonexistent: He called Vladimir Putin one day after his last "election victory." So dictators get calls, winners of of free elections don't?

If that isn't enough consider this. On Air Force One today, White House press secretary Josh Earnest went out of his way to attack Netanyahu. Here's the relevant part:

There's one other thing that I anticipated might come up that I just did want to mention as it relates to the Israeli elections. Specifically, there has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of the rhetoric that emerged yesterday that was propagated by the Likud Party to encourage turnout of their supporters that sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens. The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens.

We see here that the press gaggle on AF1 didn't work: No reporter asked Earnest about this subject. So at the end of the questioning he simply went out of his way to criticize a statement Netanyahu had made about getting out Likud voters, to counteract what he said were massive left-wing efforts to get out the left-wing Jewish and Arab vote. The issue isn't whether that Netanyahu statement was awful or admirable but the conduct of the White House.

The leader of a close ally wins a democratic election. President Obama takes the occasion to hit him again.

This sequence reminds us again that Obama took office before Netanyahu did, so the extreme hostility to him shown from the day he took office could not have been caused by anything he did. It was ideological and personal, and the then–White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel has a lot to answer for here.

The Obama administration never gave Netanyahu a chance, opposing and criticizing him from his first day in power. And of course, his opposition to what is clearly now Obama's sole major foreign policy goal, a rapprochement with Iran, made things tougher.

I genuinely thought this would now change, but I was not reading this administration right. Those who favor close and cooperative relations between Israel and the United States are in for a rocky 22 months.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations website.