US diplomacy on Gaza strains ties with Israel
WASHINGTON — When the State Department condemned Israel’s strike on a United Nations school in Gaza on Sunday, saying it was “appalled” by this “disgraceful” act, it gave full vent to what has been weeks of mounting American anger toward the Israeli government.
The blunt, unsparing language — among the toughest diplomats recall ever being aimed at Israel — lays bare a frustrating reality for the Obama administration: the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has largely dismissed diplomatic efforts by the United States to end the violence in Gaza, leaving U.S. officials to seethe on the sidelines about what they regard as disrespectful treatment.
Even as Israel agreed to a new cease-fire with Hamas, raising hopes for an end to four weeks of bloodshed, its relationship with the United States has been bruised by repeated clashes, from the withering Israeli criticism of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peacemaking efforts to Netanyahu’s dressing down of the U.S. ambassador to Israel.
“This is the most sustained period of antagonism in the relationship,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who now teaches at Princeton. “I don’t know how the relationship recovers as long as you have this president and this prime minister.”
And yet, with public opinion in both Israel and the United States solidly behind the Israeli military’s campaign against Hamas, no outcry from Israel’s Arab neighbors, and unstinting support for Israel on Capitol Hill, President Barack Obama has had few obvious levers to force Netanyahu to stop pounding targets in Gaza until he was ready to do it. On Monday, the Israeli prime minister signaled that moment had come.
Amid signs it was prepared to wind down the conflict unilaterally, Israel announced it would accept a 72-hour cease-fire, effective Tuesday, and send a delegation to Cairo to negotiate for a lasting end to the violence.
Even as the White House harshly criticized the Israeli strike on the school, the Pentagon confirmed that last Friday it had resupplied the Israeli military with ammunition under a longstanding military aid agreement.
Obama swiftly signed a bill Monday giving Israel $225 million in emergency aid for its Iron Dome anti-missile system.
For all its outrage over civilian casualties, the United States steadfastly backs Israel’s right to defend itself and shares Israel’s view that Hamas is a terrorist organization.
In a world of bitter enmities, the Israeli-American dispute is more akin to a family quarrel.
The White House seems determined to tamp down the latest eruption in tensions. “The nature of our relationship is strong and unchanged,” the press secretary, Josh Earnest, told reporters on Monday, pointing to comments by Mr. Netanyahu over the weekend, in which he said, “I think the United States has been terrific.”