How to explain the recent uproar in U.S.-Israel relations? I refer to President Barack Obama's decision to abstain at the U.N. Security Council, precisely contradicting his own views of just a few years earlier; Secretary of State John Kerry's 75-minute rant against Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu; and Netanyahu's intemperate responses, such as warning the New Zealand government that its support for the UNSC resolution amounts to a "declaration of war."
High politics of this sort is usually viewed through the lens of ideas and principles. But at times, it's better to leave all that behind and look at psychology - in other words, the basic human emotions and relations we all experience.
This level of explanation works better in this instance with all of Obama, Kerry and Netanyahu. The threesome is fed up. During his nearly ten years in office, Netanyahu has always faced a Democratic president out of sync with him. Obama is fed up with an Israeli leader who's annoyed him for eight years; ditto Kerry for 4 years.
Not the best of friends: Kerry (L), Netanyahu, Obama in Nov. 2015.
Now that they are finally to be rid of each other, the trio seem unable to hide their frustrations any longer. Acting out of pique and rage more than good sense and planning, all three lash out. So rancid are the emotions, America's ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, actually felt compelled publicly to assert that Obama "doesn't deal in revenge, it's not how he makes decisions."
All three will rue their very recent actions:
For Obama, now in full-scale legacy-building mode, his Security Council scheming will tarnish his image for the great majority of Americans sympathetic to Israel, as criticism from Democrats and Jewish leaders already indicates.
For Kerry, a tenure as secretary of state largely focused on the Middle East (first Arab-Israeli diplomacy, then the Iran deal) is soured beyond redemption, what with this revealing scream about his own failure in the Arab-Israeli arena (and the Iran deal about to be at least partially undone).
For Netanyahu, an out-of-control response made the UNSC resolution far more prominent and therefore far more of a defeat than need have been the case; and his lashing out at the resolution's backers might do long-term damage to Israel's national interests.
And while we're counting losers, throw Palestinians into the mix. Given false hopes by the parting Obama administration, their leaders are less likely than ever to take the constructive steps to accept Israel that necessarily must precede the building of their own polity, economy, society, and culture. Instead, they are the more deeply mired in rejectionism.
So, it's lose-lose-lose-lose. Perhaps with Obama & Kerry gone, things will improve. But adding an intemperate and uncontrolled Donald Trump to the brew raises yet more concerns.
Welcome to the Middle East, venue of visceral venomism. (December 30, 2016)
Dec. 30, 2016 addendum: Claudia Rosett agrees that the issue is psychological (i.e., not political) but thinks the target is more subtle:
Is President Obama using his final weeks in office to settle personal grudges against Russia's President Vladimir Putin and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Obama certainly appears to be settling scores, slamming Russia for trying to meddle in the U.S. election, and abandoning Israel to the untender mercies of the United Nations Security Council.
But if you look past the administration narratives, Obama's record suggests his animus has less to do with savaging Putin and Netanyahu than with sticking a thumb in the eye of the American electorate and its chosen winner, President-elect Donald Trump.