By Joel Brinkley

Both President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came away from their fracas in Washington with wounds that are not soon to heal.

For Obama, paradoxically, the lasting fallout will not come primarily from American Jews. They are divided. Significant numbers of them disparage Netanyahu and agree with the president.

Americans for Peace Now, the U.S. branch of the leftist Israel group, issued a release expressing "deep disappointment" with Netanyahu's hard-line address to a joint session of Congress. It said he had been expected to offer a "formula for a breakthrough" in negotiations with the Palestinians but instead laid down preconditions that infuriated them.

No, Obama roused evangelical Christians. Millions of them are lock-step supporters of Israel. They are mobilizing even now, running television and newspaper ads, holding news conferences. David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, one of several similar groups, told me he believed millions of these Christians would hold onto their anger until Election Day next year.

"Israel is an increasingly important issue for them," he said. His group has 600,000 members among an estimated 50 million Americans who are believed to be sympathetic to its cause. In the last week, more than 60,000 of them sent emails of support to Netanyahu's office.

For his part, the Israeli prime minister arrived home to cheers from his supporters, anger from other Israelis -- and the strong possibility of a diplomatic crisis ahead. The Palestinians called his remarks in Washington "a declaration of war."

For Netanyahu that is of little immediate consequence -- except as it spurs on the "train wreck," as Israeli officials call the Palestinian quest for diplomatic recognition at the United Nations in September. No one doubts that a majority of nations will vote in favor of recognition, but that vote will hold much more weight if important European nations join it.

Obama, at the G8 meeting in France last weekend, was trying to persuade European leaders to vote against Palestinian statehood. But most European states are far less patient with Israel than Washington is. And after Netanyahu blatantly stiffed him, Obama found it quite difficult to come up with a convincing pitch.

Jean Asselborn is foreign minister of a small state, Luxembourg, but he is influential within the European Union. He called Netanyahu's remarks in Washington "self important and arrogant," adding: "For the peace process, that is deadly."

France has said it will vote in favor of Palestinian statehood; Germany has suggested it might not, but that was before last week. European officials are saying Netanyahu's recent behavior has changed some minds. In fact, around the world, most everyone who was paying attention had been speculating that Netanyahu would come to Washington with a new plan to move peace negotiations forward -- hoping to forestall that United Nations vote. He did just the opposite, announcing instead all of the demands he will insist on and concessions he will not make.

His remarks were so harsh that he prompted a number of prominent Israelis, including several former senior government officials, to write an open letter calling on European nations to vote in favor of recognizing "Palestine" as a state.

But as I see it, a larger concern is the one Obama articulated, the effect Israeli intransigence is having on the Arab world.

One remarkable but largely overlooked fact is that Israel has not been even a small factor in the uprisings across the Arab world. No, in those states the younger generation long ago rejected their leaders' decades-old assertion that they should dedicate their lives to fighting the Zionists so that Palestinians could finally have a home.

But Netanyahu is sending them a dangerous, self-defeating message.

It's probably not a coincidence that, shortly after he spoke, the interim government in Egypt announced it would permanently open its border with Gaza -- something Israel had ardently opposed. Hamas, the terror group, rules Gaza, and Israel fears that, with open borders, Hamas will import more weaponry.

Hamas is a vicious, evil, unrepentant group that has just one goal in mind. Its charter states it in plain language: "Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it." That should motivate everyone, not just evangelical Christians, to stand with Israel -- especially now that Hamas has signed a reconciliation agreement with Fatah, which governs the West Bank.

But the tragedy of this moment is that almost no one in the West is talking about Hamas. No, for millions of people worldwide, the villain right now is Netanyahu.


Joel Brinkley, a Pulitzer Prize-winning former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, is the author of "Cambodia's Curse: The Modern History of a troubled Land."


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