"Obama unites Israelis and Arabs in disappointment," read the headline Monday on the Web site of the German magazine Der Spiegel.
"Hopes were high in the Middle East when U.S. President Barack Obama took office last year. But instead of progress toward peace, he has show indecision and hesitancy," Der Spiegel said. "With many in the region united against Iran, he is in danger of letting a golden opportunity slip through his fingers."
It isn't clear what the Obama administration hopes to accomplish with the very public row it has picked with the Israeli government. But it is clear that U.S.-Israeli relations are the worst they've been for at least 35 years.
The row began last Tuesday (3/9), when, during Vice President's Joe Biden's state visit, a minor official in the Israeli government announced plans to go forward with the construction of 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem, on land that had been part of Jordan prior to the 1967 war.
The vice president responded angrily. He had a right to. The announcement overshadowed his visit, and he regarded it as an affront to the United States.
The affront was in the timing of the announcement rather than in its substance. The Palestinian Authority had earlier agreed that the neighborhoods in which the housing would be built Gilo and Ramat Shlomo would remain part of Israel in a final peace settlement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was surprised by the announcement which came from the leader of one of the minor parties in his coalition and embarrassed by it. He apologized profusely to Mr. Biden, in private and in public.
The vice president graciously acknowledged Mr. Netanyahu's apology, thanking the Israeli prime minister in a speech Thursday (3/11) for "putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence" of similar incidents.
Then the Obama administration escalated. On Friday Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Mr. Netanyahu and, in the words of John Podhoretz, "basically screamed at him for 45 minutes." A State Department spokesman told the press she had done so, and described the harsh language she had used.
The administration's escalation brought criticism from Jewish groups which rarely criticize Democrats.
"We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States," said Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
The Obama administration has a history of courting our enemies and sandbagging our friends. But why pick this fight now?
Vice President Biden had two reasons for visiting Israel. One was to restart peace talks. The Palestinian Authority refuses to talk directly to the Israelis, and has been dragging its feet on "proximity talks" proposed by Mr. Obama's special Middle East envoy.
"The 'indirect talks' that Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell wants to get up and running again are at the same point at which a Middle East peace process began in Madrid 19 years ago," noted Der Spiegel.
Whenever U.S. presidents from Jimmy Carter on (save George W. Bush) have been confronted with Palestinian intransigence, they've pressed the Israelis for concessions.
The more urgent reason for the vice president's trip was to reassure Israel of the administration's "absolute, total unvarnished commitment to Israel's security."
Mr. Biden had to use a lot of adjectives to express that commitment, because the administration's actions have been saying something different. It seems clear now President Obama will take no substantive action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
An Iranian bomb would be a very big problem for us, but it is an existential threat to Israel, because Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to use it against Israel as soon as he gets it.
CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus reported to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January on visits he'd had the previous month with Arab leaders. There was a growing perception among them the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel.
"America was not only perceived as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding," said a Pentagon officer familiar with Gen. Petraeus' briefing.
Is the president picking a fight with Israel to show wavering Arab allies he can be tough? If so, he's making a big mistake. Toughness is determined by standing up to your enemies, not by betraying your friends. The leaders of the Gulf states may be talking about Israel, but they're thinking about Iran.
"In the Middle East, the irresolute Obama is missing an opportunity to bring about peace that he will not be offered in its current form anytime soon," Der Spiegel said. "Never before in Israeli history have Jews and Arabs been as united as they are today, in the face of the Iranian nuclear threat. Indeed, the Saudi foreign minister has spoken openly of the need for a military strike against Iran. Speigel has learned that Western intelligence services beliefe that the Saudis would even provide the Israelis with access to their airspace for such a strike."