The most important parts of the overheard Sarkozy-Obama dialogue in which the French leader called Netanyahu a “liar” are Obama’s confessions about Netanyahu’s access to him and his distance from the Palestinians.
“You’re fed up with him, what about me? I have to deal with him every day,” Obama said.
And: “You [Sarkozy] have to pass the message along to the Palestinians that they must stop this [U.N. efforts] immediately.”
Let’s be clear: this is about the role of the Israel lobby in our politics, the president’s need to fawn to an Israeli leader, even a rightwing leader. It’s happened before, in 1999-2000. “[Bill] Clinton’s willingness to take every phone call from Prime Minister [Ehud] Barak–at times on an almost daily basis, the study group was told–devalued the president’s latent power and denied Clinton the critical distance that a president often must have when dealing with detailed and nuanced policy problems,” Dan Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky wrote in Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace (based on a study group that included Bill Quandt, Shibley Telhami and Stephen Spiegel). “[T]he power of the presidency was devalued.”
The power of Obama’s presidency has also been devalued. He came in indicating that he would listen to the Palestinian side of things. He referred openly to “occupation” in his Cairo speech of ’09. All that is over. He has to talk to Netanyahu every day because he must keep the lobby happy, for the 2012 election.