The White House and State Department lashed out after the Israelis advanced plans to build in areas the administration considers to be off-limits to new Israeli construction, using language that reporters noted is usually reserved for terror attacks.
Asked by journalists why the administration stated that it “strongly condemn[ed” Israel's plans to advance construction, a phrase ordinarily used “to denounce acts of terrorism,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest replied that the construction “provoke[s] strong feelings in the administration.” In that briefing, Earnest also suggested that Israel betrayed commitments to Washington, while a State Department official separately said Israel would be “cementing… perpetual occupation” if it built the houses.
The latest controversy revolves around construction that the Israelis say is within the already existing Israeli neighborhood Shilo, but that the administration says constitutes a new settlement. Congressional officials who spoke to TWS said that the administration's condemnation is a pretext for eroding relations with Israel and potentially for setting up a broader diplomatic offensive.
“They're launching this weird, aggressive campaign that simply will have no positive outcome,” a senior congressional source told TWS. “It's not an accident that all of this has been going on as Congress goes into recess [and] as attention is diverted by the election.”
The source said that while the administration has engaged in similar behavior against Israel in the past, this case appeared “far more coordinated and aggressive.”
“The president is in the market for a legacy,” the source continued. “I'm very concerned that he's going to do something that he considers to be dramatic, just to get his name on the process.”
Another congressional source told TWS that President Obama has been “waiting for an opening” to condemn Israel.
“200 housing units in an existing community that did not expand the boundaries at all? That's not something that should even make the news in Israel, let alone the U.S.”
The source suggested that the administration had also coordinated with media outlets this past week to release material criticizing Israel.
“The fact that they seem so prepared for this, the fact that it comes at the exact same time as this crap from the New York Times and Vox,” the source continued. “I [think] they were waiting for something.”
A senior political official at a nonpartisan national Jewish organization told TWS that the White House seems to be setting up the Israelis to take the blame for a fabricated crisis, which could then be used to justify diplomatic action against Israel.
“It's no secret that the Obama administration is angling to do something against the Israelis after the election, when it will face no political pressure,” said the source. “That's exactly why lawmakers from both parties have been penning letters and resolutions calling for the President not to throw our Israeli allies under the bus at the United Nations or target them domestically.”
“The administration wants to be able to say the Israelis forced them to act, which is why they've launched these efforts to blame Tel Aviv for tensions.”
Lawmakers and sources close to congressional leadership told TWS they viewed the administration's efforts as unproductive and shameful.
Florida senator Marco Rubio criticized Obama for spending “his final few months” damaging U.S.-Israel relations instead of “finally standing up to Vladimir Putin, Bashar al-Assad and the mullahs in Tehran.”
“He shamefully insists on continuing to manufacture crises with our close ally Israel,” Rubio told TWS.
A Republican leadership aide said that the administration's attempts to sow discord with Israel were a distraction from “the real barriers to peace.”
“The administration is using this to distract from…the Palestinians' refusal to enter direct negotiations in good faith and without preconditions,” the aide said. “This unnecessary outrage does nothing to bring the parties together. On the contrary, it pushes them further apart.”
This is not the first time the Obama administration has faced criticism for deliberately generating diplomatic crises with Israel.
During the president's first few months in office, commentators noted that the administration was disproportionately “tough on Israel:” while serving up an “absolutist demand” to Israel for a freeze on settlements, officials allowed Palestinian leaders to “sit back” and wait for Israel to accept its new reality.
“[Obama] has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud,” the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl wrote at the time.
Less than a year later, the administration fiercely reprimanded Israel after a government official announced plans to build homes in east Jerusalem. One administration official called the decision an “affront” and an “insult,” while Vice President Joe Biden “condemn[ed]” the announcement, a phrase that reports noted “is rarely used in diplomatic terms when criticizing the behavior of close allies.”

The ideals of 1776

Should we return to them — and can we?
Illustration on future world leadership by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times
Illustration by Alexander Hunter/The Washington Times more >
Andrew Roberts, one of the world’s great historians, took America to task last week. Let me rephrase that: He took Americans to task for what they – or rather we – are doing to these United States during an election season that often seems like a satirical novel, albeit one that would have benefited from more rigorous editing.
Professor Roberts is British in the best tradition, that is to say the tradition of Winston Churchill and Benjamin Disraeli (as opposed to, say, the tradition of Jeremy Corbyn or Oswald Mosley). The author, most recently, of a masterful biography of Napoleon, he received the coveted Bradley Prize earlier this year. He also is a public intellectual and among Europe’s staunchest defenders of America -- though, come to think of it, since the passage of Brexit, a cause he championed, Britain may no longer be in Europe.
Wherever Britain is these days, last Thursday evening Professor Roberts was at New York City’s elegant Metropolitan Club, delivering the Manhattan Institute’s prestigious Wriston Lecture to well-known and formally attired conservatives – a tribe that does not gather often in that neck of the woods. Filet mignon was served: Vegans and those concerned about the environmental impact of bovine flatulence be damned.
His talk was titled “1776: Would You Like to Reconsider?” He noted that America’s two major presidential candidates “are despised by 60% of Americans,” calling that an indicator that the primary system “is broken and urgently needs to be reformed.” He added: “For all the undoubted genius of your Constitution, in 2016 it is no longer sustainable for Americans to say that they have the best democratic system in the world.”
I found myself in emphatic agreement. But then he began to wax optimistic, reassuring the crowd that he was “not for a moment suggesting democracy is under threat in America. With your Constitution, Bill of Rights, First Amendment, Congress, separation of powers – and the sublime instincts of the American people – democracy is under no threat whatsoever here.”
Color me dubious. Among the reasons: Increasingly powerful “progressives” regard the Constitution and the Bill or Rights not as a contract between the governed and those they elect to govern them but as a hoary document subject to radical revision by activist judges eager to infringe rights they disfavor (e.g. the First and Second Amendments) and add others based on fashionable notions of “social justice.”
As for Congress, it has been sidelined by a president with a “pen and a phone”– as well as by a burgeoning bureaucracy, an administrative state that makes rules without bothering to obtain – or even solicit -- public consent. Fewer and fewer powers remain separated. Is there reason to think this tide will soon ebb?
If not, then Professor Roberts’ next point should especially concern us. The concept of “democratic values as worthy aspirations for modern society,” he said, “certainly is under serious threat globally from a totalitarian state-capitalist model that is dangerously attractive in what it is producing for its populations.” I surmise he had China in mind. It doesn’t appear to me that Russia, Iran and North Korea are producing anything of value for their populations. But maybe what I want for my children is not what they want for theirs.
We now come to the remark that caused me the most beard-stroking. “If we in Britain got over losing America and went on to become the largest empire in history,” he said, “you can get over four years of Mrs. Clinton.”
The British Empire reached its peak just after World War I. Less than two generations later, in the aftermath of World War II, it crumbled. Meanwhile, the Soviet empire, exploiting the postwar weakness of its neighbors, began to expand.  Who knows how far communist tyrants would have marched had the United States not assumed the burdens of leadership? 
Today, however, many on the right think what happens overseas will stay overseas if we just don’t interfere, while many on the left believe that the projection of American power inevitably does more harm than good.
Who, if not Americans, can be the designated driver of the global political and economic order? The rulers of China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are all eager to get behind the wheel.  Do we not know what that would mean? President Obama and his fellow globalists continue to place their faith in failed transnational institutions and something they call the “international community” which, it should be obvious by now, is as much a figment of the imagination as Frosty the Snowman.
That said, I concur with Professor Roberts that the “ideals of 1776” can “still work in the modern world” and indeed are “the best ones to cleave to.” The catch is that reviving those ideals – for example, reasserting the inalienable rights (as opposed to entitlements) of individuals (as opposed to groups), and the freedom to pursue happiness (a condition no government agency can guarantee) – will be no picnic.
“America needs to double down on the concepts that made her great and modernize the political system that gave her global hegemony in the first place.” Yes but what’s the chance that the next president – whoever he or she may be – will lead that effort? Can such a mission be accomplished in the absence of such leadership?
I want to believe it can -- considering how abysmal is the alternative. But that will require the rise of a courageous new movement. The swell folks gathered at the Metropolitan Club – where the pumpkin cheese cake was delicious, by the way – are among those who have the resources, intellectual and otherwise, to get it started. Whether they also have the requisite determination is a separate question.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.