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President Obama Makes His Move

We do not mean to denigrate the impressive military support and cooperation the Obama administration has directed toward Israel. It is, as President Obama and others have rightly indicated, unprecedented. Indeed, the recent announcement of a huge joint military exercise between Israel and the U.S. is extraordinary. Nor do we minimize the regular declarations of unshakable support for Israel that have come from the president and others in his administration.

Yet we can’t shake our nagging unease that a reelected Barack Obama will be a cause for concern to Israel and its supporters. Events this past week only served to heighten our unease.

At the outset of his presidency, Mr. Obama declared his vision of reaching out to Muslim and Third World countries in an effort to reverse what he said was a pattern of a misguided American policy of neglect and outright insult. Although he did not target Israel, it was clear from his remarks – what he said and what he left unsaid – that he believed part of Washington’s new attitude would be a readjustment of the U.S. relationship with Israel.

The president doubtless thought his constant refrain of support for Israel’s security needs would reassure Israelis, yet for us it had the opposite effect. The president, we felt, doth protest too much. One would hardly have felt the need to keep talking about U.S. support for Britain during World War II. The idea was self-evident.

Further, one had to wonder at the fact that all the administration’s massive largesse vis-a-vis Israel followed so closely on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to go along with Mr. Obama’s call for a halt to settlement construction and for using the 1967 lines as the basis for negotiations on final borders between Israel and a Palestinian state.

And remember, it was congressional reaction to his pressure on Israel and cold treatment of Prime Minister Netanyahu that caused the president to backtrack on the settlements issue and the 1967 lines.

Plainly, the notion that Mr. Obama is being fundamentally driven by electoral concerns and congressional politics must be taken very seriously. So with this in mind we were unnerved by his challenge this week to the constitutional authority of the Senate to pass on his appointments to federal public office and his reorientation of America’s military plans.

In a flagrant challenge to lawmakers, Mr. Obama has usurped his authority to make recess appointments without the advice and consent of the Senate by arbitrarily arrogating to himself the decision as to when the Senate is in recess (the only time the Constitution says a president can so act). By acting when the Senate was not in recess by traditional definition, he has precipitated a possible constitutional crisis. Several commentators have opined that the president is intent on running against a “do nothing Congress” and this is all part of it. However, to the extent that it was Congress that forced him to reverse course on Israeli settlements and fealty to the ’67 lines – which we believe to be contrary to U.S. interests – this disregard for the Senate indeed is an ominous development.

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