The Israel countdown seems to have begun. The president leaves tomorrow for an overseas trip that will put him, on Thursday, in Cairo, where he will give a major speech. In this speech he is expected to send the signals that will indicate whether it's a new deal for Israel.
While there will surely be no fighting words here, there could well be a sense of how far the present administration is going to move from standard policy, in which Israel gets the benefit of the doubt, to, in effect, doubting Israel.
The Times offers a front page story about how indications of the new tensions are swirling around the issue of West Bank development: Israel wants to build, Washington says no. This is a story out of Israel, meaning the Israelis are starting their pushback campaign. It's directly about Thursday's speech: It's a warning. But the Times has another, rather buried, story out of Washington, very clearly a response to the settlement dispute, in which the president says, in an NPR interview, "Part of being a good friend [to Israel] is being honest." After years of saying very little, of openly tolerating the clearly preposterous, that's a deep cut. He goes on, in the interview, to reiterate his position regarding a "freeze on settlements."
Part of understanding what's happening in the US-Israel relationship is understanding who is saying what to whom. Because the language here is so ritualized and proscribed, the entire conversation takes place in subtext. The president will never say we're cutting off Israel; we're dumping them; we're finished--but, on the other hand, he will.
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