THE BLOG
01/31/2017 11:29 am ET Updated Jan 31, 2018

Can We Discuss Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's Managerial Mistakes?

Prime Minister Netanyahu's administration declared (regarding the recent vote against Israel at the UN Security Council) that: "President Obama and Secretary Kerry are behind this shameful move against Israel at the UN."

Whether or not there's any basis for Netanyahu's accusations about the U.S. role in this vote -- none of this excuses Netanyahu's significant management errors.

Israel faces real diplomatic challenges. But instead of having a full-time experienced Foreign Minister, Prime Minister Netanyahu (in Grand Poobah style) has simultaneously been Israel's Foreign Minister, Communications Minister, Economy Minister, and Regional Co-operation Minister.

Netanyahu's multiple roles have been controversial even in Israel where the courts have suggested that, in addition to legal concerns, it's difficult to see how Netanyahu could be effective in all these roles. For example, a full time Foreign Minister could inform and challenge the Prime Minister intellectually, as well as spend time making connections with diplomatic peers in other countries. Netanyahu headed all these ministries because it serves his own political interests (his multiple positions are trading chips for use in Israel's coalition politics).

Israel's ambassador to the UN (Danny Danon) is a career politician -- not a diplomat -- and the UN is his first diplomatic posting. He was removed from a cabinet position (in a prior Israeli government) for being a loose cannon. His prior activities in Israeli politics were unrelentingly hostile to the Obama administration. It's widely rumored that Netanyahu viewed Danon as a political rival, and consequently sent him to the UN to get him out of the country. (It's also rumored Danon accepted the UN position to raise his profile in Israel.) These aren't helpful qualifications for an ambassador operating in the UN's hostile environment.

Israel's ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer is also not a career diplomat. Arguably, his major qualification for this posting was having been one of Netanyahu's closest political advisors. Dermer is very close to the American Republican Party, and has been accused of favoring the GOP (Dermer supported the Republican candidate Mitt Romney over Obama in the 2012 election), despite Israel's need (over the past several years) for President Obama's support. Dermer's also been accused of prioritizing Netanyahu's political career over the interests of the State of Israel, and has been censured by the Israeli Civil Service for endorsing Netanyahu as Prime Minister (while serving as Israel's ambassador to the US, intended to be a non-political position).

Besides this team's dramatic diplomatic failure at the UN, it has also been incompetent on day-to-day matters. Netanyahu and team cancelled a meeting with the President of the United States by making a media announcement, before informing the White House. This gratuitous rudeness wasn't a grand diplomatic gesture, but merely incredible sloppiness. If that's how Netanyahu's diplomatic team treats Israel's most important ally, what must its interactions with other countries be like? How many countries have been accidentally snubbed by this diplomatic team, and what role (if any) did that play in Israel's recent debacle?

Netanyahu's cultivation of Russian President Vladimir Putin resulted in still another diplomatic failure. Israel did Putin a favor (and further distanced itself from the US and Israel's other traditional allies) by refusing to support the UN's condemnation of atrocities in Syria. Putin publicly showed his contempt for Netanyahu -- by voting (the very next day) at the UN to condemn Israel. Netanyahu's buddy Putin couldn't even be bothered to merely abstain from the vote.

That brings us to the recent UN vote on Israel's settlements policy. The UN Security Council has 15 members, and the vote was 14 to 0. It's striking that Israel's diplomatic team couldn't convince even a single country to vote against the resolution Israel opposed. Only one country -- the U.S., Israel's firmest ally -- abstained, rather than vote against Israel.

Netanyahu demanded that the U.S. veto, rather than merely abstain from, a UN resolution supported by America's largest and most important partners and rivals. But Netanyahu himself placed so little importance on this diplomatic issue that he couldn't be bothered to assign experienced diplomats and a full time Foreign Minister to advocate for Israel.

Netanyahu and his team's failures at the UN prompted no introspection or re-examination of their strategy. Instead, they vehemently blamed President Obama for Israel's loss at the UN.

Netanyahu's attacks on Obama served his domestic political needs (because they distracted his constituents from his diplomatic mistakes and the criminal investigations swirling around him). But it's not clear what benefit (if any) Israel derived from Netanyahu's attacks on Obama, one of the most popular politicians in America (Obama's approval rating is 55% compared with only 37% for Trump).

While Netanyahu and company are nominally ecstatic for the dawn of the Trump era, these problems are not going away. Trump is clearly seeking some type of deal with Russia (which has traditionally supported Iran and Assad), and Israel could easily become a bargaining chip. Israel's current diplomatic arrangements are not well suited to dealing with the existing challenges, let alone with what might happen in the volatile Trump administration.

By Netanyahu's own standards, Israel has suffered major diplomatic setbacks. It's time for Israel to ask itself some tough questions about its policies and its leaders. And, it's far past the time for Netanyahu to stop blaming everyone - except himself - for these failures.