by Isi Leibler
Last week's meeting with US President Barack Obama was, on the surface, a dream outcome for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, especially in view of the harsh political environment surrounding him prior to his visit.
Although it was widely anticipated that Obama would roll out the red carpet, the effusive praise he showered on Netanyahu and
Obama praised Netanyahu, saying "I believe Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I believe he is ready to take risks for peace." He also stated that while there was hope for peace, he was not "blindly optimistic" and that
More importantly, even prior to the meeting, the Obama administration's belated sanctions against
Beyond this, despite predictions from the media and Netanyahu's political opponents that he would be obliged to make further unilateral concessions to placate Obama, the prime minister publicly conceded nothing beyond reiterating his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians. Nor was there evidence of pressure on him to extend the settlement freeze after September.
It is quite possible that after 18 months of failing to beat Israel into submission, and observing the resilient manner in which Netanyahu retained his dignity and resisted his bullying, Obama realized that his strategy was counterproductive. He may have decided to utilize carrots rather than sticks and cooperation as an ally rather than an adversary.
As a consequence, the Netanyahu government has, at least in the short term, emerged stronger than ever. The displays of affection Obama conveyed to Netanyahu neutralized Kadima's principal argument that he could never cooperate with this administration. The Labor rebels will also have less justification for withdrawing from the government.
YET DESPITE the sighs of relief, it would be foolish to assume that American policy toward
We are not privy to the 90 minutes of discussions that took place behind closed doors. Were commitments made in relation to extending the settlement freeze? Did Netanyahu reach any agreements regarding defensible borders? Was there still talk of a two-year timetable for an independent Palestinian state? We will probably know more in the months to come.
Irrespective of what will happen in the future, we must unhesitatingly welcome the dramatically changed atmosphere in which
Yet we should not count our chickens until they are hatched and must gird ourselves for the very real possibility that this Netanyahu-Obama summit of goodwill may still prove to be a false calm before the storm.
One need not be a cynic to recognize that the primary motivation for the dramatic reversal was the hostile public reaction, by Americans solidly supportive of
One need only observe the precedents of Obama's zigzagging in relation to Israel during the course of the presidential elections to appreciate how fickle (or pragmatic) he can be to garner votes and financial contributions. However unlikely it may seem today, we must be prepared for the possibility that Obama could resume his previous posture after the congressional elections and revert to beating up on
NEVERTHELESS, THERE is a major window of opportunity between now and November to reinforce the new approach and set the record straight with the administration concerning our narrative - which was skimmed over during the talks. The bottom line remains that without a sea change in the attitude of the Palestinians, there is unlikely to be any real progress toward a Palestinian state. In that context,
This will necessitate the
Obama surely understands that, surrounded by vicious enemies under Iranian direction, Israel must ensure that a future Palestinian state will be demilitarized and that we retain defensible borders, including control over the Jordan Valley. Having witnessed the impotence and failure of UNIFIL in
Whatever the future concerning the settlement freeze portends, there must be a clear understanding that
Above all, in the absence of direct negotiations which were maintained uninterruptedly over the past 20 years, there can be no progress on the Palestinian front.
While Netanyahu hopes to strengthen his relationship with Obama, he must be prepared, if necessary, to again stand firm against undue pressure. It is disconcerting that immediately following his meeting, Netanyahu effervescently expressed the belief that a peace settlement could be achieved within 12 months. This is virtually impossible with his current "peace partner" and he does not assist his cause by raising false expectations. But equally, we must appreciate that a prime minister is obliged to build bridges and demonstrate that he is doing his utmost to cooperate with the long-term objectives of the American administration, as long as they do not conflict with our basic security interests.
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