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Monday, November 9, 2009

Obama - Bibi meeting: Photo-op frill or substantive discussion?

In Ha'aretz, Aluf Benn asserts that the late hour timing of the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama is a snub that makes the visit worthless. He wrote:
The delays in finding a time to meet, and pushing it to a late hour - after the news programs on Israeli television - make Netanyahu look as if Obama threw him a bone. In such circumstances, it is no longer important what will be said at the meeting, and the extent to which there will be an attempt to present it as an achievement. The prime minister of Israel was humiliated before all.
It ain't necessarily so. In fact, the story was specifically denied by the Prime Minister's office. Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu have important business to discuss, and most of it is best discussed quietly. The Palestinians have the intention of declaring a state unilaterally, with EU and UN support. Until now, the importance of this ominous threat did not register with Israel leaders it seems (see Unilateral Palestinian state declaration - More important than settlement freeze). But the gravity of the problem is slowly dawning on Israeli policy makers, and Netanyahu wants a commitment from the US to block a unilateral Palestinian state declaration. At the same time, the farce of dialog with Iran is slowly coming to its inevitable conclusion, and US policy makers are beginning to understand the obvious: Iran is not interested in dialogs and treaties about nuclear development. Iran is going to build nuclear weapons if nobody stops it. Iran's refusal to sign a meaningful draft treaty, coupled with reports that they have been testing a two-point implosion mechanism for use in a nuclear warhead, should make it amply clear what Iran is doing and what they intend.  
Netanyahu is a seasoned politician. The injury to his delicate psyche from the "humiliation" is not really of much importance compared to the prospect of Iranian nuclear weapons or a Palestinian unilateral state declaration. What is important for Netanyahu and Israel is whether or not the US will lead in taking decisive action to stop Iranian nuclear development, and whether or not the US will put the kibbosh on Palestinian plans to declare a state unilaterally, not whether or not he gets a photo-op with Mr. Obama. If President Obama gives Netanyahu those commitments and keeps his word about them, then it doesn't matter if he smiles at him or not.  And if Obama smiles and does not make the commitment. Having suffered a setback in the Arab world after Hillary Clinton praised Israel for making "unprecedented" concessions regarding the settlements issue, the Obama administration is engaged in serious public backpedaling to mollify Arab opinion. In any case, the peace process and the other issues would best be discussed without the "benefit" of press coverage and without the need for public statements that everyone knows are not quite really true. Israel doesn't need any more talk about unbreakable bonds. There are serious problems that require serious attention.
It is probably too much to hope that that will happen. Instead, Mr Obama, intent on his Middle East policy, will likely pressure Netanyahu to "give me something I can show the Palestinians." That is understandable. But tne timing of the meeting is a rather juvenile and petty issue of diplomatic protocol games.
The only real story in Aluf Benn's article, is that Benn and others are doing their darndest to amplify differences between the United States and Israel and to make it seem like there is maximal US pressure on Israel. It would be fatuous to claim that there is unanimity of policy between the two countries as some do. The timing of the meeting was a symbolic snub. In Israel, it will not lose any popularity for Netanyahu, who is respected for standing up to unreasonable Palestinian demands that are backed by the United States. It is equally absurd to insist that the substance of the Israel-U.S. relationship is based on photo-ops and the timing of meetings.  .
Ami Isseroff

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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