The Region: Finally some love from the White House?

The issue at the upcoming meeting between Netanyahu and Obama will not be a final diplomatic solution, but rather the PM's negotiating posture.

May 30, 2010 23:46
PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu welcomes White H

bibi with rahm emanuel 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

Why was Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu suddenly invited to meet with US President Barack Obama this week? I can think of three reasons.

One is the Obama administration’s realization that its harsh policy toward Israel was mistaken and yielded no diplomatic benefit. In the memorable words of one top official, it had “screwed up the message.”

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The idea that pressuring and distancing the US from Israel would bring some Arab compromise on peace or support for US policy was disappointed.

A second aspect, and a very important one, is the knowledge that this policy is very unpopular among Americans in general and American Jews in particular. Indeed, polls show that it is the administration position most disliked by the American public. With November elections coming up, the White House wants to cut its losses.

The third reason relates to substantive issues. The White House wants to hear from Netanyahu about his views and plans regarding negotiations with the Palestinians. The Obama administration is eager for progress on indirect talks, hopeful on moving to direct talks (which Netanyahu very much wants to do) and is also looking at longer-range possibilities.

MY VIEW is that Netanyahu should stress the following: Israel wants peace and is willing to agree to a two-state solution. But here’s what we want in return, so go to the Palestinians and see what they are willing to give in exchange for an independent state.

At this point, he explains the need to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; demilitarization of any Palestinian state (which I would call “nonmilitarization,” meaning that it keeps existing security forces but doesn’t build separate, conventional armed forces); that any agreement will permanently end the conflict and all Palestinian claims; and that all refugees must be resettled in the state of Palestine.

Netanyahu can quote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement of November 25, which endorsed Israel’s demand for recognition as a Jewish state and the retention of blocs including the largest Jewish settlements: “We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

He must also explain in detail what Israel wants in terms of security guarantees. And Netanyahu needs to point out that there is no sense having a “two-state solution” that is more unstable, anti-American and conducive to promoting radical – especially Iranian – ambitions than the status quo.

To a lesser extent, he can discuss his views on the details of borders, Jerusalem, settlements and other issues. But this can also be left for the future.

His main task, though, is to break the pattern in which only Palestinian demands are considered and debated. In this context, the question is only what will Israel give, never what it will get in return.

This is a reasonable set of demands and one that the Palestinian Authority would be able to meet if it were a “normal” political entity seeking a permanent two-state solution.

Unfortunately, the leadership – and even more those who stand behind it in Fatah – would like to see Israel disappear and get everything. But that’s a lesson that the Obama administration has to learn for itself.

The current PA strategy is to pretend to cooperate but ensure that, in effect, the talks are sabotaged. It hopes at some point next year to go to the US and Europe and claim that since Netanyahu won’t make a deal, they should recognize a unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence or force Israel to accept a Palestinian state with no concessions by the PA. This probably won’t work, though there are enough hints to the contrary to persuade the PA that this kind of strategy is its best bet.

The point for Netanyahu, then, is to express his total cooperation with peace efforts. If the PA refuses direct negotiations and rejects reasonable offers, he must show that this will not be Israel’s fault.

Another approach suggests that Netanyahu should offer some kind of interim solution in which the PA would become a de facto state leaving Jerusalem, borders and most other issues for the future. I think this would be a disastrous error, in essence giving the PA what it wants first without it having to make any compromises. No matter what time limit or conditions are put on the plan, once there is a Palestinian state, recognized by the West and a full member of the UN, all such limitations would disappear.

Remember the issue here is not what a final diplomatic solution would look like, but what negotiating posture Netanyahu will take in his White House visit.

TWO OTHER points must be mentioned. Netanyahu will show appreciation for the US efforts on sanctions, but what longer-range strategy does he advocate? Probably, here, he will learn more about US views on containment and strategy if and when Iran gets nuclear weapons, as well as on further unilateral sanctions. He is going to have to listen and evaluate what this approach means, especially in considering whether or not the IDF should attack Iranian facilities at some point in the future.

Finally, Netanyahu is going to have to use all his smoothness and charm to educate his interlocutors about what the Middle East is really like without ever hinting that he is being patronizing or arrogant. That’s a tall order but if any Israeli can do it, Netanyahu can.

In contrast to the last visit, where he was received quite rudely, this one is set to be a public love fest. Eventually, we will find out whether it was that way privately as well.

The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. His blog can be read at

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