For some, Binyamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu is not a flip-flopper; he’s an acrobat.  He was for a two-state solution before he was against it (and then for it, again).  Bibi’s reversal on a two-state solution and his use of the “Southern strategy” vis-à-vis Arab voters has made a bad relationship with the Obama Administration even worse.  Channeling Henry Kissinger in the mid-1970s, Obama has said the U.S. would “reassess” its relationship with Israel.  I previously wrote that part of the reason for the divide was due to divergence of interests on Iran and Syria.  At this point the U.S.-Israeli relationship is in need of adult supervision. 

First, Obama Has to Deal with Bibi.  In 1996, Bill Clinton made it abundantly clear that he preferred Shimon Peres to Netanyahu and Likud in the Israeli general election.  Netanyahu’s narrow victory got things off on the wrong foot.  Clinton being Clinton, he managed to awkwardly work with Bibi – until the 1999 election, which was won by Ehud Barak (with a little help from James Carville).  While Obama did not repeat Bill Clinton’s mistake with Peres, he’s unlikely to have the same second chance Bill Clinton had with Barak.  At this point in time, there isn’t a figure on the left comparable to Bibi.    

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Second, Bibi has to deal with Barack.  Some suggest Bibi is calculating that Obama is a lame duck.  He (and Israel) can wait until the U.S. elects a Republican President.  Except, he can’t.  In international politics, sometimes we can’t turn the clock back or undo what’s been done.  The U.S. cannot un-invade Iraq or Afghanistan.  One tipping point could come if the Obama Administration allows U.N. Resolutions recognizing an independent Palestine to come to a vote.  Spillover effects include (but are not limited to): Bolstering other efforts to recognize an independent Palestine.  Instead of the non-binding vote in Britain last fall, these decisions will be binding – like Sweden’s decision to recognize Palestine.  This, in turn, could strengthen the hand of proponents of BDS, short for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel.  BDS has much more support in Europe than America.  But, while America is Israel’s primary security partner, the EU is Israel’s primary trading partner. 

The Barack and Bibi Show will never be a romance or a buddy comedy.  However, it’s not going to be cancelled for nearly two years.  The two need to find a way to work together on tangible results. 

Whether Netanyahu was electioneering or not, he made a valid point about the viability of a Palestinian state: it isn’t achievable today.  If, as Max Weber famously argued, a state is a body of institutions that have a monopoly over the legitimate use of violence, there is nothing that comes close to that within the Palestinian polity. 

The center-left has expressed the same uncertainty and mistrust Netanyahu set out prior to the election.  Many have feared that an unstable Palestine could become a staging ground for further attacks from groups like Hamas.  The unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon did not drain the swamp of support for Hezbollah.  Instead, the Shia militia-cum-party increased its demands. Unilateral withdrawal – or “disengagement” - from Gaza is now seen as a repeat of the “Hezbollah model.”  Withdrawal at this point in time will leave the West Bank and Gaza governed by not-so-stationary bandits.

At this point in time, three things should be done.

1).  Rather than working toward the creation of a Palestinian state, the U.S. should scale back its ambitions and focus on conflict management.  Preventing flare-ups in places like Gaza, and moving quickly to deescalate them, should take center stage.  The U.S. needs to recognize that, at this time, it cannot dictate events on the ground. 

2).  Actively work to cultivate the Palestinian Authority (PA) as an alternative to Hamas.  Recent reports have suggested the PA is effectively bankrupt.  This provides Hamas with a window of opportunity to extend its grip. 

3).  Work to cultivate a next generation of Palestinian leaders – from Mohammad Dahlan to parties outside of Fatah, both the U.S. and Israelis should quietly engage with forces outside of Fatah and Hamas.  Doing so publicly would delegitimate them and make them look like Trojan Horses or Fifth Columns. 

There are divergent interests between the U.S. and Israel, especially when it comes to Iran.  However, the volley of slights and insults between Washington and Jerusalem suggests that adult supervision may be necessary.  Before the relationship unnecessarily disintegrates, both sides need to recognize their mutual dependence and the extent they can influence facts on the ground.

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