Netanyahu and Obama 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
US President Barack Obama took the opportunity of his speech at the AIPAC policy
conference on Sunday to reiterate his administration’s unequivocal commitment to
Israel’s security and right to self-defense.
He said, “My
administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been
Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been
closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust... Israel
must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any
The president also cited his administration’s record on
defending Israel’s legitimacy, saying, “When the Goldstone report unfairly
singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in
the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban
conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the
notion that Zionism is racism... And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize
the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be
a shred of doubt by now – when the chips are down, I have Israel’s
On the sensitive issue of Iran and its nuclear program, President
Obama said the US would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, adding that he
would use whatever means necessary to ensure that, including the use of force.
The president suggested that there was still time to allow the combination of
diplomacy and crippling economic sanctions to achieve the desired outcome of
Iran deciding to “forsake nuclear weapons.”
He warned about the
potentially high stakes of military action and noted that “as president and
commander in chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war.”
President Obama’s statements reflect the sentiments of a steadfast friend of
Israel who has proven his commitment to the Jewish state and its continued
existence in peace and security.
Contrary to what some American and
Israeli critics have said in the past, over the past three years Obama has shown
in word and in deed that he has not strayed from either the supportive positions
on Israel that were adopted by his predecessors in office, George W. Bush and
Bill Clinton, or their vision of what Israel needs to ensure that secure
According to reports out of President Obama’s White House meeting
with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday, the Palestinian issue took a back seat
to the Iranian challenge because of domestic Israeli, American and Palestinian
political realities on the ground.
Palestinian public figures, such as
Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi, responded with dismay to that state of affairs.
The Palestinian Ma’an news agency quoted Erekat as having said in response to
Obama’s AIPAC address, “Unfortunately, the speech ignored the requirements for
peace as it did not touch on urging Israel to accept the two-state solution,
halt settlement activities, and stop imposing facts on the
Alternately, Sofia Ron-Moriah responded with elation in the
editorial column she wrote on Monday for the Israeli right-wing newspaper Makor
, “For the first time in many years, an Israeli prime minister is going to
the White House with the Palestinian issue not on the agenda. It is neither the
topic of discussion nor a pretext that is secondary, but must be paid lip
However, the Palestinian dismay and Israeli right wing’s glee
are almost certainly premature. Just as President Obama has remained true to his
two predecessors’ commitment to Israel’s security and legitimacy, he has also
remained fully committed to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
as a cornerstone of the longstanding American vision for Israel.
American view of the parameters for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict, moreover, has remained quite stable. It envisions the establishment of
a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip less the major settlement
blocs (see President Bush’s 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon) while Jerusalem will be
divided on a demographic basis (see President Clinton’s 2001 parameters). Here
too, President Obama has not departed in any real way from the policies set out
by his predecessor.
On this issue Obama and Netanyahu remain deeply
divided, and that division is not going to disappear even if the Palestinian
issue was put on the back burner in Monday’s meeting.
reports in the Hebrew press last week, Netanyahu made an express request to the
Jerusalem municipality and his cabinet ministers prior to his departure to
Washington not to be blindsided by any “surprises” in the form of new
construction tenders for east Jerusalem and the West Bank in and around his
White House meeting.
Even if Palestinian politicians and some of the
Israeli right wing, albeit for very different reasons, would prefer to say that
the Palestinian issue is now off the agenda, the prime minister knows that it
Netanyahu is sure to face an acerbic reaction from the
Obama administration to new construction in east Jerusalem neighborhoods and
existing West Bank settlements, including those inside the settlement blocs. One
can only imagine what a relocation of Migron would cause.
It would be
disingenuous to describe that as a sign of a wavering American commitment to
Israel under Obama, as some politicians and pundits have done in the past. As
noted, Obama has proven himself to be fully committed to Israel, following
closely the path laid out before him by presidents Clinton and Bush. That
longstanding American commitment manifests itself in unequivocal support for
Israel’s right to exist, its right to self-defense and its legitimacy, but not
in support Israel’s self-presumed right to settle the West Bank any further.