White House 311.
(photo credit: courtesy)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bought his ticket to Washington next weekend
with a revised Gaza blockade policy that won kudos from its coauthors, President
Barack Obama and Quartet special Mideast envoy Tony Blair.
Netanyahu arrives, the king of Saudi Arabia will drop by the Oval Office to
discuss the peace process almost exactly a year after he flatly rebuffed a
request from Obama – who’d made a special trip to Riyadh – for steps to
encourage Israeli flexibility in peace talks. King Abdullah said he’d done
enough by publishing a Saudi peace plan he’s done nothing to advance and instead
demanded Obama pressure Israel to endorse it. This week he may tell Obama to
lean harder on Israel or he’ll withdraw the offer.
Let’s hope that this
time Obama reminds him that Saudi Arabia needs the American security
(remember the first Gulf War?) a lot more than we need its oil. And that
between Israel and its neighbors is vital to the security of Saudi
faces the threat of a nuclear Iran across the Gulf.
IRAN TOPS Netanyahu’s
agenda as Israelis worry the West is spinning its wheels while the
are spinning their centrifuges and turning out highly enriched
Sanctions are fine, but so far ineffective. After years of
threats by the Bush and Obama administrations that we will not permit
build nukes, the truth is Iran is closer than ever and no one has a
to stop it.
The peace process heads Obama’s to-do list and he will be
looking for Netanyahu to take the advice of his partner and defense
Ehud Barak, who urged him to take to Washington a “daring and assertive
But that’s not Bibi’s style. In revising the Gaza
blockade, as with endorsing the twostate solution and instituting a
settlement freeze, he ultimately did the right thing but only after
every alternative, and then he wonders why he didn’t get the credit he
A guy with an MBA from MIT should know better.
He has a
new opportunity when he comes to Washington next month to take Ehud
counsel. Israel’s – and Netanyahu’s – international stature is as low as
been in many years; he has an chance to reverse the slide and become a
peacemaker, not an epic obstructer.
A big advantage of an Israeli
initiative is that it won’t be written in the White House, at the UN, in
Ramallah or in Riyadh. There’s an axiom on Capitol Hill that the
to whoever writes the first draft.
After a year of trading sharp elbow
jabs, Obama and Netanyahu figured out they could achieve more with a
confrontational approach and by working out their difference in private
of the public arena.
Their July 6 meeting has been dubbed the
kiss-and-make-up session, complete with photo-op and news
NETANYAHU AND Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas
are both convinced the other one is not serious, but neither one has
courage to call the other’s bluff.
The test will come in moving from
indirect talks to face-to-face negotiations.
Both Obama and Netanyahu
want that to happen quickly but Abbas, who makes no secret that he would
Obama do his negotiating for him, is holding out. He’s dropped his
demand for a total settlement freeze and is insisting on “substantive
in the current phase, something he’ll want Obama to certify to give him
back home for dropping his old demands.
Obama has several reasons to want
direct talks to begin by October. Abbas’s mandate from his brethren for
negotiations expires this fall at about the same time as Netanyahu’s
partial moratorium on settlement construction. Obama wants both to
Much of the improvement in relations could vanish if Netanyahu
allows the mayor of Jerusalem to go ahead with the demolition of 22 Arab
to make way for a tourism center near the Old City.
US support for Israel
is an issue in some House and Senate races this fall, and progress on
front could help Democrats in fund-raising and vote-getting, and allow
show his policies are working and good for Israel.
Netanyahu is expected
to invite Obama to visit, and the president is thinking of going in
possibly to kick off the face-to-face talks, and to take his case for
directly to the Israeli people. It is a trip long overdue.
Oval Office meeting will set the stage for what could be a more
relationship between wary US and Israeli leaders; the earlier US-Saudi
will hopefully bolster a regional climate that, until now, has seen the
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