We have entered a new period of US policy toward Israel. Basically, Barack Obama needs Israel, requires its cooperation, and is eager to get along with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. How long this will last is unclear but it should characterize, barring unforeseen events, the next year at least.
What is the basis of this new era? When the Obama administration came to office, it was in radical mode, determined to distance itself from Israel as a key to winning over Arabs and Muslims (assuming that peace could be achieved with sufficient pressure on this country as the only requirement), and hostile to its current government.
A measure of reality eventually set in, involving factors ranging from
the lack of Arab cooperation, to Iran’s intransigence, the lack of
progress in engaging Syria and the tasks of dealing with Iraq and
The administration’s head-on charge over demanding a freeze of
construction in settlements only produced a one-year-plus delay in
negotiations. The Palestinian Authority was uncooperative. The American
public was unhappy with the policy toward Israel.
This is not to say that the situation was simple, but by now things are
The Obama administration is desperate for diplomatic successes, or at
least the appearance of successes. What’s happening regarding Iran’s
nuclear weapons’ drive cannot be concealed or ignored.
The US government is also is aware of falling public support – including
a sharp decline in Jewish backing, though pro- Israel forces extend far
more widely throughout American society – on the eve of midterm
elections. In addition, it’s clear that Netanyahu’s government isn’t
going away and there is no “dovish” alternative that will give Obama
everything he wants for little or nothing in exchange.
So now Obama needs Netanyahu. He needs to keep the new peace talks
looking good. The president also requires that Netanyahu keep things
quiet on the Israel- Palestinian front so as to make it easier – so he
thinks – to get Arab and Muslim support for other US policies. And since
Obama’s orientation is mainly domestic, he wants to avoid international
THE TRUTH is – and this is analysis, not a political statement –
Netanyahu and his government have performed brilliantly in facing this
challenge. He has met US requests without sacrificing Israeli interests,
if nothing else, secure in the knowledge that the PA isn’t going to
make a deal anyway and wanting to focus American attention on the
Iranian threat. Whatever the US government says in public, it has to
realize that the PA, not Israel, is the roadblock to peace.
This kind of charm diplomacy may be what Netanyahu is best at doing. His
speech in Washington was a masterpiece, praising Obama and making clear
that his goal is a true and stable peace, not merely “a brief interlude
between two wars... a temporary respite between outbursts of terror. We
seek a peace that will end the conflict between us once and for all. We
seek a peace that will last for generations.”
He called Abbas “my partner in peace...
We recognize that another people shares this land with us. And I came
here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both peoples
to live in peace, security and dignity.”
Netanyahu concluded: “I did not come here to win an argument. I came
here to forge a peace. I did not come here to play a blame game where
even the winners lose. I came here to achieve a peace that will bring
benefits to all. I did not come here to find excuses.
I came here to find solutions.”
He made this approach without illusions: “We left Lebanon, we got
terror. We left Gaza, we got terror. We want to ensure that territory we
concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror
enclave aimed at the heart of Israel. That is why a defensible peace
requires security arrangements that can withstand the test of time and
the many challenges that are sure to confront us.”
Is the PA going to meet even a single one of Israel’s requirements? End
of conflict, real security guarantees, demilitarization of a Palestinian
state, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, resettlement of all
Palestinian refugees in the state of Palestine? Of course not. There
might possibly be agreement on some minor border changes, but even that
is unlikely, much less giving even the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem to
Israel, or some other parts of eastern or northern Jerusalem.
WHAT ISRAEL has to do, though, is to continue to put forward reasonable
demands, show itself cooperative and flexible, while letting the months
of futile talks roll ever onward. Netanyahu isn’t threatened by
right-wing walk-outs from the coalition, which at any rate will be
discouraged by the fact that he isn’t actually giving anything away. At
any rate, he controls the Likud; the Labor Party has no alternative; the
opposition Kadima has no leadership or program.
At some point next year, Netanyahu will call elections and win a
PA President Mahmoud Abbas will go along with the charades up to a
point, but increasingly, as he gives nothing himself, will blame Israel
for the lack of progress.
Even Marwan Barghouti, the jailed leader of Fatah’s West Bank grassroots
organization, opposes talks publicly and much of the Fatah
establishment opposes them privately.
Abbas will be itching to walk out and insist that only a unilateral
declaration of independence can “solve” the issue. But during this
period, at least, that’s the very last thing the Obama administration
wants: a huge crisis, a difficult decision, potential mass violence
stirring up the region, a likely diplomatic catastrophe.
All of this doesn’t mean the administration understands the extent to
which Iran’s nuclear weapons pose a big and negative strategic shift in
the area, the extent of the threat from revolutionary Islamists, how
Iraq is on the brink of political anarchy, the futility of the US effort
in Afghanistan, the atleast temporary loss of Turkey, the capture of
Lebanon by the Iran-Syria bloc, and all the other ills of the Middle
But the current US government understands enough about what’s going on
to comprehend that it doesn’t want a crisis with Israel as well, and
that it isn’t going to achieve some dramatic breakthrough to
As for Obama, no politician desires anything more passionately – other
than election – than having someone else make him look good, perhaps
especially when he doesn’t deserve it. Consequently, now is the time for
a somewhat belated Obama- Netanyahu honeymoon.The writer is director of the Global
Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East
Review of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. He blogs at