Netanyahu has more to lose if Obama meeting goes sour, pundits claim

Some news outlets, including Fox News, play up Netanyahu's possible support for a two-state solution.

obama netanyahu 248.88 ap (photo credit: AP)
obama netanyahu 248.88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
American opinion writers and Jewish lobbyists have this to say about Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's first visit to the Obama White House: Netanyahu may have more to lose than Obama, but the meeting will have important ramifications for both countries for years to come. On Sunday, some news outlets, including Fox News, played up Netanyahu's possible support for a two-state solution. A first hint of the potential policy shift came Saturday, when Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Channel 2, "I think and believe that Netanyahu will tell Obama this government is prepared to go for a political process that will result in two nations living side by side in peace and mutual respect." The stance, even if it represents a negotiating position, is one that has support from pro-peace American Jewish lobbying interests. "One of the things that Netanyahu is going to find is a very different political environment in Washington," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street. "There's a much broader array of support for a two-state solution and a broad array of support for diplomacy." Yet some conservative voices are arguing that President Obama may put pressure on Israel. "Mr. Obama and his team are all great worshipers at the shrine of 'evenhandedness,' which has long served as a deceptive euphemism for pressuring Israel to make unilateral concessions to Palestinian demands," wrote Norman Podhoretz, editor-at-large of Commentary magazine, in the publication's May issue. Either way, much is being made of the visit in the American press, which is emphasizing the ramifications of a first meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, who ruffled feathers during his first meeting with former president Bill Clinton. "First impressions matter," wrote Elliott Abrams in The Wall Street Journal. Arguing that the meeting is "far more important for Mr. Netanyahu than for Mr. Obama," he said, "The Israelis will be looking especially for hints of new American policies, departures from the Bush years. They will focus on the tone of the president's comments on Iran: Does he call it 'unacceptable' for Iran to get the bomb or use a weaker word? To be sure, the stakes are high." "Netanyahu faces the daunting task of maintaining Israel's relationship with the United States, while at the same time forestalling Iran's nuclear program," wrote Jeffrey Goldberg in The New York Times on Saturday. "If Iran gains nuclear capacity, Israel will have judged him a failure as prime minister; if he does serious damage to his country's standing in Washington, he will have failed as well." Yet Goldberg argued that Netanyahu's preoccupation with Iran's nuclear program "seems sincere and deeply felt. "I recently asked one of his advisers to gauge for me the depth of Mr. Netanyahu's anxiety about Iran. His answer: 'Think Amalek,'" wrote Goldberg. But at the end of the day, some said, neither leader is likely to let their different opinions create an immediate crisis. "Even more than a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a US national security interest and one must always remember that Israel's top national security asset is its relationship with the United States," said Ori Nir, a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now. "What you will see at the end of the day is that an Israeli prime minister, any Israeli prime minister, even Binyamin Netanyahu, who is pretty hard line, will not jeopardize that interest, that asset."