Editor's Notes: A revived partnership?

Obama on Tuesday began the process of assuring us that he has our back – something absolutely essential when any leader of our tiny country contemplates ‘taking risks for peace.’

Obama Netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Obama Netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
So, that’s all right then.
It’s all fixed. The president has always trusted the prime minister. The prime minister has always respected the president.
Everything we thought we knew before Tuesday, it turns out, we didn’t.
Well, not too many Israelis are buying completely into the new glossy narrative of American-Israeli relations.
It’s a little too soon to have forgotten the counter-productive White House push for a building freeze in Jerusalem and the calculatedly reinflated crisis over construction plans at Ramat Shlomo, complete with blistering public denunciation.
It’s far too soon to have forgotten the US-enabled, skewed focus on Israel at May’s NPT Review Conference.
And if Democratic Party interests ahead of November’s mid-term elections meant the vexed issue of an extended West Bank settlement moratorium was left hanging this time, it would be a foolish Israeli prime minister, indeed, who believed that he had wriggled out of that dispute, and that it would not be back at the top of the agenda next time these two leaders got together.
Don’t get me wrong. Most Israelis, have no doubt, were delighted by the warm public embrace President Barack Obama extended to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this time – as compared to the embarrassed secrecy that attended his previous visit to the premises. That embrace signals to Israel’s enemies that we have friends again in high places, and that makes this country just a little bit safer.
And be assured that we want to believe the personal levels of trust always were good and, more importantly, are good. We’re just understandably worried, given the evidence so far during these two leaders’ terms of office, that the minds aren’t quite meeting yet, and that mutual confidence is nowhere near as profound as it needs to be.
Because the fact is that the closer the American and Israeli leaderships are to genuine, heartfelt, mutual reliance and mutual confidence, the better our chances for ushering in that era of tranquility so earnestly sought by the good-hearted among us all.
THE EVIDENCE of the past two decades demonstrates that the establishment of personal chemistry, empathy and ultimately trust between leaders grappling with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is crucial. To date, to our misfortune, the required constellation of personalities has eluded us.
Yitzhak Rabin and Bill Clinton forged a partnership of real warmth and respect, but they were cursed by the presence of Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian leader who passed up the opportunity to win independent statehood for his people because he could not bear to acknowledge and legitimize it for ours. And the duplicitous Arafat doomed Clinton’s subsequent effort to mediate an accord, in 2000, when Ehud Barak was prime minister.
Now Arafat has mercifully departed, and his successor Mahmoud Abbas, along with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, profess to genuinely seek reconciliation with Israel, even though there are precious few signs of them pushing their people toward such a shift. Departed, too, however – either totally or merely politically – are Rabin and Barak, and Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.
And while most of us Israelis know full well that we must separate from the Palestinians in order to keep our country both Jewish and democratic, we have also been left bloodied and battered by the terrorist onslaught of the second intifada, and the bitter, fresh memories of the rocket fire and warfare that followed our territorial withdrawals from south Lebanon and Gaza.
Netanyahu is our leader now. Netanyahu the indecipherable.
Netanyahu the juggler, somehow keeping all the balls in the air. Desperately trying to keep Obama happy, and Blair happy, and Abbas not too unhappy. Trying to keep Lieberman as unthreatening as possible, and Barak on board, and the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea and Samaria from open revolt.
Netanyahu the settlement supporter. Netanyahu the advocate of a Palestinian state with a Palestinian flag and a Palestinian anthem.
Netanyahu the eternally internally conflicted.
If the key triumvirate today was Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas, if the Israeli public was confident there was an American president it could truly depend upon, and if Netanyahu saw that the Israeli public felt it had an American president it could truly depend upon, then maybe, just possibly, he would let some of those balls drop. Maybe, just possibly, he would allow himself a little more leeway in dealing with Abbas. Maybe, just maybe, having already endorsed a Palestinian state, he would signal a greater readiness, at least in principle, for the kind of rightwing- alienating territorial concessions his recent predecessors would have endorsed.
And maybe, just possibly, if the US pushed hard enough, and the international community regained sufficient sanity to do the same, Abbas would begin to concertedly prepare his people for peace. To stress to them, personally, and via a Palestinian media that hitherto has been used to incite against us, that the Jews have legitimate rights here.
To argue to them that compromise is necessary, and that a commitment to longterm coexistence is the only avenue to independence.
THAT’S A lot of ifs, maybes and just possiblies. And the key triumvirate isn’t Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas.
It’s Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas.
And although the US president, with the Israeli prime minister nodding at his side, on Tuesday began the process of trying to assure us that he’s always been our friend, and he’ll always have our back – an absolutely essential component when any leader of our tiny country contemplates “taking risks for peace” – there’s a lot of wariness and skepticism to overcome yet.
Our current government has heavy doubts about the peacemaking credentials of Abbas and Fayyad. The current US government believes the reservations are exaggerated, and the consequent hesitations misplaced.
Only if Tuesday’s public displays of empathy and affection are mirrored in the ongoing private contacts, and a climate of real candor and mutual confidence begins to flourish, can a revived US-Israel partnership put those differing assessments to the test.
It certainly beats the alternatives.