From Benedict to Obama

The past week showed that on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Pope Benedict XVI just doesn't get it.

pope Benedict 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
pope Benedict 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The past week showed that on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Pope Benedict XVI just doesn't get it. Next week, however, should prove that President Barack Obama does get it - which is far more essential. Curiously, where Palestinians and Israelis are concerned, the views of the Catholic Church mirror those of the secular European intelligentsia. Together they see one reality; we Israelis see another. We see the Palestinians perpetuating the "occupation" by refusing to negotiate in good faith and Gaza ruled by a Hamas more interested in pursuing its Islamist war-to-the-finish against us than in helping its own people. We are conscious that the security barrier was erected only after unpardonable Palestinian violence that claimed over 1,000 Israeli lives. We know that Palestinian youth are drawn to violence primarily because of the pathological values inculcated in them by a political culture that revels in victimization and score-settling. We believe that the only way the Palestinian polity will make essential compromises for peace is for its leaders to start telling their people that painful concessions on borders, the nature of sovereignty and the right of return are necessary. We know, too, that Hamas will never let Fatah make those compromises while its patron in Teheran looms near. ISRAELIS were distressed by some of the remarks the pontiff made when he visited the Palestinian Authority. But they were even more troubled by his deafening silence on Iran. The Church has said that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. Yet it has essentially ruled out military intervention as morally unjustifiable. Why do our views on the Palestinians and Iran leave the Vatican and Europe's intelligentsia cold? Because embracing our admittedly bleak appraisal would be awkward for a Europe whose governments still subsidize trade with Teheran. Also, we keep repeating what we oppose, while inadequately explaining what we propose. And, let's be honest, our failure to consistently honor our commitments to the international community also influences perceptions. NEXT Monday the spotlight shifts from a Europe in denial about the Palestinians and Iran to an America forthrightly struggling to develop sensible policies. Having parlayed with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak on Monday and with King Abdullah yesterday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will hold a fateful meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington. There are those who want the president to outline to the premier the contours of an imposed solution. We trust they will be sorely disappointed. Peace doesn't have to be "imposed" on us. Zionism's greatest triumph would be a comprehensive resolution of the conflict in which Jewish rights are finally recognized. Still, this will be a historic opportunity for Netanyahu to make it clear that this government does not oppose a Palestinian state - that, indeed, by asking tough questions about the nature of such a state, the prime minister is arguably taking the prospect more seriously than his recent predecessors. Everyone pays lip service to the need for a Palestinian state, but Washington knows that the most pressing item on the regional agenda is the Iranian bomb. That is what it is hearing behind closed doors from Arab leaders - including those who tell waiting reporters that the Palestinian issue is paramount. CIA director Leon Panetta was recently in Israel, reportedly to urge Israeli leaders not to surprise the administration by acting precipitously on Iran. There is a camp in the administration that is arguing, "Better an Iran with a bomb than the bombing of Iran." On May 18, in the privacy of the Oval Office, Netanyahu needs to make Israel's "red lines" unmistakenly clear and tell Obama how right he was in saying that a nuclear Iran is a game-changer. "Iran first" isn't an Israeli gambit to change the topic from the Palestinians. It is a sound evaluation that coolly identifies the only way forward. Netanyahu has already made plain his determination, right away, to improve life for West Bank Palestinians on the economic front. An assurance from Obama that right behind the administration's current efforts to engage the mullahs stands a menu of crippling sanctions should be matched by Netanyahu's parallel assurance that once the Iranian menace fades away - taking the threat of Hamas and Hizbullah with it - his government will push hard, too, to meet the Palestinians more than half-way on the diplomatic front.