Yes, Netanyahu can work with Obama

Both will agree that the Palestinian Authority must develop economically and politically before a permanent accord can be reached.

bibi 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
bibi 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
The notion that a Likud victory in February will inevitably lead to friction with Washington is being batted around with increasing frequency. Yet this nasty bit of Kadima election propaganda has no basis in fact. On the contrary, Binyamin Netanyahu's different approach to our Mideast diplomatic and security challenges is likely to get an affable hearing in the new Obama administration. President-elect Barack Obama promised the American people "change" and a fresh look at American diplomatic and security commitments around the world. Throughout his presidential campaign he argued for a clear break with Bush administration policies in order to reestablish America's credibility and standing in the world. This is certainly pertains to Arab-Israeli peacemaking as well. Obama's team undoubtedly will be taking a second look at the Bush administration's resolute support for rapid movement toward a "two-state solution." Despite the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the essential disintegration of the Fatah-led government in the West Bank, President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought to speed and squeeze the founding of a Palestinian state into a narrow 18-month time line. They insisted that the establishment of a full-fledged Palestinian state alongside Israel was urgent and would improve this country's security and regional stability. Nobody doubts, least of all me, President Bush's unabashed and unflinching support for Israel, but his timing was off. The conditions were, and remain, extremely unripe for Palestinian independence. The rush toward Palestinian political independence, alas, reflected an overdose of neoconservative zeal for democracy building along with more than a pinch of late-in-the-day legacy hunting. A CLEAR-HEADED and nonprejudicial reassessment of the situation will likely lead Obama in a different direction. I believe that he will come to the conclusion, as has Netanyahu, that significant, long-term economic and political development is necessary in the Palestinian Authority before a permanent diplomatic accord can be reached. To this end, he will find Israel under Netanyahu a reliable, willing and effective partner. It will welcome an intensified global effort to propel the emergence of a prosperous, mature and peaceful Palestinian society. This more mature approach will ratchet down the enthusiasm for deadlines and grand White House lawn signing ceremonies. Instead, diplomacy will focus on gradual but concrete achievements on the ground, on building good governance and combating terror, and on educating for peace, and it will bring back the principle of reciprocity. In this effort, Netanyahu and Obama will work well together. Even if the new administration announces its support for a series of principles that resemble the terms of the Saudi-inspired Arab League "peace initiative" - a position supported by some advisers of the president-elect - Obama will concomitantly understand that this so-called diplomatic horizon is light-years away, and that getting there will require hard, incremental work with the Palestinians. He won't expect Israel to jump to the endgame when the PA isn't even on first base. Thus there is no frightening clash looming between a Netanyahu and an Obama administration. FURTHERMORE, the historical record argues against such fear-mongering. Almost always, American administrations have taken their lead from Israel on matters of peacemaking with the Palestinians. Only rarely has Washington applied harsh diplomatic pressure on Israel. In this context, it is worth remembering neither the Oslo Accords nor the withdrawal from Gaza were American initiatives. In fact, presidents Clinton and Bush were dragged into these escapades quite reluctantly and, in retrospect, with good reason. President Obama will respect an intelligently thought-through, concrete Israeli diplomatic and economic plan for the Palestinian territories, if it is articulated clearly and accompanied by an honest strategic plan for implementation. When Jerusalem clearly defines its red lines and core interests, and communicates these unambiguously to Washington with the backing a strong parliamentary majority, the new administration undoubtedly will act to partner with Israel in making tangible progress along these lines. The US-Israel partnership is a linchpin of our security and economic prosperity, and our policy toward the Palestinians must meet Washington's needs as well as ours. Netanyahu is experienced enough in the halls of diplomacy and the ways of Washington to know this. He will approach the new administration with a good grasp of strategic realities, a clear set of principles and a concrete plan for real progress that won't blow up in our faces - which Washington needs no less than we do. The writer is deputy speaker of the Knesset and a candidate for the Likud's national slate for the next elections.