Washington watch: Enough words, show me!

Netanyahu, if you want us to block international initiatives on Palestinian statehood at the UN, we need more than another vacuous speech from you.

Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome.  (photo credit: PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE)
Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome.
“Words, words, words!/I’m so sick of words/I get words all day through/Make me no undying vow/Show me now!/Don’t talk at all!/Show me!” – Lerner & Lowe, My Fair Lady
When John Kerry said he wanted to come to Jerusalem after the March elections to discuss the Iran negotiations and reviving peace talks with the Palestinians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent word back that he was too busy putting together a new coalition to see the American secretary of state, according to Israeli media reports.
But not too busy to meet a continuous stream of anti- Obama Republican lawmakers, most notably Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a smattering of Democrats and various presidential wannabes. And in each of those meetings he lobbied hard against the administration’s Iran policies that he didn’t have time to discuss with Kerry.
Barack Obama was infuriated by Netanyahu’s election eve statements that there would be no Palestinian state while he was prime minister, and the Israeli leader’s weak attempt to walk that back failed to convince the president.
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“We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership,” Obama told the Huffington Post.
Seeing the growing rift between Washington and Jerusalem, others have decided to step in, particularly the French, who are pressing to update the land-for-peace formula of 1967’s UN Security Council Resolution 242.
They are shopping around a new resolution that reportedly would spell out a more specific “framework for negotiations,” including Jerusalem as a shared capital and borders based on the 1967 lines with some land swaps.
The Palestinians want to include a timetable for ending the occupation two years from now on the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War.
The Obama administration blocked similar efforts in the past, insisting those are issues to be decided at the negotiating table. Will it continue to do so in the face of growing evidence Netanyahu’s government will not support the two-state approach? Many in Netanyahu’s own Likud Party and among his coalition partners adamantly oppose Palestinian statehood. Some are even calling for annexation of the rest of the West Bank.
Even though Netanyahu declared in his 2009 Bar-Ilan speech and on subsequent occasions that he supported the two-state solution, his actions as prime minister belied that statement and he never sought the backing of the Likud or of his government; he’s less likely to do so now.
The Obama administration has a dilemma. It wants to repair relations with Israel and has dispatched the vice president and other top officials to reassure Israel of America’s love and unbreakable commitment to its security.
Obama has no stomach for another American peace initiative after two failed efforts and a firm conviction that neither Netanyahu nor Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has the courage or the will to make the necessary tough historic decisions required for peace.
Politically he knows he knows there’s a limit to how much pressure he can put on Israel, and Netanyahu understands that and uses it deftly against him.
Obama has dispatched top advisers to send a message to Netanyahu and Jewish leaders: if you expect me to protect Israel at the UN I’m going to need your help. Netanyahu’s attempt to walk back from his rejection of the two-state solution requires more than the assurances of his discredited ambassador and sycophants at AIPAC.
The message being sent to Jerusalem is “show me.” If you want me to believe you when you say you’re committed to making peace, prove it. Words aren’t enough.
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman told a conference of Reform Jewish leaders the administration will be “watching very closely” what new government not only says but what it does.
“If the new Israeli government is seen to be stepping back from its commitment to a two-state solution that will make our job in the international arena much tougher...
it will be harder for us to prevent internationalizing the conflict.”
National Security Advisor Susan Rice told the Arab American Institute, “We look to the next Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to demonstrate – through policies and actions – a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.”
In other words, Netanyahu, if you want us to block international initiatives on Palestinian statehood at the UN, we need more than another vacuous speech from you.
Obama wants to focus on Iran, where he feels he has a chance of reaching an historic agreement this year, and not be diverted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where there’s no apparent chance of progress.
He doesn’t want a UN battle over Israel where he will be left standing alone, with American credibility and leadership in tatters.
American diplomats are asking the French to withhold any action on their resolution until the Iran nuclear negotiations are concluded. That’s what’s behind the messages from Susan Rice and Wendy Sherman.
They’re looking for credible moves by Netanyahu to use at the United Nations to block measures to set a date to end the occupation, condemn the settlement enterprise and recognize the Palestinian state with a capital in Jerusalem.
Obama reportedly intends to hold off inviting Netanyahu to the White House until after there is a nuclear agreement with Iran. He doesn’t expect the Israeli leader to endorse it but he will be gauging the tone and nature of his response.
If Netanyahu can’t resist his inclination to meddle in domestic politics, it could have an impact at the UN where US will have to decide whether to stand alone with him or let him fly solo.
Netanyahu’s refusal to meet with Kerry while welcoming a parade of members of Congress was another snub of an administration whose help he badly needs. Does he really think John Boehner has a veto at the United Nations? If he is looking to the Republican Congress to rescue him at the UN, that could prove a very costly miscalculation for an Israeli prime minister with very few friends in the world.