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Second thoughts on White House meeting: Netanyahu's mistake

This morning, I posted an analysis of the latest diplomatic developments, titled “Obama finally confronts Netanyahu, but to what end?” The more I think and read about it, I get the feeling that I got at least some of the story wrong. Looking back on the events of the last couple of days, I don’t thing the president was really trying to confront Netanyahu. Yes, he accepted some of the State Department’s thoughts on the need to present a peace plan, but he didn’t go all the way with it, he didn’t say anything that should have embarrassed Jerusalem, and he was pretty hard on the Palestinians.

I actually believe now that Obama was trying to show Netanyahu a way to oppose the Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence. In outlining the path to the two-state solution, Obama was clearly aiming to the Israeli consensus. His plan was all too similar to the ideas former Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak put forward – one could even argue that Olmert went a little further on some issues.

The problem was that Netanyahu overreacted—and not for the first time. The Israeli PM responded to the president’s speech with an aggressive statement, and he kept the same tone after the meeting with Obama. Americans don’t like to see their president schooled this way, and even some of the PM’s supporters in the US were surprised, even angered, by his choice of words.

The fact that the Israeli and American positions are not that far from each other, and yet they brought such clash between the two leaders, show the degree of mistrust and the lack of coordination between Washington and Jerusalem right now. Netanyahu can only blame himself for that.

I wonder whether Netanyahu is beginning to realize the mistake he made. It would be interesting to see what effect this would have on his next two speeches in Washington.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Shoded Yam

      You’re not getting this. The primary concern of the President of the U.S. is to carry out the duties of front man for corporate america and to further the intrests of this institution. Those interest are largely concerned with energy and the countries that produce it, (ie. Saudi Arabia, etc) Don’t kid yourselves for a moment. Obama’s “outline” for peace is a product and function of those interests. Obama and Netanyahu didn’t have a discussion and it was never the purpose of their meeting in the first place. The purpose of this meeting was to remind bibi as to the true nature of this relationship and to send him back to Israel and his sycophants with a few unambiguous messages pertaing to the issue of settlements and how those settlements are not in the economic or political intersts of the United States. That being said, Obama spoke, and Netanyahu had a meltdown worthy of any autistic child. The purpose of Obamas speech was to make sure the Israeli public hears these messages and takes note of the fact that as time drags on, Israels options are diminshing. Obama’s purpose was to communicate this messages before Bibi and Ehud get a chance to spin them.

      Reply to Comment
    2. PeaceUFO

      Can someone please remind President Obama is not the president of the world.. The Middle East can compare as of a Nation like for example Washington DC Capital State is a USA with over 50 states..

      So why not Isreal become as a Capital State for that Islamic region of the Middle East to became as an Islamic Nation for all countries in the Middle East…

      -OR-

      Israel is a small country that it does not need another nation to join because it is a bibilical country and it should treat it as a church country…

      The People of Israel should do some ballet to vote…

      Reply to Comment
    3. Robert

      Noam,

      There are some comments tossing around Mondoweiss, that this is a staged fight between Netanyahu and Obama, for public consumption.

      “It’s a ruse” — Avi

      “the republicans are linning up for the money…happy to say whatever sorts of radical Pro-Israeli things that will put them in power. This was a staged fight. Obama is just a patsy in it.” — imuglow

      What are your thoughts about this?

      Robert

      Reply to Comment
    4. @Robert: too much of a conspiracy theory for my taste.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Again,
      The importance of the Obama speech, the Netanyahu over-reaction, and Israeli’s increasing isolation is electoral (in Israel).

      Make the better argument and shift public opinion to the left.

      It will take possibility though to accomplish. It will take Hamas voluntarily restraining from violence against civilians, regardless of the street cred that they derive. It will take Hamas accepting that Israel has a right to exist as Israel, not just as the silhouette of “other than Palestine”.

      I hate to give Hamas the power to define the political terms by which otherwise moderate discussion can take place.

      They risk a lot. Every time they undertake terror they diminish their stature in the world. They fail to deliver anything for the Palestinian people. If they undertake terror to distract from peace (again), then in a unified state that will diminish their credibility.

      Their only credibility while as sovereign government is at the success of their period of administration (or coalition). And, that can only happen through peace.

      As the ball was in Hamas’ court in 2008 (they controlled the momentum of history by their discipline in keeping to the hudna), the ball shifted to Fatah in Fayyad’s institution building. It is now back in Hamas’ court.

      The ball has always simultaneously been in Israel’s court in the form of settlement freeze.

      But, Hamas is the driver this month.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Hi Richard! When are you going to come a visit again? Honestly, in my experience, Israelis even more than other publics respond to things other than simply “better argument”. It’s all on the emotional, semi-conscious level – I believe a new Israeli leader will basically have to be incredibly charismatic, and showing a tough macho affect, at the SAME TIME as saying what needs to be done is: settlement freeze, give up most settlements, become a part of the world again…

      Noam: Obama by his nature is a mediator/reconciliator. He wants to paint a way to getting the two state solution, which he thinks is best. He doesn’t think UN September declaration is best way for that. By criticizing that, as well as saying “67 borders” loud a clear, I think he is skillfully trying to confront both sides “equally” and prod them towards not taking reactive, relatively extreme measures. Only if Obama keeps the heat up on both sides (and I’m encouraging every American citizen to write the White House with that message) might there be some kind of equitable resolution (something different than the terrible outcomes we might get: in October, 10s of thousands of unarmed Palestinian refugees angrily approaching border fences, or Israel responding to the UN by “unilaterally” annexing all of area C in the West Bank…..)

      Reply to Comment
    7. Hi Harveyji,
      The better argument includes lots. But, it is based on thinking, on reasoning, and what one can plausibly construct.

      The plausibly construct part is the difficult one. Peace is constructed by a dialectic, a momentum. Objective conditions changing, with a leadership ready to push the ball faster, that changes objective conditions, etc.

      The current Israeli administration straddles opportunism (land lusts) rationalized as risk aversion. Kadima straddles construction of peace with risk aversion. The other parties to the left don’t really exist anymore.

      Israel needs a party that straddles the construction of peace with idealism description, bold, pragmatic electorally an defense as well.

      It has parties and advocates that straddle idealism with condemnatory ideology.

      The change in Israel/Palestine will have to come from a few simultaneous critical commitments in order of relevance to achieve peace:

      1. Change in Hamas to acceptance of Israel as Israel (noone needs to say “Jewish state”, Israel as Israel is enough)

      2. Electoral change in Israel (If Hamas changed, but Israel was not ever-ready to respond electorally, then nothing changes)

      3. Sincere 5-year moratorium on settlement construction (maybe replacement buildings ok)

      4. Staying the course by Fatah, institution and economy building

      5. US and EU facilitation, and Arab League and UN general assembly reiteration of their willingness of a viable Israel and viable Palestine.

      Who makes history? What bold actions? Its been a long time since Israel or the US was the primary driver of history in the region.

      Fatah’s institution-building has been for the prior three years or so.

      The Arab spring is unknown. If the Arab spring is the Arab-western synthesis as was the basis of Obama’s praise, then it will be historical driver. If it merely harbors other more cynical movements to have sunlight and then crowd out others, not so good.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Whats with the Jerusalem thing ? Occupation is a state of mind with Israelies.

      Reply to Comment

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