Call it a delicate balance of diplomacy, or a dance between two apparently opposing sides. The Obama Shuffle involves first a sway to the left then a sway to the right, one step forward, then one step back. And hop, hop, hop hop hop. And stop. (Now you try!)
The past 72 hours have shown that the US President is not afraid of engaging in some verbal warfare, depending on who is listening. While condemning the Nakba Day’s pedestrian infiltration of Israel, he promoted (as Israel views it) a retreat to “indefensible” borders. While calling for a return to negotiations by both the Israelis and Palestinians, he essentially insulted (again, as Israel views it) the very man he’s hoping to get to negotiate. (I am sure Israeli linguists are struggling as this very hour to come up with a Hebrew term for “bitch slap.”)
Based on the tit-for-tat word-bombs – let’s paraphrase: ‘Obama doesn’t understand our reality’ from Israeli aides, and ‘Netanyahu doesn’t have the power to make much-needed concessions’ from American aides – I was surprised to hear that Bibi indeed boarded the plane.
It’s all about timing. Let’s look at the chronology: Nakba Day protests, Mahmoud Abbas writes his New York Times op-ed, Netanyahu responds, Obama gives his foreign policy speech, Netanyahu responds. Then (in a few hours, as of writing this) the two leaders meet behind closed doors in what is very likely an unfriendly situation, only to emerge smiling and shaking hands. It can be assumed they will greet the press and express their joint commitment to – and understanding of – what needs to be done. Then Obama goes AIPAC, then Netanyahu goes to AIPAC.
Note: Obama only days ago confirmed he will speak before AIPAC, essentially upping-the-ante.
Additional note: by the time Netanyahu speaks, the US president will already be in Europe, talking about strengthening NATO and putting missiles in Poland, while trying to calm the Russians.
So ironically, on Washington’s soil, Netanyahu is going to get the last word … and it is going to be in front of two very welcoming crowds: first, the pro-Israel lobby, and then the US Congress. Netanyahu and his aides knew this, which is why they boarded their flight in Tel Aviv. Cancelling on the US leader would have thrown down the diplomatic gauntlet – a move they might have considered. But bailing out on their friends and letting the American president have the last laugh was unthinkable.
Most of those attending AIPAC will likely see more of the Obama Shuffle. They’ll recall the last time then-Senator Barack Obama spoke before them. He blasted his main opponent (then-Senator Hillary Clinton, also running for office, and also speaking at AIPAC) for her lack of foreign policy skills … only to then appoint her his top foreign liaison. This week, at the start of his foreign policy speech, he praised her and suggested she will go down in history as one of America’s greatest secretary of states.
Obama-the-candidate was running for office and promised AIPAC a united Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, a comment that within hours his aides were clarifying. Obama-the-President is also running for office. While it is easy to insist Netanyahu essentially take off his shoes before coming in, he will be least comfortable making such demands at AIPAC’s party. And so the dance will continue, one step to the left, one step to the right, and hop, hop, hop hop hop.