No! crosses the line with Obama
It is common knowledge that there is no love lost between President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but Mr. Netanyahu’s stroppy Oval Office lecture to the president Friday on what Israel would and would not do to broker peace with the Palestinians seemed to many to cross the line. Not a way for a guest to act in someone else’s home.
It didn’t start there. Early in his administration, in 2009, President Obama was asked what he thought of Mr. Netanyahu’s offer of “self-administration” for Palestinians. “It’s not enough,” the president replied. It has been essentially downhill with the two since.
Fast forward to now. Even before the two leaders were able to sit down for face to face talks that had been scheduled for Friday, Mr. Netanyahu began jawboning about what he “expected” to hear from the president, not a tone likely to pave the way for an amiable discussions. During a photo shoot after their talks Mr. Netanyahu remained obstinate.
Mr. Obama offered a diplomatic assessment of the talks that had gone nowhere, saying, “obviously there are some differences between us, the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends.”
Mr. Netanyahu, however, was less restrained and wasted no time in lecturing the president on a sorry chapter in Middle East history. He became Dr. No: No, Israel would not go back to the 1967 borders; No, Israel would not negotiate with Hamas, which it sees as the Middle East’s Al Qaeda; No, Israel would not pull back from the Jordan River which it sees as essential to its defense; and No, Israel would not allow Palestinian refugees to return. “Everybody knows that is not going to happen,” he said.
“A peace based on illusion will crash against the rocks of Middle East realities,” a stern-faced Netanyahu said. “The Palestinians,” and, by extension, President Obama, “will have to accept some basic realities. First, that while Israel is willing to make some generous compromises, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines.”
Then there was the patronizing: “It now falls on my shoulders to work with you to fashion a peace that will insure Israel’s security and not jeopardize its survival.”
All along, Mr. Netanyahu knew full well that previous American administrations privately considered pulling back to the internationally recognized 1967 boundaries. Mr. Obama’s sin, apparently, was saying it publicly. Mr. Netanyahu’s attempt to mau mau the president may have been a calculated move drawn from the Israeli playbook.
It worked in 1980 when Israeli hardliners, led by Prime Minister Menachem Begin, sought to rebuke a nettlesome President Jimmy Carter by cozying up to a bourgeoning coalition of the Republican Right and Christian Right.
The defeat of Mr. Carter in 1980 at the hands of Ronald Reagan, a Republican, paved the way for successive administrations that looked the other way as Israel continued to expand settlements in occupied territories. Mr. Netanyahu seems to be trying to make an end run around the president to get straight to supporters in Congress. Republicans, desperate for fodder with which to fight to unseat Mr. Obama in the 2012 elections, appear to be following their role as outlined in the playbook.
“President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in a statement. “He has disrespected Israel and undermined its ability to negotiate peace.”
It was clear from his stoic expression as he listened while Mr. Netanyahu postured that POTUS was not pleased by what he heard or how it was said.
Despite all the bluster, it is not likely that the two leaders getting along badly will result in a rupture of US-Israeli relations for there are too many other hands, some powerful, in this pie.
Ultimately, Israel needs US support for its existence. Not so of the reverse. Mr. Obama is likely to try to look past Mr. Netanyahu’s whiny performance and continue to try to break a status quo that has not worked for the last 44 years and shows no promise of working now.
“The status quo is unacceptable. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome,” was the way he put it.
The flap between the two leaders deepened the crises rather than put the stalled peace process back on the tracks. The Palestinian leadership did not help matters by saying it would defy the president in going ahead with efforts to get a United Nations’ resolution in September recognizing Palestine as an independent state.
Mr. Obama opposes the move in part because of Fatah’s new coziness with Hamas, which idolized the late Osama Bin Laden, the Al Qaeda mastermind of the worst terrorist attack ever on the US. The US considers Hamas a terrorist group (as does Israel).
The way forward will be tough, in the wake of missed Palestinian opportunities such as in the summer of 2000 when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat about 95 percent of Israeli occupied territories and agreed to a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Mr. Arafat turned down the offer; he was, after all, a maximalist.
President Obama still has options for pressing his vision of a way to peace for the two nations. He can let Mr. Netanyahu stew, then put him on ice for a while as he builds on support for his suggestion by others such as the European Union.
Christine Ashton, its foreign policy chief, “warmly welcomes President Obama’s confirmation that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, with secured and recognized borders on both sides,” a spokeswoman said.
French, British, Polish and German foreign ministers also endorsed Mr. Obama’s Middle East plan. Perhaps Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might want to look more carefully at this reality, and not just his own.
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