23 May 2011

Binyamin Netanyahu (Bibi) goes to Washington

First I have a confession to make: my expectations of the Obama - Bibi meeting were completely off the mark. I was sure that Bibi will fold under pressure from Obama/Hilary and raise only a token resistance during the meeting, making the after-the-fight interviews a matter of routine thanks, handshakes etc. Mea culpa.

Bibi indeed has performed above expectations, producing this time what Elder of Ziyon characterized as a stunning speech. EoZ adds:

Netanyahu's red lines are not very different than the red lines that every Israeli government has had since 1967 (and I showed earlier that Yitzchak Rabin was more hawkish in 1995.) The problem has been that they have never been consistently enunciated by Israeli leaders to the rest of the world. It felt as if every prime minister felt that the facts were so obvious that they didn't have to belabor the point.
Well, so we have shown them the truth, didn't we? Bibi has explained our position clearly, unequivocally and forcefully, so what else should we expect from a leader? Ain't Bibi the best? And even if Bibi valiantly and unflinchingly stood up under pressure and created a conflict with the POTUS, so what, you may ask. After all, as Dick Stanley correctly surmises in this post (good one, read it all):
He [Obama] can’t impose his terms on the parties, even if the Congress would let him which it probably won’t. The Republicans because they disagree with him and the Democrats because they want all that liberal Jewish cash to keep flowing their way. Which it won’t if the donors fear Israel is endangered. Which it could be under the new policy terms of the speech.
Right. Difficult to disagree with this prediction, at least for short term developments. Now let me display my usual contrariness and look at other aspects of the whole brouhaha. To start with, the small matter of surprise. No one in Israel knew what will be the contents of the Israel-related part of Obama's speech. If you consider Israel being one of the closest allies of US (do you really?) and take into account that the speech was ground-breaking (was it really?) in several directions, wouldn't you expect some frank and open exchange of relevant contents and opinions before the speech? I guess you would. So, either Israel isn't one of the closest allies or Obama doesn't trust its current leaders, creating in fact an ambush for Bibi. Or something else, more sinister, that I would prefer to leave to conspiracy theorists.

Next, but in the same vein: when some of the Bibi's supporters hail his speech as an achievement - why don't we consider the practical value of this achievement? Visits of this kind are usually carefully prepared by diplomats on both sides, the agenda and the conclusions laid out in advance and vetted for possible inconsistencies and, deity forbid, disagreements. The latter, if and when they exist, are a matter for the meetings closed to press and, at the most, are reflected in protocols of the meeting, to be worked out later at appropriate diplomatic level. The fact that a disagreement was aired in public instead, and in so dramatic a manner, doesn't bode well for the relationship between the White House and Israeli government, at least in the near future.

Disagreements, when voiced publicly, have a tendency to become permanent, this is why Obama had no choice but to repeat the main thesis of his previous speech in his appearance before AIPAC:
By definition, it means that the parties themselves - Israelis and Palestinians - will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. That's what mutually agreed upon swaps means.
To be fair, the formula is a repeat of the letter issued by G.W. Bush regarding the US agreement that Israel will retain the settlement blocs via territorial swaps, but Obama's demeanor wasn't one of patience, to say the least. Nor were his AIPAC hosts an easy to please crowd (read Meryl's report).

Bibi is backpedaling too, realizing that he went a step or two too far in his speech:
I am a partner to President Obama's wish to promote peace and I appreciate his efforts in the past and present to achieve this goal, I am determined to work with President Obama to find ways to renew peace talks.
So far so good? Nope. The atmosphere between the two, not being too healthy to start with, is poisoned already, and I'm afraid, irreparably.

Which brings me to another, albeit related, point. Obama sounds quite positive on the subject of US commitment to Israel's security:
Even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.
However, we shouldn't forget for a moment that it is said by a politician, i.e. a person with a conveniently reusable (meaning erasable) memory. We shouldn't forget that in the big and cruel world of realpolitik the value of such promises is negligible. And in that world, a person (or a country) that doesn't have any other friends to speak of, should behave with all due care not to lose the one remaining friend. And start looking for some new friends too.

So the value of that stunning speech could be in its high cost to Israel in the long run.

Too bad.

Cross-posted on Yourish.com


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link, Snoop. Permit me to indulge myself a bit further here.

All American presidents think they've been crowned king. Only later do they realize they are just part of a three-legged stool and can be overruled with ease by the other two legs. Thus Obama, who is among the youngest and certainly not the brightest bulb in the collection.

If the American voters (and, therefore, the Congress) were edgy about Israel (which all relevant polls show they are not) then there would be something to worry about. As it is, this will soon blow over---unless Obama is reelected, which will give him four more years to make mischief.

The worst I can see coming out of this is that his prattle about the June 4, 1967 lines has been picked up by the PA as a new pre-condition for negotiations. But the negotiations haven't been going anywhere anyhow and so that's no big loss.

I like something else one of the commenters at EoZ said, which is that it's about time Israeli leaders grew some cajones and started talking about Israel's rights as a sovereign nation. Israel is not, as Obama contends, the mere dream of a Jewish state, but the absolute fact of one.

So long as the American people are with Israel, and they are and it's not even dependent on them being Jewish, some assertiveness is warranted. No need to be constantly looking over the shoulder worrying about which American pol might be offended. American pols who attack Israel are too busy looking over their own shoulders to see which replacement candidate is gaining on them.

Pisa said...

I have to disagree with you, Snoopy. Look at other US staunch allies - like Pakistan, or other recipients of US aid, like the PA that constantly bites the hand that's feeding it, and the hand keeps coming back with more food.

Assertiveness will work better for us that the ghetto-like mentality of most of our governments. After all, what's the use for an independent country if it can't decide what's best for it?

Dick Stanley said...

I agree, Pisa. There are good and sufficient reasons why assertiveness would be best.

You may have noticed that Obama referred to "the dream of a Jewish state" as if the state was not already a reality, but was still in the process of becoming.

Jerusalem's hat-in-hand routine encourages this sort of remark.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

What I am going on about is mostly Bibi's well developed tendency to follow the events instead of finding ways to create or, at least, influence these events. For the time of his current term he has done absolutely nothing, hoping that the problems will just blow away, which the wouldn't as we very well know.

And here are the results - the poisoned fruit of sloth.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Well, Pisa and Dick: I have nothing against assertiveness. Only when the timing is right. And my beef with Bibi - I tried to clarify in that other comment.