Barack Obama extended his hand yesterday and pleaded with Binyamin Netanyahu to grab it in order to pull Israel to safety. Before Israel goes over the cliff. Before Israel becomes a pariah state. Before Israel loses its remaining good will around the world and the few friends it still retains.
Staring down a skeptical world that is exasperated by Netanyahu’s penchant for spinning legitimate Israeli concerns in order to prop up illegitimate expansionist policies, Obama showed understanding, and sometimes outright support (in some cases, too much, so), for a long list of Israeli government positions:
- He expressed his “unshakeable” commitment to Israeli security, specifying that, “every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.”
- He dismissed efforts to secure UN membership for the State of Palestine this September as “[s]ymbolic actions to isolate Israel”, while rejecting attempts to, “single [Israel] out for criticism in international forums”.
- He demanded that Hamas divest itself of its long-range plan to ‘liberate’ all of historic Palestine, and suggested that America’s support for the Palestinian Authority’s unity government depends upon precisely such a development.
- He ruled out an imposed agreement.
- He even downplayed criticism of Israeli settlement construction, presenting it as no more and no less an obstacle to peace than the Palestinian decision to break off talks when Israel declared renewed West Bank building last September.
B’kitzur (to make a long story short), Obama delivered a speech that was as supportive of Netanyahu as one could be without losing US credibility throughout the world. Without making him a laughingstock throughout the Arab world: The same Arab world with which Israel needs to live in peace; the same Arab world that already lost much of its faith in Mr. Obama last February when the US vetoed a UN condemnation of Israeli settlement policy.
So why is Israel’s Prime Minister complaining? Because the American President had the chutzpah to say out loud what every junior diplomat has known for years – that a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace will be based on the pre-war borders of 1967 with mutually agreed (read: equivalent) land swaps. As a matter of fact, Obama is not even the first president to make this reference: Bill Clinton and Bush Jr. did so before him, as did Secretary of State Clinton in November 2009!
Yesterday, Obama extended his hand. The Prime Minister’s initial reaction suggests he isn’t planning to reciprocate.
Hopefully, Mr. Netanyahu will take some time to mull over the implications of snubbing the President’s offer. Hopefully, he listened carefully when Obama noted how, “The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome” – a low-key way of warning how isolated Israel is liable to become if it doesn’t end the occupation soon.
Hopefully, once Shabbat is out and Mr. Netanyahu gets back to work, he and his staff will pull an all-nighter and rewrite from scratch the speeches he was planning to deliver to the AIPAC conference and to Congress next week. Hopefully he’ll delete the old worn clichés – “reciprocity”, “economic peace”, “confidence-building measures”, “interim agreement”. Hopefully he won’t waste the moment by focusing on why it’s all the Palestinians’ fault (as he did on Monday at the Knesset). And hopefully he won’t deal in platitudes or amuse himself with generalisms, such as “painful concessions”, that can be spun this way or that, depending on the audience he seeks to please at the moment.
Earlier this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas published an op-ed in the New York Times. It left much to be desired in terms of its description of the events of 1947-48. But it did offer specific, realistic terms for starting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in the here-and-now: A Palestinian state on 22% of what was British Mandate Palestine – in other words, the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It’s time for Mr. Netanyahu to be just as specific, just as realistic.
It’s said in the sports world that, when it’s crunch time, the true stars rise to the occasion. Well it’s crunch time now for Israel, Mr. Netanyahu.
May 20, 2011