Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Notes on Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

The unending torrent of news items and rivers of commentary tend to obscure, more than reveal, the real state of affairs after the meeting between Obama and Bibi. There is no sense in tiring my readers regarding Netanyahu, who has prepared the meeting with Obama with an intensive series of provocative, chauvinist actions and declarations. Netanyahu is preparing for a full scale propaganda battle with the White House. When he considers it necessary, Bibi is ready to launch a campaign to prove that Obama is grossly insensitive to the threat of a new Holocaust and that Jerusalem and not Washington is the locus of the really serious decisions. For now, regarding the Palestinian issue, the big stall is on, and Obama can forget about any progress there. If Obama accepts this set of affairs he will signal weakness that he can ill afford. This is especially obsequious, because he has the ready means to topple Bibi’s government by merely slowing down the flow of funds and guns - until Netanyahu starts taking down settlements. How many settlements? Enough settlements among those designated as “outposts” or illegal by the Sasson report, so as to create pressure from the settler right to destabilize his coalition.
If Bibi stands pat and refuses, Barak will start complaining that Bibi is starving the IDF to keep feeding the settlements. Livni’s Kadima, in the name of the alliance with the US, will reissue its demand for rotating Bibi out of power. Bibi’s coalition will be in tatters.
Israel is susceptible to the mildest forms of US pressure. Bibi’s only ammo is the threat to designate Obama as the latest candidate for the Amalek slot in Jewish history. If Obama does not call this bluff clearly and quickly, he can save the expenses of the trip to Cairo. Putting it simply, can Obama, on the basis of the US own’s commitments, force Bibi to take down a few illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory?
It has been suggested that forcing Bibi to take down settlements would force him to commit political suicide. Does Barak Obama, with all his concerns really have to worry about this…

“We Decided” – “He Said” – “We Agreed” – Bibi “Interprets” Obama
Since he walked out of the White House, Bibi has been working overtime to soft pedal the differences that were the central aspect of the meeting. But he seems to speak with authority of gaining full US support on a number of critical issues. Netanyahu plays the media well and more often than not everything he says about what Obama said is accepted as fact. So this leaves much of the media to depend on Bibi’s purposefully distorted rendition of what happened. The absence of a joint statement by the two leaders is indeed an indication of serious differences. But it opens space for Netanyahu’s maneuvers. Bibi is playing hard ball, while Obama’s people are just standing around and hoping that the unpleasant noise will end or recede to Jerusalem.
Two salient examples: Bibi says that Obama and he agreed that the Arab moderate countries must be brought into the negotiations picture immediately and a program of mutual concessions must be worked out between Israel and the Arab countries. And until this is worked out and cleared up, and the first steps are taken, then we are all back to square one.
If Obama agreed to anything like this, he did not have, with all his skill, the faintest idea of what he was talking about. It is most unlikely that even the moderates Arab countries agreed to anything of the kind. Any such agreements would simply prove Bibi’s thesis that the Palestinian question can be indefinitely sidetracked. But suppose Bibi is right, and Obama and his advisors were napping at one stage of the proceedings, it is clear that the White House has to get out an urgent clarification that they were not linking additional concessions to Israel at this stage to progress on the Palestinian issue. Such a declaration may be in the offing, but it is the height of sloppy inefficiency to allow Netanyahu to assume the mantle of Obama’s spokesperson while Obama runs off to deal with another subject.
The Crucial Iranian Issue
Bibi Netanyahu is smirking with satisfaction while he reports “agreement in principle” between the US and Israel to the effect that Iran must not be allowed to possess nuclear weaponry. Going in and coming out of the White House, Bibi declared that Israel reserves the right of self defense regarding Iran, which is a clear justification and threat of preventive war. Bibi is able to claim that Obama and he agree that Israel has the right to self defense regarding the Iranian threat. The fact that Obama did not relate clearly to this kind of saber rattling is in itself alarming. If you think that he is assuming that Israel could not and wouldn’t act alone, then you are dead wrong. Just two weeks ago, he sent CIA Director Leon Panetta to Israel on a stealth mission to warn the Israeli’s against such an attack. You do not rush the Director of the CIA to Jerusalem unless you are damned worried that Bibi is gearing up for action.
Washington should, according to its own declared policy, clearly and openly disassociate itself from the Israeli threat of preventive war against Iran and desisting from doing so is the height of folly. If the leader of the United States buries his head in sand while Bibi exploits his alliance with Obama to consecrate the goals and purposes of the attack on Iran, it must be assumed that Obama believes, mistakenly, that he can use Bibi’s clout to soften up the Iranians. Thus, Netanyahu has chipped away at the US initiative for dialogue and engagement.
The Netanyahu people are ready to fight Obama, if need be, but they are still hoping that he can be convinced that the easiest and best option is to leave the ME to the care of the loyal Israeli ally.

Triumphant PM Returns
Bibi just arrived back in the country, propaganda guns blazing. The communiqués supply evidence that the Prime Minister, covered in glory, has rejected spurious demands and gained support for Israel’s really important goals. On landing, Netanyahu’s people have cooked up a very interesting revelation for the media to the effect that anyone who believes in the two-state solution is “stupid and childish.” This appears to be the main thing that the Israelis learned in Washington.