January 24, 2011

Obama and Bibi - the way we weren't

Ben Smith writes today about President Obama and his administration effectively giving up on their effort to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend himself further in the politics and diplomacy of peace with the Palestinians. There is nothing punitive in the U.S. determination, since there's no longer a hope of it making any impact going forward. Those who were most invested in an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal have left the White House, and President Obama has bigger fish to fry, at home and abroad.

With Ben's analysis (which reflects a broadly shared view), Israelis can breathe a sigh of relief. But soon, the novelty of Washington looking the other way will wear off and Israelis will remember that Israel's single greatest asset has been -- and remains -- U.S. interest and engagement. They might even lapse back into despair about the lack of any realistic, long-term grand strategy for normalizing their national politics and security.

One additional point, which one of my colleagues had noted (anonymously, for now), regards Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak. By overselling himself to both Netanyahu and Obama as the key liaison between Jerusalem and Washington, without any disclaimers, Barak distracted the American side from the very real challenges and pitfalls of their efforts -- and from the fact that any substantive prospects are confined to the Prime Minister's Office. In the end, as his political metamorphosis last week underscored, Ehud Barak currently has no base of support among Israeli voters and no constructive influence within the Netanyahu government. His presence in the otherwise right-wing coalition is useful in confusing, distracting and frustrating the Prime Minister's cabinet of rivals.

In the short run, Israelis cheer their leaders when they stand up to American "arrogance" and "naivete". But over time, the erosion of Israel's place on America's top priorities may come back to haunt Netanyahu and -- more importantly -- all Israelis. So, enjoy this moment, while it is still relevant.

1 comment:

  1. Any relevance for this moment will indeed be brief. Israel will quickly miss the engagement of the US. More importantly, however, unless Israel approaches peace more aggressively with the Palestinians, as hard to swallow as it might be, the more it will miss the engagement of its European and Arab partners.