May 22, 2011

Netanyahu flinched. Now what?

President Obama has now delivered his second Mideast speech in four days, and the most awkward outcome is the intervening public response by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
In his AIPAC speech this morning, the President added a line that could have avoided much of the outrage from his first speech: Regarding his loaded statement that "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps," today he said, "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." Thanks for that second shoe...

And in between the President's two speeches, Netanyahu essentially picked a fight with Obama, had a frank and candid White House chat, and helped fuel a firestorm of umbrage against the President of the United States among Israelis and a vocal segment of American Jewry. But to what end?

If Netanyahu is right, and Obama was making unrealistic and unfair demands of Israel, why confront him through the media just hours before sitting down face to face? And if -- as Netanyahu and his supporters insist -- no daylight between should appear between the U.S. and Israeli positions, why have they overplayed a few semantic details as though Obama "has thrown Israel under the bus" and other choice labels ("indefensible" borders was one of Netanyahu's critiques).

 Let's take a quick look at a couple of situational differences between the two men.

As the leader of a parliamentary democracy, one of Benjamin Netanyahu's goals when he wakes up every morning is to still be Prime Minister at the end of that day. Barack Obama, on the other hand, is justifiably confident he will be President for a full four year-term, and likely a second full term as well.

For Netanyahu, Friday's White House visit was easily the single most important meeting he will have during all of 2011. Barack Obama is already on his way to the G-8 Summit, which itself is more important for him and the United States (and possibly even more important for Israel) -- and that's just THIS WEEK. On his plate, Netanyahu has the Palestinian non-negotiations, the looming unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, Goldstone Report, Durban 3, Iran, Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt -- all of which depend upon White House backing. Obama has Afghanistan and Iraq, Al Qaeda 2.0, the U.S. economy, the global economy, Japan, China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, Arab Spring, Africa, climate change -- none of which depends DIRECTLY upon Israel.

Barack Obama could afford to have Friday's meeting go bust, while Netanyahu could not.

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