May 20, 2011

So WHY is Netanyahu coming to Washington?

If anything, President Obama's Middle East speech yesterday was anti-climactic. Support democracy and intervene when it's possible and helpful; help Egypt and Tunisia transition; Iraq; and continue supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace BASED ON the 1967 (really, 1949) borders with land swaps. Nothing particularly new, but then it would be hard to top the past six months of change on the ground, from popular revolution to the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have been disappointed with the President's restatement of what seem to be the parameters for a workable arrangement with the Palestinians. Rather than waiting to tell the President directly, since they are meeting TODAY, the Prime Minister chose to publicly express his concerns about the Obama speech, with little or nothing positive to say about it. He said the 1967 borders are "indefensible", as though the President was talking about returning to the Green Line. He even said what assurances he expects Obama to give him when they do meet face-to-face, which is always so helpful for a President of the United States to know in advance. Why even meet at all...

Despite the Fatah-Hamas Palestinian unity government, there will be broad support for Palestinian statehood when the next United Nations General Assembly convenes in September -- even among Europeans. The Government of Israel and the United States have identified this as a major threat. At the very least, the President's speech gave the pretense of hope that substantive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations could resume, which might forestall the counter-productive and damaging UN resolution. But Netanyahu has made clear there will be no negotiations within the scope of realistic expectations. He also emphasized HIS expectations.

Netanyahu will endure the White House meeting knowing that Monday night we'll all give him a hero's welcome at the AIPAC dinner, and Tuesday he gets a sympathetic reception on Capitol Hill. But the audience he really needed to engage was the audience of one in the Oval Office, especially as the rest of the Middle East transforms itself, and especially as the world prepares to recognize Palestine with or without the State of Israel.

If the declaration of statehood is averted in a few months' time, Netanyahu will declare his own victory of resolve, as will AIPAC and all the rest of us, but the real credit will go to Barack Obama. By now, he surely expects no gratitude.

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