Bibi Goes to Washington

Posted: May 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Right, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The NYT editorial from May 11th dealt with the much anticipated Obama-Netanyahu meeting that will take place this Monday, May 18th. It seems that while in Israel Netanyahu was able to reestablished his credibility before entering his second term as Prime Minister, the US media – and this probably goes for many Washington officials as well – still holds the image of the old Bibi. The NYT’s editorial demonstrates this well:

In his video speech to […] the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Mr. Netanyahu said he wants peace with the Palestinians. He even committed to negotiations “without any delay and without any preconditions.” But it rings hollow. He has resisted - and his foreign minister and unity government partner, Avigdor Lieberman, has openly derided - the two-state solution that is the only sensible basis for a lasting settlement that could anchor a regional peace.

“Hollow”? The best public speaker we ever had? That hurts. And there’s more:

Mr. Netanyahu, a smooth talker, will have to do better than vague promises, however. Just think what might happen if he declared an end to settlement construction and an early return to substantive final status negotiations.

And if that’s not enough, Bibi “the smooth talker” Netanyahu is going to Washington after a very bad week at home. The 2009-2010 budget debate damaged his image and led many to think that, after all, “Bibi hasn’t changed”. He desperately needs his US meetings to look well – regardless of the actual content of his talks with the administration. That gives Obama and Clinton some leverage, but my guess is that they won’t use it to push the PM to a corner – at least not on this visit.

You don’t need to be an expert on Israeli politics to understand that Netanyahu doesn’t have much to offer the world. He has an extreme right-wing coalition, and he was even forced to put Avigdor Liberman in charge of the strategic coordination between Israel and the US – a move that won’t help building the trust between the two new administrations. His partners will make it hard for Netanyahu to do even the little Olmert did – pay some lip-service to a non-existing peace process and control the settlement growth – and this was when W was sitting in the Washington, and everything was much easier.

There are also no indication that Netanyahu is getting close to the sort of ideological turn Ariel Sharon or Menachem Begin took once they settled in the PM office. Last week he declared that Israel will never give the Golan back to Syria. Even from a right wing point of view, it was a stupid thing to do. It signaled to Assad that there is nothing to be gained for Syria from stabilizing the situation in Lebanon and in Gaza, and it locked Netanyahu to the Palestinian channel, against his own will. But judging this in rational terms is a mistake – Netanyahu was speaking from his heart. If anything, it looks as though his model is Yitzhak Shamir, who saw it as his goal to stall all negotiations and avoid any concessions. But to do so, Shamir was ready to confront the Americans, something which contradicts everything Netanyahu, a devoted Americanophile, believes in. Putting all these elements together shows how little room for maneuvering the Israeli PM has.

If Obama can’t expect anything from Netanyahu, what can he do?

I believe that the most important thing to do in the next few months is to prepare the ground for the negotiations. It is clear that the Israeli public opinion is far from being ready to any sort of concessions. The world, and especially the US, need to make it clear to the Israelis – who voted overwhelmingly for the right – that this time they won’t be able to get away with it. We need to hear more about the benefits there are to be gained from taking part in Obama’s plan, and about the dangers we might face if we fail to reach an agreement with the Palestinians. The world must make it clear that it will not accept the West Bank Apartheid for much longer. We started hearing these talks already, but Obama’s position is still vague.

This is the real challenge of the Obama-Netanyahu meeting on Monday. Speaking to the Israeli PM alone won’t do much good. The President must make Israelis understand.

3 Comments on “Bibi Goes to Washington”

  1. 1 Shaul Hanuka said at 1:22 pm on May 15th, 2009:

    I think that all the signals show there is a chance that the Obama administration will put his weight on Netanyahu’s government. In the same way Bush the father did to Shamir in 1991, together with Baker and the other dude. those two, especially the other dude that i can’t remember his name, are back in the loop since the last year of GW Bush.

  2. 2 Shaul Hanuka said at 3:38 am on May 16th, 2009:

    Lee Hamilton !

  3. 3 rfjk said at 6:47 am on May 16th, 2009:

    The “other” was Brent Scowcroft. A scion of the ‘realists’ among the ‘wise men’ of US foreign policy who were expelled in toto by the previous regime, but repatriated wholesale in an alliance with the ‘progressive’ foreign policy wing of the ‘establishment’ by the Obama regency.