Saturday, May 21, 2011

Bibi's Beating Up on Barack. But Beware . . .

Many moons ago, I recall, when Obama first entered the White House, I wrote of my concern that Israel premier Benjamin Netanyahu would try to "school" him, to bully him as a relatively untutored statesman, when it came to the Middle East in general and the Israel-Palestine situation in particular.  Well, it's pretty clear that since then, Bibi has pretty much had his way with Barack - even before the Republicans regained the House in 2010.

Yesterday, Bibi made it plain that he'd brook no uppity back-talk from the White House whipper-snapper.  As the NY Times reported, in yesterday's meeting at the White House, Bibi stared Barack in the eye and not only insisted (in what the WaPo report describes as a "lecturing tone") that Israel could not accept the 1967 lines as the starting point in any negotiations with its Palestinian interlocutors, but also would insist on a fully demilitarized Palestinian state and on an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River (i.e., on the border of a putative Palestine with its neighbor, Jordan) and would brook no discussion of a Palestinian right of return.  Barack did not back down, but he did make sure to insist that the US would regard Israel's security as its foremost consideration in any negotiation.  (Not that Bibi ever had cause to doubt it.  As the NYT also reports - in a piece that some might regard as "outing" him to readers who might not have already known - Dennis Ross, whom some have anointed as Israel's lawyer in the White House, has been on the job, even if Obama's speech likely ran counter to what he advised.  Abe Foxman is quoted extensively to the effect that, all along, Ross has had Israel's back in any discussions in the White House that involve Israel.)

Roger Cohen contributes a brave piece applauding Obama's speech as brave and on the mark.  From the Palestinian side, though, the outcome of the last two days is hardly promising.  Though Obama's reference to the 1967 lines was welcome, it was hardly a revolutionary statement; and Obama failed to enunciate any US position on Jerusalem or the Palestinian right of return, stating instead that such issues could be taken on farther down the road.  That attitude, of course, replicates the tactic embedded in the Clinton-era Oslo Accords, much touted at the time but, in the end, hugely disappointing because they, too, allowed the opposing parties to kick major issues down the road.  Meanwhile, successive Israeli governments keep on building those settlements in the West Bank.

Tomorrow, Obama speaks before AIPAC.  His reception there will speak volumes.

One ray of hope for the Palestinians, and for Mr. Obama: the "Quartet" (which includes the EU, the UN, and Russia - in other words, most of the rest of the planet) backs Obama's approach.  And that date for a UN General Assembly vote to recognize a Palestinian state still lies ahead this fall, only a few months away.

Whatever success the Bibi + Congress tag-team has against the president of the United States, Israel still faces the prospect of even greater international isolation, at a time when Arab countries it could count on to not rock the boat may be sailing in a different direction on the tide of the Arab Spring.  For Israel's sake, Bibi would do well to think it through before he humiliates Obama even more.

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