Monday’s meeting between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not appear to have been the “clash” that some feared. There was, however, little in it to reassure Israelis realistically attuned to the prevailing situations and dangers in our region.
On the Palestinian issue, Obama told the press after the meeting that “the prime minister … has an historic opportunity to get a serious movement on this issue during his tenure.” On the ground, Hamas — a radical movement openly pledged to Israel’s annihilation and no less extreme than direct U.S. foes like al-Qaeda and the Taliban — rules Gaza. In the West Bank under purportedly more “moderate” rule, Palestinian children are raised on a steady diet of negation of Israel and glorification of anti-Israeli terrorists. President Mahmoud Abbas denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and has never budged on the “right of return” for 1948 refugees and their descendants — recognized across the Israeli spectrum as code for Israel’s demographic destruction.
Ignoring these realities is no less delusional than, say, ignoring the Taliban while discussing Pakistan’s chances to achieve stability. Yet throughout the press conference after the two leaders’ tête-à-tête there was virtually no mention of them. Hamas was mentioned only by Obama in response to reporters’ questions — and only to attribute its rise to an alleged lack of diplomatic activity. In fact, Hamas’s growth coincides exactly with the post-1992 period of intensive U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic engagement, right up through Annapolis and the fervent embrace by George W. Bush, Ehud Olmert, and Tzipi Livni of Palestinian statehood as a goal coupled with Olmert’s actual, direct offer of statehood to Abbas.
None of this, however, deterred Obama from calling for “a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security” — despite Obama’s full knowledge that Netanyahu, the elected leader of a sovereign democracy, has a serious reservation about the word “state” in this context. The Gaza precedent, where Palestinian empowerment resulted in relentless rocket attacks on Israeli targets, has only further underlined the grave danger that Palestinian militarization west of the Jordan would pose to Israel’s airport, capital city Jerusalem, heavily populated coastal plain, vital infrastructure and arteries, and military bases. Netanyahu, for his part, said Israel “want[s] [the Palestinians] to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel.” His avoidance of the word “state” and the reasons for it meet continued contempt in Washington, however decorously and indirectly Obama expresses that contempt.