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Ron Radosh

What did the Obama-Netanyahu Meeting Accomplish?

May 19th, 2009 - 4:26 pm

Almost everyone has weighed in on what was accomplished in the White House meeting between  Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu, so I guess I will too. 

Among friends of Israel, particularly conservatives, the comments have been unusually harsh and skeptical. The world has been negotiating continuously with Iran for years, Mona Charen notes, and it has all come to naught. Yet Iran has not budged, and has become more bellicose than at the start. “How long,” she asks, does the Obama administration “have to indulge that approach?” The bottom line: the negotiation track has accomplished nothing; it is time to put it to an end.

In the Jerusalem Post, Caroline Glick chastises Leon Panetta for taking his secret trip to Israel, during which he purportedly warned the Israelis that they should not attack Iran without first getting Washington’s permission. Moreover, Glick argues that Washington “has made its peace with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.” The Obama administration, Glick believes, is guilty of “engagement and appeasement.” These are, indeed, very harsh judgments.

At National Review, Meyrav Wurmser stresses that Washington and Israel are operating using two different scripts; Israel insisting that the main issue is Iran and its nuclear program; Washington that of obtaining an Israeli-Palestinian peace and two-state solution. Washington wants to continue the flawed “peace process,” while Israel sees it as a diversion from the main job of stopping Iran from getting the bomb. Wurmser’s  conclusion: “The Obama administration, which is energetically soliciting our enemies’ friendship, is at the same time putting the onus on Israel, our strongest regional ally, to prove its worthiness to us.”

At PJM, P. David Hornick, argues with a bit more nuance that “there was, however, little in it to reassure Israelis realistically attuned to the prevailing situations and dangers in our region.” Both Hamas and the reality of Gaza were completely ignored, leaving the calls for a strong move to a two-state solution rather meaningless. He sees a vast disconnect between Obama’s attitudes and  reality.  Hornick fears that although Obama made some good statements in his recent Newsweek interview, that he does not understand “the full gravity of the situation.”

Before the Obama-Netanyahu meeting, one recalls that scores of commentators predicted a major break that could not be healed, and would become even wider, after the meeting was finished. But as Brett Stephens writes in the Wall Street Journal, it did not happen, and was the last thing either leader wished to occur.  Stephens believes that although the two-state solution is not the Holy Grail, Netanyahu would do better by accepting the terminology which would  actually challenge the Arab world “to accept Israel as a Jewish State,  the way it was conceived by the U.S. and the U.N. at its founding, and the very essence of the two-state idea — and then see who is really opposed to peace..”  If diplomacy with Iran doesn’t work, Israel’s serious intention to  bomb Iran would force the U.S. “either to ratchet up sanctions on Iran in some convincing way, ideally through an embargo on Iran’s gasoline imports, or else assist [Netanyhu], probably covertly, in seeing to it that the strikes succeed. That could mean anything from an air corridor over Iraq to the sale of highly sophisticated munitions.” It is his hope that if this becomes necessary- and if the appeals to Iran go nowhere-that is what will take place.

During the White House meeting, Netanyahu stressed the potential alliance of moderate Arab states with Israel, all of whom share a great fear of Iran’s growing strength. But the demonization of Israel has served and continues to serve many of these governments for the past 61 years. Will fear of Iran be enough to change course?  Will they have the courage to tell their people and the Palestinians that they will never have all of Palestine; that they must abandon the “right of return,” and finally, they must accept Israel as a Jewish State,  exactly as it was created in 1948? Will they decide finally to build a Palestinian state next to Israel, and openly accept its legitimacy? They rejected that after the UN voted for partition in 1947, and again in 1948, when five Arab nations invaded Israel. They have continued to reject acceptance of Israel ever since. If they continually refuse, then not much will change for the better.

If, however, these obstacles can be surmounted, perhaps these various Arab nations in the region can come together against Iran, so that if it comes to that, a military strike will get broad support.

But many of our European allies, some more concerned with trade deals with Iran than with stopping their nuclear march, need to also get behind new and much more server crippling sanctions. If these fail- as they did with Saddam Hassam before George W. Bush took military action- the U.S. needs to minimize any political damage that will result from bombing.  So Obama might indeed be correct when he argues that we have to exhaust the diplomatic track first. Diplomacy is a tactic, not an end in itself.

Yes, some will be skeptical that Obama understands this. But as he himself put it recently, “I don’t think it’s my place to determine for the Israelis what their security needs are.” Let us hope that he means it.

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