Are Israel and America Heading for a Blowup?
A telling moment occurred in Turkey when President Obama spoke before its parliament. He stated that America is committed to previous understandings reached between the parties. He also specifically mentioned Annapolis and a two-state solution. He thereby rebuked Lieberman's opinion regarding Annapolis and Netanyahu's views about the need to rush towards the establishment of a Palestinian state. But he also mentioned the road map -- a fact that escaped the attention of many commentators -- and said that Israel's security concerns are legitimate.
What other tea leaves can be read?
George Mitchell is the special envoy to the Middle East. He also has a direct line to President Obama. He does not have to go through the State Department to have his views mediated or altered. In the past, Mitchell served in the same role for Bill Clinton. When his team issued its report, it focused on Israeli settlements as being a roadblock to peace. The report advocated a total freeze, including natural growth.
This will be a serious bone of contention between the Obama administration and the new Israeli leadership. Eliot Abrams, who served in George W. Bush's administration, telegraphed as much in this recent Washington Post op-ed. He also refuted some of the arguments that have been made that blame Israeli settlements for the violence in the region
Iran will also be a problem -- as it has been for years. This year will be different, though. A more muscular approach towards Iran's nuclear program has long been advocated by Netanyahu, and now he has the power to turn those opinions into actions. The Obama team prefers negotiations and outreach over threats and military action. Indeed, in the past week, America has agreed to join with the European Union in face-to-face talks with the Iranians over their nuclear program.
A discordant note has been injected into the equation. The Obama team has reportedly approached members of Congress, warning them that a clash is coming and implying that the administration is depending on congressional Democrats to support the administration's approach. This is an unprecedented action on the part of the president. Apparently, pre-emption in this area is one policy that Barack Obama supports.
Almost in tandem with this move, Vice President Joe Biden laid down a marker, warning Israel away in a CNN interview from any sort of military action against Iran. America, as Israel's most stalwart supporter, has great leverage over Israel, which is enhanced by American control over the Iraqi airspace that Israeli planes would have to transverse on their way to attacking Iranian nuclear installations.
What we are witnessing is a ritual that occurs on the international stage quite often: Two recently empowered leaders are developing the contours of a relationship. There are parameters, boundaries, red lines, and agreements that will unfold in the days ahead. Netanyahu will find the words and formulas that will work to assuage the concerns of Barack Obama that he will be too hawkish towards the Palestinians -- perhaps agreeing to a freeze on settlement activity. That would be a goodwill gesture on his part. In return, Netanyahu might very well paste on a happy face regarding the Obama's team outreach towards the Iranians but behind closed doors advocate that a time limit be placed on these negotiations, pointing out that interminable negotiations have previously resulted in no slowing of Iran's nuclear program.
This week, Jews are celebrating Passover to commemorate their ancestors escape from Egyptian slavery.
Barack Obama will host the first seder ever held in the White House. Some may see this as a cynical move to warm up Jews in the face of disagreements ahead. Perhaps so. Symbolism over substance is a political fact of life. Whether this is the goal or not, it might behoove the celebrants at the seder to inform President Obama of a different Jewish holiday. The Purim holiday celebrates the deliverance of the Jewish people from the Persian leader Haman's plot to annihilate them. Persia is the ancient name of today's Iran.
President Obama may have the power to make history come alive by rescuing half of the world's Jews from an Iranian regime that is again bent on bringing about a Holocaust.