The Telegraph reports that “Barack Obama has reassured Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, of Washington’s support for Palestinian statehood during his first visit to the White House.”
Following their Oval Office talks, Mr Obama said he was “confident” of moving the Middle East peace process forward and said freezing the expansion of settlements was now a public priority for the US. Mr Obama said that “time is of the essence” in securing Arab Israeli peace and that it is “in US interests to do so quickly”. …
After years of being shut out the White House during the Bush Administration, the Palestinian delegation was encouraged to find a President prepared to push back against Israeli positions that conflict with the “road map” for peace.
Mr Obama declared that Israel had the obligation of “stopping settlements,” but warned that Palestinians must also crack down on anti-Israel violence and incitement in schools, mosques and public places.
I noted the role of momentum and speed in Obama’s strategy two posts ago:
From a spin-master’s point of view, Netanyahu’s resistance to Obama carries the danger that the President’s PR men can portray him as a man as fully unreasonable as Kim and Ahmadinejad. But Netanyahu may be following a strategy calculated to win him more than he loses. By so blatantly defying Obama he is anchoring his position so publicly that it will become hard for him to climb down, even if he wanted to. Netanyahu is doing the equivalent of chaining himself to his position. To the question why? one possible answer is time. Netanyahu cannot beat Obama in a straight power play. To have any political chance he must throw Obama’s tempo off.
The Israeli Prime minister knows that Obama’s political capital will be greatest in his first 200 days. After that, Obama will have to renew it by some signal accomplishment as the impetus of his campaign dissipates. And perhaps Netanyahu is calculating that Obama is all hat and no cattle and if he holds up the President up long enough for that to become evident, he might have a chance. If Obama cannot bend the Israeli government to his intent during his window of opportunity, he will be overtaken by other events.
But the problem, as this clip from Al Jazeera notes, isn’t confined to Netanyahu. In one form or the other all past Israeli governments have suspected that a Palestinian state along the shape it likely to assume will be the eventual death of Israel. Israel might be prevailed upon to submit itself to mortal peril if it has absolute faith that it will be sustained by a force that is deus ex machina: that is, the United States. The contradiction in Barack Obama’s approach, which goes unnoticed in the following discussion is that by distancing himself from Israel, he is undercutting the one source of assurance that would have persuaded Israel to take the risk. Israel might have gambled its life under a President it trusted. But how much trust does it repose in Barack Obama? To some extent the President’s image in Israel is itself part of the problem.