Friday, October 30, 2015

When Obama hosts Netanyahu, it won’t be pleasant, but it might be productive - THE TIMES OF ISRAEL

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with US President Barack Obama in the White House, October 1, 2014 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

When Obama hosts Netanyahu, it won’t be pleasant, but it might be productive

Op-ed: The Iran deal is done. The peace process is a nonstarter. Which means there might be less than usual to argue about when the two leaders hold their first meeting after a year of bitter disconnect


David Horovitz 

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. 
He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The …[More]

On November 9, US President Barack Obama will host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House for the first time in more than a year. They’ll probably — though not certainly — put on a professional, perhaps even a friendly show. Leaders of two closely allied states. Shared interests and values. Unshakable partnership. You know the script.

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And the stuff about an enduring, vital relationship between the two countries is absolutely true.

But the Obama-Netanyahu personal relationship has long since fractured beyond the point of no return. The events of the past year plunged it to new lows. Netanyahu is convinced that Obama sealed a dreadful deal with Iran — entrenching an evil regime, giving it the hard cash to wreak havoc and leaving Israel horribly exposed — and has made no secret of his dismay. Obama was left absolutely seething by Netanyahu’s failed public effort to turn members of his own party against him on his key foreign policy objective, notably in that March speech to Congress. 

Netanyahu thinks Obama gives Mahmoud Abbas a free pass, even when the Palestinian leader is inciting terrorism. Obama is convinced that Netanyahu’s backing for settlement expansion is central to the failure of peace efforts. Netanyahu thinks Obama doesn’t “get” the ruthless Middle East. Obama made his displeasure with Netanyahu known when he took the prime minister to task for his election day assertion that Arab voters were streaming to the polls.

We could go on. Hopefully, for the interests of both of their countries, the two leaders themselves won’t want to.

November 9 will likely mark the day when Netanyahu implicitly acknowledges defeat by finally engaging with the administration on the practical implications of the Iran deal

The visit to Washington this week of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (himself hardly a figure beloved to the Obama administration) seems to symbolize a return to closer cooperation. The new chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford, was in Israel last week — less than a month after taking office. Obama and Netanyahu will never put the past behind them, but the White House meeting will likely mark a renewed effort to see out the final year-plus of the Obama presidency in less discordant tones.

Helping that cause is the fact that, in the two key areas where they have so frequently clashed, matters have reached a stage where their scope for sniping at each other would appear to have been much reduced: The Iran deal is done. And any realistic notion of a Palestinian deal is done too for the foreseeable future.

On Iran, therefore, they could choose to batter away some more at each other on whether there was a better alternative, and on what constitutes acceptable conduct when an embattled nation lobbies against a core policy of a superpower ally. But, more likely, November 9 will mark the day when Netanyahu implicitly acknowledges defeat by finally engaging with the administration on the practical implications of the deal. 

If so, the two leaders and their teams can then get down to work coordinating their positions on countering the threats posed by an emboldened and soon-to-be wealthier Iran, and on the appropriate responses to possible Iranian violations of the deal. The latter is an issue on which Israel could have played more of a role in recent months, had it not been opposing the deal so insistently and thus staying out of the loop.

In similar cooperative vein, it’s likely that the two leaders will announce that they’re now hard at work on a new long-term agreement for US defense assistance to Israel. The current 10-year framework, which provided for over $30 billion in US military aid, expires in 2018. Behind the scenes, the respective teams will be assessing potential threats to Israel over the next decade, and Israel will be finalizing a “shopping list” that ensures its qualitative military edge is maintained — something to which this and previous US administrations have long been committed. 

Israel has already contracted for more than 30 F-35 multirole fighter planes; it may ultimately want 50, or even 75. Missile defense systems are funded from a separate budget, and the US is well aware of the imperative to maintain and improve the Iron Dome and the Arrow systems, and to deploy David’s Sling, to ensure Israel can counter threats from neighboring Gaza, south Lebanon and Syria, as well as from an Iran that is relentlessly developing its ballistic missile systems. The increasing involvement of Iran and Russia across Israel’s northern border raises new challenges on which Israel and the US largely see eye-to-eye.

A new Obama-led bid to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in the limited time he has left in office, is a non-starter

As for the Palestinians — while nobody should underestimate Secretary of State John Kerry’s readiness to invest considerable effort in dragging the parties back to the table, in even the least propitious circumstances — the president has likely had more than his fill. There is little chance of the two sides agreeing on terms for a resumption of talks and even less chance of any such talks making headway, and the president is well aware of this.

At a press conference on October 16, Obama reiterated his long-held conviction that the only way Israel would be secure, and the Palestinians would meet their aspirations, was via a two-state solution. But “it’s going to be up to the parties” to achieve that, “and we stand ready to assist,” he said — which was tantamount to spelling out that he is not about to launch a new peace effort.

Netanyahu will presumably rejoice at not being pressured for concessions to enable new negotiations. Obama would doubtless want to tell him that such rejoicing is short-sighted, but the fact is that a new Obama-led bid to solve the conflict, in the limited time he has left in office, is a nonstarter. The president has no shortage of other challenges, domestic and foreign. He can more effectively devote his attentions elsewhere.

They’ll disagree. It was ever thus.

Nonetheless, the two leaders will need to discuss how to prevent a further deterioration on the ground — how to thwart further terrorism; how to tackle incitement more effectively; how to deal with the fracturing PA and its weakening leader; how to safeguard Israeli-Jordanian relations; and how to retain some credibility for a two-state solution that Netanyahu and Abbas both continue to insist that they seek.

Obama would want Netanyahu to halt settlement building, to give the PA more authority in Area C of the West Bank, and to try to utilize the Arab Peace Initiative to warm ties with other Arab governments and possibly defang anti-Israel efforts by the PA at the UN. The prime minister will be reluctant; the president will warn against deepening the sense of hopelessness on both sides and highlight the dangers exposed by the terrorism and the violence of recent weeks. The prime minister will blame Abbas; the president will ask him to be constructive.

They’ll disagree. It was ever thus.

But they’ll have met. A year’s personal disconnect will be over. They’ll have recommitted to tolerating each other for the good of their countries for another 15 months.

Still, for Netanyahu, the end of Obama’s second term can’t come soon enough. And for Obama, not having to host Netanyahu will be a post-presidential pleasure.

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Love For His People
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