Confrontation: Netanyahu and Obama Agree on Almost Nothing
It was clear from the Obama-Netanyahu press conference that the two leaders most decidely did not see eye-to-eye. That is why there was no joint statement but essentially two statements. Obama put forth his well-known views on a Palestinian state and on attacking Iran. (He wants the first and opposes the second). Netanyahu's views were precisely the opposite.
The whole proceeding seemed kind of frosty. Netanyahu seemed eager to ingratiate himself with Obama while Obama was no more than proper. Anyone who recalls the Sharon/Bush or Olmert/Bush lovefests has to be struck by the difference. In this relationship, Netanyahu can take nothing for granted. And he ought not try.
Over the next week, as the President gets ready for his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, it will become inceasingly clear that Israel and the United States are farther apart on the key issues than they have been in decades.
You want to know what Prime Minister Netanyahu is up to? Here it is, from the New York Times on June 27, 1992. The Likud prime minister then was Yitzhak Shamir who had just been defeated by Yitzhak Rabin.
"Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was quoted in a published interview today as saying he wanted to drag out peace talks with the Palestinians for a decade while vastly increasing the number of Jewish settlers in Israeli-occupied territories.
"Had he held on to his office instead of being defeated this week in Israel's national election, Mr. Shamir reportedly said, 'I would have conducted negotiations on autonomy for 10 years and in the meantime we would have reached half a million people" in the West Bank.' "
Shamir, of course, is one of Netanyahu's heroes and mentors. Sixteen years later, he has the same strategy Shamir did. He says he will negotiate but he will not commit himself to Palestinian statehood.
The only questions are (1) why would the Palestinians negotiate on that basis and (2) why would an American President press them to participate in such a charade.
The answers. They won't. And he won't.
Netanyahu wants a green light for war. He did not get one. All he got was a tentative commitment from Obama that if diplomacy does not resolve the nuclear question by the end of the year, he, Obama, will see where we are and act accordingly.
Netanyahu is no dummy. He knows that there will be no military solution to the Iran problem under Obama's watch. But he has to keep pressing (public opinion at home is totally hawkish on the issue) and he figures that Obama won't push him as hard on a Palestinian state if he keeps the Iran issue out there.
Of course, the opposite is probably the case. Obama wants action on a Palestinian state to help ease tensions with Iran and make a peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue more likely.
In short, the two leaders are at loggerheads, just as we all expected. It could get ugly.