NO LOVE FEST BUT AS GOOD AS IT’S GONNA GET
RubinReports, July 6, 2010
Why was the meeting this time between President Barack H. Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a success? The answer is simple though not all the reasons are publicly known. So I’ll tell you about them. The president couldn’t have been more effusive. They had an “excellent” discussion, Netanyahu’s statement was “wonderful,” and the U.S.-Israel relationship is “extraordinary.” Hard to believe this is the Obama we’ve seen before.
Obama wants to improve relations with Israel for several reasons. Obviously, he doesn’t want to be bashing Israel in the period leading up to the November elections. Polls show that for Americans his administration’s relative hostility toward Israel is its least popular policy. But there is more to this trend than just that point. What Obama wants is to be able to claim a diplomatic success in advancing the Israel-Palestinian “peace process,” perhaps the only international issue he can so spin. Keeping indirect talks going and, even better, moving them up to direct talks is his goal. So he wants Netanyahu’s cooperation for that.
The same point holds regarding the Gaza Strip, where Obama wants to claim he has defused a crisis he has called “unsustainable.”… And he also wants to keep the Israel-Arab front calm while he deals with Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, seeking above all to avoid crises and confrontations and to keep up his (bogus) bargain of trading flattery for popularity.
So here’s the deal. Give Israel some U.S. support in exchange for modest steps that the administration hopes accomplishes its goals. Israel will give some things that don’t appreciably hurt its interests in order to maintain good relations with the United States.
First, Israel has revised the list of goods it permits to go into the Gaza Strip. The details were all agreed beforehand with the United States. The Obama Administration will support Israel over Gaza generally, including endorsing its independent investigation of the flotilla issue.…
The United States will proclaim that the alleged humanitarian crisis is over and the people of Gaza are doing just fine, ignoring their being subject to a terribly repressive dictatorship. Hamas will denounce the concessions as insufficient and continue efforts to smuggle in weapons, consolidate its rule, and turn Gaza’s little children into terrorists. This is the contemporary Western idea of a diplomatic success.…
But Israel’s policy decision makes sense. As I’ve pointed out before, once Israel concluded that there will be no Western commitment for overthrowing the Hamas regime it might as well go to a containment strategy. This Western policy is terrible but Israel is merely recognizing the real situation and making the best of it.
What a terrible strategy, though. Obama said: “And we believe that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas.”
Really? How the hell are you going to do that? Read the latest speech by Hamas’s leader and wonder what possible conception of Hamas Obama might have. Doesn’t he realize that if Gaza prospers Hamas is strongly entrenched in power and has plenty of assets to pursue war with Israel, which then destroys any prosperity.…
Obama praised Netanyahu just as much on the “peace process.” The president said: “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace.” Remember that quote when Obama turns on Netanyahu again after the November elections. As for risks, we’ve had enough of those, thank you very much.
But Netanyahu’s goal was to make Obama happy with the minimum of risk. Israel will extend its building freeze on the West Bank and east Jerusalem in exchange for an Obama Administration commitment to endorse its predecessor’s acceptance of Israel retaining “settlement blocs” as part of any peace agreement with the Palestinians. In other words, if a diplomatic settlement were ever to be reached then borders would be shifted to allow Israel to annex some relatively small areas with a large number of settlers.…
Another thing Netanyahu wants is for Obama to escalate pressure on Iran regarding that country’s nuclear weapons’ drive. The new sanctions, thanks to Congress, are going to hurt Iran and undermine support for the regime there. Not enough, of course, to stop the program. Still, when Iran does get nuclear weapons, Israel will need the United States to take a strong stand in containing Tehran.
Does Israel’s government trust Obama? Of course not. Israel’s government and Israelis in general are under no illusions about Obama’s view of their country, his willingness to battle revolutionary Islamists, or his general reliability and toughness.… There is also clarity about the possibility of Obama turning to a much tougher stance on Israel after the congressional elections are over. Yet with a plummeting popularity at home and lots of domestic problems, perhaps Obama will have more on his mind than playing Middle East peacemaker.…
Thus, Israel’s strategy is as follows: try very hard to get along with the administration, seek to keep it happy, and avoid confrontation without making any major irreversible concessions or taking serious risks. Have no illusions, but keep the U.S. government focused on Iran as much as possible. The next Congress will be more likely to constrain the president and who knows what will happen in future.… [F]or the foreseeable future, Obama will play along. It isn’t neat but it is real world international politics.
(Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center
and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal.)