Netanyahu 1, Obama 0
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said it best at his joint press conference with President Barack Obama yesterday. Speaking of the urgency of beginning talks with the Palestinians, he said "we need to begin negotiations in order to end them."
One has to wonder if it will even get that far. After yesterday's meeting of the Obama-Netanyahu Mutual Admiration Society, it does not appear that the Israeli leader is under any pressure to begin serious negotiations anytime soon. Or freeze settlements. Or do much of anything except express dedication to the concept of peace.
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank summed it up:
A blue-and-white Israeli flag hung from Blair House. Across Pennsylvania Avenue, the Stars and Stripes was in its usual place atop the White House. But to capture the real significance of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's visit with President Obama, White House officials might have instead flown the white flag of surrender. [Emphasis mine]
In fact, Netanyahu may have gotten more from Obama than he had even hoped for.
In the joint statement issued by the two governments after the meeting, the United States agreed that anything Israel does in the name of its own security (as it sees it) is fine with us:
The President told the Prime Minister he recognizes that Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats, and that only Israel can determine its security needs. [Emphasis mine]
The point here is that the United States has no right to tell Israel what to do on security issues which, for Netanyahu, of course, include maintaining the occupation, blockading Gaza, and "preempting" any adversary by attacking whenever and whomever. Most troubling, the United States agreed that Israel will continue to be exempted from the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Finally, we discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference. And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues. We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it's in, and the threats that are leveled against us -- against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It's got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that's why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel's security. And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests. [Emphasis mine]
In other words, Israel is exempt from the nonproliferation requirements we impose on every other country because of its "unique security requirements." Of course, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and a host of other countries have (as they see it) "unique security requirements." This exemption, pretty much unspoken until now, blows a hole in our nonproliferation policy.
It is clear that the President has no intention of putting any pressure on the Prime Minister. Despite the fact that Israel continues to expand settlements, continues to evict Palestinians from their homes, and has announced that after September any semblance of a settlement freeze will be replaced with more settlers everywhere, Obama still praised Netanyahu to the skies. So why would Netanyahu engage in serious negotiations?
Netanyahu must be ecstatic. He told his political allies and adversaries back home that in an election year, no President of the United States would dare pressure him. And so Netanyahu won big time yesterday.
But Israel lost. So did the United States (which looks less like a superpower and more like a paper tiger). And obviously, so did the Palestinians.
The amazing thing is that while the president gave Netanyahu everything he wanted (which was primarily a lovey-dovey photo op and threatening statements on Iran), Netanyahu got away with offering nothing. He simply said "we want to explore the possibility of peace." The possibility?
One could go on and on. But why bother? The Netanyahu-Obama summit was not a serious event but a purely political one. Each leader accomplished what he needed: Netanyahu goes home looking far stronger than when he departed and without making any compromises that would offend his right flank. Obama can inform the chairs of the House and Senate campaign committees that they can tell disgruntled donors that his relations with Netanyahu are good as gold.
And "pro-Israel" Democrats can proclaim Obama to be "the most pro-Israel President ever." (The last President to hold that title was George W. Bush.)
It just makes you proud.