When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat opposite U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday, perhaps he was overcome by the sullen recollection from the days when he served as deputy foreign minister under David Levy. Even then, 17 years ago, there was an American president who entertained the idea of resolving the Israeli-Arab conflict and thought that this concept was incompatible with the expansion of settlements.
That president, George Bush, whose name would later acquire the description "senior," informed the Israeli prime minister that he had to choose between advancing relations with the Arabs and American aid to help absorb immigrants from the former Soviet Union, or bolstering the creeping annexation of the territories and embroiling Israel in a crisis with the world's only superpower.
Netanyahu was among those who urged then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to go for broke by continuing to build in the settlements while enlisting the support of Congress in the fight for financial aid. Netanyahu certainly remembers how that story ended. Israel lost the loan guarantees totaling $10 billion, and the Likud lost its grip on power.
Netanyahu could have glanced Tuesday at Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak, who was dragged by him to New York, and cracked a smile of satisfaction.
In the latter stages of 1992, a publicly aired disagreement with the United States over settlements and the peace process was enough to topple a government in Israel. By the end of 2009, an Israeli prime minister has no compunction about returning home empty-handed from a tripartite summit with the American president and the Palestinian leader.
Who will remove him from power? Defense Minister Barak? The three musketeers from Meretz? Even public opinion and the press have long lost interest and faith in negotiations with the Palestinians (as well as with Syria and Lebanon).
So what if Obama says the time has come to move the peace process forward? His chatter make as much an impression on Netanyahu as the threats issued by the Labor Party rebels. Benny Begin and Yesha settlement leader Pinhas Wallerstein scare him more than that lefty Obama and his few friends in Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, cannot come away satisfied with a photo-op handshake with the U.S. president. The days of the Palestine Liberation Organization growing in awe at every gesture of recognition are long gone.
Every day that passes without progress toward an end to the Israeli occupation is another day of celebration for Hamas. Palestinians in the territories, particularly in besieged Gaza, have learned that it is impossible to buy goods - let alone buy freedom - with peace conferences.
Just to make sure that the summit's failure would stick to his rival from Fatah, the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, hurriedly dispatched a letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in which he expressed support for a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Even Haniyeh knows that it would take a miracle for Netanyahu to agree to place the issue of Jerusalem on the negotiating table.
Alas, what is most noteworthy about the summit in New York is who was not there - the Israeli peace camp, which has withered away, and Hamas, which is celebrating.
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