If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to the United Jewish Communities General Assembly was a dry run for the real showdown - meeting President Barack Obama - then he will live to regret this visit. Demanding that Palestinians "return to negotiations with no preconditions" might wring applause from a Jewish audience, but Obama has learned that it's merely code for "you can forget about my government freezing any settlements."
The president surely knows what every traveler in the settlers' land knows - bulldozers are breaking ground for the new neighborhood in Beit Arye, apartment sales have started in Ariel's "university neighborhood" and construction on a new synagogue is to begin shortly in Eli.
Talking about the security of little Israel, surrounded by enemies, is another winning card in the Jewish Diaspora. For Netanyahu, security is a belated condition for peace, but also a precondition for peace negotiations.
He built his career on the iron rule that before Israel begins talking to the Palestinians, the Palestinians must stop shooting. This rule is invalid in Obama's White House.
The U.S. president talks to anyone willing to talk to him. His Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, didn't condition his meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad on deporting Hamas' political bureau Khaled Meshal from Damascus.
Netanyahu made another pubic relations victory lap talking about the weapons that Iran shipped to Hezbollah. While the ship was sailing toward Beirut, Obama's people were shaking hands with envoys of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The importance of Netanyahu's Washington speech is in what it did not say. Unlike Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who listed the peace-agreement principles in his announcement that he will not seek reelection, as usual Netanyahu settled for general statements.
He is deliberately ignoring the understandings reached during the governments of his partner Ehud Barak and his predecessor Ehud Olmert. For Netanyahu, "no preconditions" means returning to the beginning.
It's hard to believe that he believes that Abbas, or any other Palestinian leader, would stay at the negotiating table for a single hour after hearing his proposals. Netanyahu called on the Palestinians to stop the negotiations over the negotiations. He has turned talking about solving the conflict into an inseparable part of managing the conflict.
Obama is not fazed by speeches. He knows peace in the Middle East is not achieved with speeches, especially those whose transparent aim is to lay responsibility on the Arabs and demand that the Americans roll up their sleeves.
When Netanyahu asks what the president intends to do to save Israel from the nuclear demon, Obama will likely answer: What do you intend to do to save Israel from the binational demon? The Americans understand that if Netanyahu doesn't offer Abbas concrete actions instead of hollow words, the entire Palestinian leadership will go home with him and reiterate the demand made by Martin Luther King Jr., Obama's hero: one man, one vote.
If this speech is all Netanyahu has to say to Obama, it remains for Obama to decide, and quickly, on the next step - whether to give the prime minister his peace plan, or the White House telephone number with the suggestion that he give him a call when he knows what he really wants.
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