I looked over the schedule for U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who will arrive in Jerusalem on Monday, and found it hard to believe. An extensive meeting as well as a more limited meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, dinner with Bibi and Sara Netanyahu at their official residence, a helicopter tour with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and a speech at Tel Aviv University. A draft of his speech wasn't made available to me, but I'll go out on a limb and guess that Biden will expound on his declarations of love, support and limitless commitment to the security of Israel and its prosperity.
With so much attention, it's a shame he's arriving a year late - a year which his boss, President Barack Obama, wasted on fruitless diplomatic moves that only further compromised the shaky stature of the United States in the Middle East. Obama and his advisers expected the hand that he extended to the Arab world and Iran, the president's reference in his Cairo speech to passages from the Koran, and the public and demonstrable distance that he created from Israel would soften the Muslims' and Arabs' residual hostility for America. It didn't work.
Columnist Maureen Dowd of the New York Times, who recently visited the Saudi capital, Riyadh, quoted a disappointed highly-placed Saudi as saying: "Things are worse now than before, because our hopes were so high after Cairo." The Iranians have ignored Obama's gestures of friendship and subsequent threat of sanctions, and have simply continued to pursue their nuclear program.
In Israel, Obama has aroused concern that on the one hand he would exert heavy pressure and hit American aid to Israel in order to expedite an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state; and on the other hand that the United States will reconcile itself to an Iranian nuclear bomb. The Israelis, who'd gotten used to pampering and special gestures from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, suddenly sensed they didn't have a friend in the White House.
Biden's visit is designed to open a new chapter in relations between Netanyahu and the U.S. administration, with a two-fold message: recognition of the political importance of Israel and its supporters in America in advance of the November Congressional elections; and giving Netanyahu the credit he's not yet earned for his statement in support of "two states for two peoples" and his settlement construction freeze. He will get it now under the threat of a preemptive war against Iran.
Israel has a justifiable reputation as an apprehensive and nervous country - and as a serial attacker of nuclear reactors. To calm Israeli nerves and ensure that the Middle East is not set aflame, Obama has no choice but to use the tried and true methods of the past: supporting, stroking and promising loyalty.
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