What awaits Netanyahu on his next trip to Washington?
America has granted Benjamin Netanyahu a brief chance to rethink his position before his next U.S. visit.
In a little over two weeks, Benjamin Netanyahu is supposed to be back in Washington, for a nuclear summit hosted by Barack Obama. He'll be returning three weeks after receiving the cold shoulder on his most recent visit, which put the perceived Israeli wisdom that Netanyahu is the politician who 'knows America and America knows him' to a serious test.
The absence of media coverage of the Obama-Netanyahu talks earlier this week - coupled with the statement by White House spokesman Robert Gibbs that the administration "felt comfortable" with that - has created an uneasy atmosphere and spawned a myriad of interpretations regarding the state of U.S.-Israel ties. The most vivid analysis was probably that of Jackson Diehl from the Washington Post, who was quick to note that, "Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arm's length".
It is ironic that a day before their meeting at the White House, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr urged both nations to resolve their differences quietly, as it befits close allies. The American apparently took this advice quite literally; presumably Kohr didn't intend "quietly" to mean hiding the prime minister from photographers. But it is worth noting that the meeting wasn't planned long in advance; Obama wasn't supposed to be in Washington at all, but had cancelled a trip to Australia and Indonesia shortly before the crucial House of Representatives vote on the healthcare bill.
Israel is a small country, and one of the most heartwarming advantages of that is its spontaneity. You can always explain and improvise, say that you were in town and decided to drop by, that you have a tight deadline, etc. But in the U.S., this rarely works. You need lengthy preparation, faxes, letters, clearances, and even then no one can definitely say that a meeting will take place.
Formally, Netanyahu had indeed been invited, but in reality it was closer to dropping by unannounced, for the second time in a row. The result was diplomatic protocol being turned on its head: while diplomats and officials normally prepare for visits by heads of state in advance, so that the guest and host are ready for a well-run meeting and glorious photo-op, this time Obama and Netanyahu had prepared for a meeting of lower-level officials, and were left to try and make sense of the bilateral mess while steeped in mutual suspicion and frustration.
As he prepares for his next trans-Atlantic trip, Netanyahu can at least count on a brief respite from American pressure. Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the State Department, P.J. Crowley, on Friday used the Passover holiday - which begins Monday night and lasts for eight days - to grant the beleaguered Israeli premier a chance to rethink his position.
"Obviously, in the region we are approaching, you know, kind of a holiday period," he told reporters.
"We will continue our contacts informally with the parties. We'll probably go through a period now of a week to 10 days where everyone's kind of assessing where we are and still trying to construct the most effective path forward." Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he said, had been updated on those discussions.
Obama - who on Monday evening will mark Passover with a Seder at the White House for friends and staff - may have plenty on his plate, not least Afghanistan and Iran. But with two achievements in one week - the huge healthcare reform and the long overdue START treaty with Russia - his scorecard is no longer empty. Apparently, yes he can. As Netanyahu takes his place at his own Seder table in Jerusalem, he might do well to remember that.
U.S. Jews and the 'crisis'
So what impact did this Israel-U.S. "crisis/family dispute/disagreement between friends discussed openly" have on American Jewry?
The 7,500 participants at the AIPAC conference couldn't shield Netanyahu from the Obama administration's chill. But on Saturday a letter was sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on, bearing 327 signatures from the House of Representatives and urging the administration to stand by Israel: "We are writing to reaffirm our commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists between our country and the State of Israel and to express to you our deep concern over recent tension. Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding strategic allies."
J Street sponsored a poll after Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel, which coincided with an embarrassing Israeli announcement of plans for 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem, and Secretary Hillary Clinton's subsequent telephone rebuke, but before the AIPAC conference and the Netanyahu-Obama meeting at the White House.
The poll says that, by a margin of four-to-one (82%-18%) American Jews support the United States playing an active role in helping to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Seventy-three percent of those polled support this role even if it meant that the U.S. were to "publicly state its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs".
With an American public still divided over the massive healthcare reform, it seems that for the time being the Jewish vote is among the least of the headaches facing Democrats in the November elections. Yet on the (small) American Jewish front, the mid-term elections look likely to be extremely interesting, particularly regarding J Street endorsements of the candidates.
Perceived rightist rival AIPAC this year had its biggest annual convention ever, and Philadelphian Democrat Doug Pike, who is running for a House seat, asked the leftist lobby to remove him from their list of endorsed candidates. Pike cited differences in agenda, and is getting ready to return J Street's $6,000 donation to his campaign. Apparently, Pike has no lack of donors, but some have started to question whether he's "pro-Israel enough". J Street interpreted the move as political cowardice, and last week's encounter