Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can feel satisfied while flying to Washington Thursday night. U.S. President Barack Obama has granted Netanyahu a major diplomatic victory.
In return for his call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, without defining the size of these lands, Obama accepted Netanyahu's demands for strict security arrangements and a gradual, continuous withdrawal from the West Bank.
He suggested beginning negotiations on borders and security arrangements, and delaying discussions on the core issues such as Jerusalem and refugees.
More importantly, Obama scornfully rejected the Palestinian initiative to attain recognition at the United Nations and to isolate Israel, demanded the Palestinians return to negotiations, and called on Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. These points came straight out of the policy pages of the Prime Minister's Bureau in Jerusalem. Netanyahu could not have asked for more: Obama outright rejects Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' recognition campaign, as well as the Palestinian reconciliation agreement.
It seems that the new Fatah-Hamas unity has saved Netanyahu from a much more aggressive and binding speech on the part of Obama.
Obama could have also delivered his Mideast speech during the impending AIPAC conference, which he will attend this coming Sunday.
His approach to Israel was empathetic, not only with his reassurance of the U.S. commitment to Israel's security but also with his attempt "to save Israel from itself." Obama warned us that if we perpetuated the occupation, we shall crash due to our demographic inferiority, new military technology, and most importantly, due to the anger of the masses who are slowly gaining power in the surrounding countries. In order to retain the vision of a Jewish and democratic state, Israel must end the occupation and withdraw from the West Bank.
The points of the speech were surely pleasing to Netanyahu's ears. Obama promised he won't force a deal on Israel and the Palestinians and demanded both sides to return to negotiations. He did not condemn, as he did before, the Israeli settlements in the territories as "illegitimate" and did not demand a settlement freeze. He only reminded, in a critical tone, that Israel continues building settlements, as an explanation for the deadlock in peace talks.
Netanyahu will have to reply to Obama by accepting the principle of "1967 borders with agreed land swaps." He made a step toward that direction in his speech in the Knesset this week, when he talked about preserving settlement blocs, which is the same thing in Israeli wording. On the eve of his U.S. trip, Netanyahu's advisers hinted that he will accept this principle on Friday during his close-room meeting with Obama, while presenting a less binding policy during his U.S. Congress speech on Tuesday in fear of causing the breakup of the coalition.
Netanyahu essentially has no choice: after Obama accepted his procedural and security demands, he cannot remain apathetic to the U.S. president's suggestion regarding borders. But Netanyahu has nothing to worry about – there is no chance the Palestinian leadership will agree to return to negotiations under these principles.
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