Like Obama's Afghan surge, Netanyahu's freeze is doomed to fail
The West Bank settlement freeze will not bring peace, the surge in Afghanistan will not bring victory.
There is a lot of similarity between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to freeze construction in the settlements and U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan.
They both came out against their own political bases: Netanyahu against the right and Obama against the left. They both ignored ideology: Netanyahu surrendered "the right of Jews to live anywhere in the Land of Israel," and Obama - peaceful conflict resolution.
They both know their decisions will achieve nothing: The settlement freeze will not bring peace, the surge in Afghanistan will not bring victory. They both also promised in advance that the measures they took were one-offs.
One might be suspicious they are using the same speechwriter, given the similar explanations both gave for their controversial decisions.
The prime minister explained the freeze by "broad national considerations." Obama said beefing up the forces in Afghanistan was a "vital national interest."
For Netanyahu it was "a step that was not easy - a painful step." The American president did not "make this decision lightly."
When the two leaders met in Jerusalem during Obama's presidential campaign, he told Netanyahu that people saw them as strongly ideological, but they were in fact both pragmatists. He was right. Despite all the disagreement and public tension between then, Netanyahu and Obama are alike in terms of their leadership styles.
They are both excellent speakers who have difficulty making decisions. They prefer to wait, hold another round of consultations and another meeting, until they garner support. Internal consensus around their decision is more important to them than the image of a determined leader who acts swiftly.
They work by persuasion, not by force or orders.
Netanyahu called the "forum of seven" cabinet members for more than 10 meetings until the freeze was a matter of general agreement. Obama had some 10 sessions on Afghanistan until all his advisers agreed on a common plan.
According to the New York Times, Obama's Moshe Ya'alon was U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, who was not enthusiastic about the troop increase and asked many hard questions. In the end, he too was convinced.
The group dynamics of long meetings, of belonging to the inner circle of those in the know, has an effect even on ideologues like Biden and Benny Begin. It is interesting that Netanyahu had a lot fewer leaks than Obama, who was furious over the reports that emanated from his closed meetings.
In Netanyahu's and Obama's lexicon, the term "national interest" is justification for decisions made contrary to their basic beliefs. Netanyahu buckled to American pressure, out of fear of international isolation. Obama gave in to the pressure from his military, out of fear he would be seen as weak on Al-Qaida and the Taliban.
They both softened the original demands made on them, adding exit strategies.
And like their predecessors - Rabin on the Oslo Accords, Sharon in the disengagement, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson on Vietnam - Netanyahu and Obama are also trying to cover up their initial hesitation by standing up to their adversaries, lest they appear weak.
What can be learned from this? First of all, that Netanyahu and Obama understand each other very well. When the American president looks the Israeli prime minister in the eye, and vice-versa, each knows what the other is going through. Secondly, that they appreciate and respect power more than beliefs and values. Third, that the fundamental laws of politics work even on leaders who were elected with a promise for "change."
This is a basis for evaluating Netanyahu's and Obama's future policies.
But the big question remains: What will Netanyahu do when push comes to shove on going to war against Iran? Will he avoid taking action and explain that the "national interest" requires him to sit tight, or will he lead like Obama - who captivated with his statements about the "good" war in Afghanistan - and embark on a military adventure to make good on his promise "to prevent a second Holocaust?"
The like-minded leader in the Oval Office can be an example in both directions.