Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a second chance from U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
After more than a year of tension between Washington and Jerusalem, accompanied by expressions of mutual dissatisfaction, Netanyahu received a friendly welcome in the White House. Obama was profuse in his praise, smiles and florid figures of speech, and said he believes that Netanyahu wants peace. The president also called on the Palestinians to open direct talks with Netanyahu and indicated support for Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity.
The close ties with the United States are Israel's strategic support, and it is difficult to overstate their importance to Israel's survival, security and prosperity. If Netanyahu came under justified criticism for his role in damaging relations with the Obama administration over the past year, he can feel content with these efforts at rehabilitation.
But don't get confused: Obama's gestures of friendship, which can be partly attributed to the impending congressional elections, do not change anything about the administration's basic policy.
Obama has made it clear that his goal was, and still is, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. And he expects Netanyahu to help reach that objective, through negotiations with the Palestinians and confidence-building measures aimed at strengthening the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and improving the economic situation in the Gaza Strip.
Netanyahu must take advantage of the chance he has been given, say yes to Obama, and act seriously and swiftly to end the occupation and establish an independent Palestine. But his appearance at the White House on Tuesday raises doubt if he will do so. Netanyahu was careful not to make any statement deviating from the political line of the watchful right wing. He did not say the words "Palestinian state" and focused on warning of the security risk involved in withdrawal and on the demand to change Palestinian textbooks. Once again, it seems that Netanyahu prefers his political partnership with Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Ya'alon and Eli Yishai to a partnership with the president of the United States.
Obama says he believes Netanyahu wants peace and is ready to take risks for it. Now it's the prime minister's turn to prove, in words and in deed, that he is worthy of this belief and is not merely trying, as is his wont, to gain more time in power without taking the peace process forward.
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