In the counterbalance that prevails between Jerusalem and Washington, only one law of physics prevails: When President Barack Obama gets stronger, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in trouble, and when Obama is weak, Netanyahu flourishes. Based on this Israeli equation, the struggle is only between two leaders, as if they were wrestlers who represent no group, not to mention country.
Thus, for example, Netanyahu does not represent obstinacy over the peace process, but a strong national position vis-a-vis Obama. Obama is not advancing peace, rather he is Netanyahu's rival. When Obama gave his "hand outstretched to Islam" speech in June 2009, he, and not the United States, was considered favorable to the Arabs. It is Obama whose middle name is Hussein, not the United States. It was Obama, the man who is also president, who scorned Netanyahu, not America. Obama the man is the enemy, America is a great friend.
This distinction between the American president and the American people is particularly important to people who are concerned about the behavior of the proverbial bull in the china shop. Will that bull, because of the failure in the elections to the House of Representatives, begin to go wild, pressuring Israel, summoning Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas, setting time frames and threatening sanctions on Israel to prove it still has power? Or will it calm down and understand finally what its predecessors understood: Israel is willing to take part in processes, on condition that they produce no results.
The illusion is that as long as the struggle can remain focused on Obama - presenting him as a president who has only two more years in office, as a lame duck - Israel will be able to extricate itself from its dread of him. To judge by the mountains of words that have been written and said over the past few days in an attempt to guess how Obama will act, we may presume that the next trend in the "process" will be not what Netanyahu will do vis-a-vis the Palestinians, certainly not what Israel will agree to give up, but how Netanyahu will manage the struggle with his American adversary. Exactly the way the negotiations known as "direct talks" are in fact a tough dialogue between Netanyahu and Obama, and not between Netanyahu and Abbas, so will the next struggle focus on defensive maneuvers and slipping out of the president's clasp.
So it turns out that Netanyahu's term in office moves in sync with Obama's pace, not with the speed of Israel's progress toward the abyss. When Obama stops, Netanyahu puts on the brakes, and like every sudden application of brakes, the mass moves forward and the state takes one more big step toward nothing. Netanyahu stopping is like the referee firing a gun in a race: The interior minister rushes to approve a few more housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem, the settlers quickly finish construction in the settlements that had been frozen, and the evacuation of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem moves ahead as if there is no tomorrow.
But now, after he learned his lesson, Netanyahu knows what he has to do: He reports to Obama before committing the offense. As if that is where the land mine is. It's a fascinating trick, as smart as can be. It means that if Obama knows that Netanyahu is thumbing his nose at the demand for a construction moratorium, he can do one of two things: order Israel to stop and risk bashing into the wall of Netanyahu, or keep quiet and risk Palestinian ire. Either way, Obama will be accused of working against one side or the other, and will immediately have to appease the injured party. Blame is a forgone conclusion.
But he can also throw up his hands and give the Israelis and the Palestinians his phone number if they want his services in the future. After all, no American president has lost or won elections because of involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or because of foreign policy in general.
And perhaps that is the solution. If Obama leaves the arena, Netanyahu will suddenly be directly responsible for the continuation of the process. Obama will have removed the target from his face and placed it on Netanyahu's, who will suddenly be left without a hook to hang the blame on. Netanyahu will then be solely responsible for the failure of the process.
On second thoughts, that is what he has been all along - Obama has been just an excuse. After all it is Netanyahu, not Obama, who must lead Israel to peace.
Israel's prime minister will then have to chose between a fluently worded excuse for his failure and the other option: to speak to the Palestinians as if there is no Obama, and to Obama as if there are no Palestinians.
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