In privae conversations Netanyahu is always bemoaning his fate. Why, he wails, is he doomed to work with an alienated president like Obama while his two predecessors, Olmert and Sharon, had a loving, hugging partner like President Bush.
Obama may be saying similar things. Why, he may be asking, does he have to work with Bibi while his predecessor in the White House had two terms of doing business with much more moderate, daring Israeli leaders?
In the course of Obama's speech yesterday it transpired that the prime minister's bureau was in the dark, in complete limbo regarding the speech's content. Netanyahu's envoys to Washington, National Security Council head Yaakov Amidror and his ousted predecessor Uzi Arad, did not have a clue about what Obama would say.
This is what American displeasure looks like, in retribution for two years of diplomatic inaction. And there's also some payback for Netanyahu's trick of going to address Congress now that the Republicans have gained the majority.
The Israeli-Palestinian arrangement Obama outlined consisted of self-evident components. Any child knows this is what the arrangement would be, with some nuances. Obama rewarded Bibi with two points: his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state - i.e. the end of the conflict - and his unequivocal statement against a unilateral UN declaration of Palestinian statehood in September.
But in the same breath Obama dared to utter the words "the 1967 lines" and for that he will not be forgiven.
An hour and a half after the speech the prime minister's bureau issued a stern statement demanding Obama keep the commitment made by Bush in 2004, to the effect that Israel would not be required to withdraw to those borders. Politically, Netanyahu is doing what is expected of him. He objects to stipulating in advance that Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders, while the refugee issue is left unsettled. Because when Obama sets a stand about the borders but leaves the refugees and Jerusalem issues open for future debate, Netanyahu's Israel loses in a big way.
Netanyahu is already looking toward the next elections. He must keep his political base, where any stammering on this issue will not be forgiven.
With such differences, the Netanyahu-Obama meeting this evening should be interesting.
As always with Netanyahu, everything he does is late. If he had said "settlement blocs" together with "Palestinian state" in his first visit to Obama, in May 2009, he would have spared himself and Israel numerous problems. But Netanyahu never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. He made the Bar-Ilan speech a month late. He lifted the Gaza blockade only after the Turkish flotilla. This week's Knesset speech was two years overdue. And anyway, the most he can and is willing to give isn't close to the minimum the Palestinians demand.
So regardless of what he and Obama will say at today's meeting and what he will say in his speech - it won't bring peace.
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