In the run-up to the meeting expected in two weeks between U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama should believe the reports out of Tel Aviv: Netanyahu is not Israel. Indeed, Netanyahu is only part of Israel, and Israel is not Netanyahu. Israel is not a passive and obedient partner to his madness.
A meeting with a president up for reelection a month or so before the vote can only take place under conditions dictated by the American side. Obama won't risk being humiliated in another photo with the cheeky Israeli lecturing him on security and trust. The joint statement will have to be phrased in advance in precise coordination between the sides.
If there were complete symmetry in the world, with equal votes for the big and the small, and equal power for the tail and the dog, Netanyahu would be allowed to think Obama is not America. The United States also has Republican candidate Mitt Romney, Congress, pressure groups, opinion polls and the media. In Netanyahu's way of thinking, America is not Obama - it's closer to the right and closer to Israel than Obama. So don't worry what's written in party platforms; Netanyahu's idol, Ronald Reagan, didn't recognize Israeli control over Jerusalem any more than Democratic presidents.
In the February 2009 elections, Netanyahu's Likud received around 730,000 votes. Of every five voters, only one person (where's he hiding now? ) voted for Netanyahu. This was enough for second place in the Knesset and less than a quarter of the MKs. At the Olympics, Netanyahu would have brought home a silver, but in the Knesset, number two can join forces with numbers three, four and five to finagle a gold medal and move his partners up. Yohan Blake makes deals with other runners, is declared the winner in the 100 meters and sends Usain Bolt into the opposition.
Since 2009, the Knesset has undergone upheavals, parties have disintegrated, party chiefs have been dismissed or resigned, and Netanyahu has grown stronger. Still, most of his strength is in his mouth. His lofty words reveal his helplessness. He's like a husband who shouts, perhaps in pain, when his wife hits him. On the most important issue to Netanyahu, Iran, people and bodies that also represent Israel have risen up against him - President Shimon Peres, senior ministers and defense chiefs. Netanyahu can't say Israel is united behind him.
His predecessors in the premiership weren't autocrats either. "I miss the old lady," Anwar Sadat told Henry Kissinger when Yitzhak Rabin couldn't force his will on his opponents. Supposedly, one can make a deal with a strong prime minister. In reality, Golda Meir was diplomatically tough and politically soft. Her paralyzing fear that Moshe Dayan would resign and join forces with Menachem Begin pushed Sadat into the Yom Kippur War.
Meir weakened after the war, too. In talks with Sadat, through Kissinger's good offices, she lowered herself to the status of primus inter pares (the equals being Dayan, Yigal Allon, Abba Eban and even Chief of Staff David Elazar. ) Rabin, her weak successor, never left behind his partners in the triumvirate - Peres and Allon. And when Peres rotated the premiership with Yitzhak Shamir, right-wing Jews in America, egged on by Israel's UN ambassador, Netanyahu, took steps to prevent Peres from being Israel's sole spokesman. When Rabin and Peres were leading the Oslo process, and when Ariel Sharon was pushing to leave the Gaza Strip, these leaders were not Israel in Netanyahu's eyes.
The system of checks and balances in the Israeli administration seems to have been created for the Netanyahu case - a person who became prime minister legally but must not be allowed to do what he wants lest he make a blunder that will destroy what has been built through three generations of hard work. The man who will meet Obama, if he does meet him, isn't authorized to commit the other Israelis without consulting them.
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