Netanyahu, Abbas, Obama AP 2009.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Barack Obama and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before a meeting in New York in 2009. Photo by AP
Text size

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could feel satisfied while flying to Washington last night. U.S. President Barack Obama granted him a major diplomatic victory.

In return for his call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, without defining the size of this land, Obama accepted Netanyahu's demands for strict security arrangements and a gradual, continuous withdrawal from the West Bank. He suggested that negotiations begin with borders and security arrangements, while delaying discussions on core issues such as Jerusalem and refugees.

More importantly, Obama scornfully rejected the Palestinian initiative to attain recognition at the United Nations and isolate Israel. He demanded that the Palestinians return to the negotiating table and called on Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist. These points came straight out of the policy pages of Netanyahu's office. He couldn't have asked for more: Obama rejected outright Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' recognition campaign and the Palestinian reconciliation agreement. It seems the new Fatah-Hamas unity agreement has saved Netanyahu from a much more aggressive and binding speech by Obama.

Obama also could have delivered his Mideast speech at the AIPAC conference, which he will attend on Sunday. His approach on Israel was empathetic, not only with his reassurance of the U.S. commitment to Israel's security, but also with his attempt to save Israel from itself.

Obama warned us that if we perpetuate the occupation, we will crash due to new military technology available to our enemies, our demographic inferiority, and most importantly, the anger of the masses that are slowly gaining power in the neighboring countries. In order to retain the vision of a Jewish and democratic state, Israel must end the occupation and withdraw from the West Bank.

The speech's points were surely pleasing to Netanyahu's ears. Obama promised that he won't force a deal on Israel and the Palestinians, and demanded both sides to return to negotiations. He did not condemn, as he did before, the Israeli settlements in the territories as "illegitimate." He did not demand a settlement freeze. He only reminded us, in a critical tone, that Israel continues building settlements, as an explanation for the deadlock in the peace talks. Netanyahu will have to reply to Obama by accepting the principle of "1967 borders with agreed land swaps."

He took a step in that direction in his Knesset speech this week when he talked about preserving settlement blocs. On the eve of his U.S. trip, Netanyahu's advisers hinted that he will accept this principle today during his meeting with Obama, while presenting a less binding policy during his U.S. Congress speech on Tuesday for fear of breaking up the governing coalition. Netanyahu basically has no choice.

After Obama accepted his procedural and security demands, he can't remain apathetic to the president's suggestion on borders. But Netanyahu has nothing to worry about - there's no chance the Palestinian leadership will agree to return to the negotiating table under these principles.