King for a day
If Netanyahu does not immediately take advantage of the hard-won credit he has been granted in order to come out with an Israeli diplomatic initiative, his situation will become desperate again.
A week ago Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's condition was nearly desperate. The Turkel committee became a committee with teeth liable to bite the prime minister, while State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss' scrutiny of the flotilla affair threatened to wound the prime minister. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman started making threats again and Defense Minister Ehud Barak continued to make trouble. Many observers are predicting that the government will start to disintegrate by September. The man who is conducting an intimate dialogue with history has realized that by next summer, he may well become an obscure and marginal historical footnote himself.
There were also other troubles. In private, Netanyahu was told he was surrounded. After all, the international community is closing in on him; he lost Turkey, is losing Europe and is liable to lose the United States. If he doesn't break through the noose, his fate is sealed.
Worse than that were the words of the defense minister. Very, very quietly, without anyone knowing about it, Barak laid a pistol on the table. The man on whom Netanyahu depends - politically, diplomatically, strategically and emotionally - made it clear he will not stay with him forever. If Netanyahu does not make U.S. President Barack Obama a real offer, he will remain all alone under siege.
A week has gone by and things have turned around. Netanyahu is king. The White House is welcoming him with flowers, smiles and unprecedented affability. Blair House, Oval Office, press conference. The man who was anathema in March is given a royal reception in July. After a long period during which the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel were adversaries, they are now falling all over each other.
And this is not just atmosphere, not just manners and politeness. Netanyahu is extracting from Obama a series of diplomatic achievements: an unambiguous commitment to Israel's unique needs, acknowledgment that Israel has to defend itself from the violent neighborhood in which it lives, a promise not to detract from Israel's defense capability. And by implication: recognition of Dimona. Recognition of the Iranian threat. Recognition that the way to Israeli-Palestinian peace is through direct talks.
After 18 wasted months during which Obama was the president who exerted pressure, he has become the president who embraces. Obama is embracing the State of Israel and the prime minister of Israel. What happened?
Three things have happened. On one level, Netanyahu waged a struggle. And the statesman who is depicted as susceptible to pressure did not succumb to the American pressure of this past spring. He fought back. The price for what Netanyahu did was felt by Obama in Chicago. The Israeli leader applied hidden pressure to the American leader, which made it perfectly clear to him: No more.
On another level, the Americans realized one-sided pressure on Israel is dangerous. It hurts them, keeps peace at bay and undermines stability in the Middle East. Even if Israel can be irritating, it is a fact. And even if Netanyahu arouses wrath, he is the only game in town. If there is peace during the Obama years, it won't be Tzipi Livni's peace. Nor will it be Yair Lapid's peace. The peace will be solely Netanyahu's.
On a third level, Israel demonstrated its seriousness. For many months, the two government engaged in an ongoing and in-depth working dialogue. The Israelis made it clear to the Americans that they are serious. In order to receive diplomatic and strategic credit, they deposited guarantees in the hands of their discussion partners - guarantees that will need to be put into effect in the coming months. That which sweetened the prime minister's visit to the White House is liable to embitter his life at home.
Thus the royal visit to Washington is not the end of the story. The Americans gave, and the Americans are expecting to get. Netanyahu must not let himself become confused. Now he is king for a day, maybe for a summer. However, if he does not immediately take advantage of the hard-won credit he has been granted in order to come out with an Israeli diplomatic initiative, his situation will become desperate again. Turkel and Lindenstrauss are still out there. So are Lieberman and Barak, as well as Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. The noose is still closing in on Netanyahu, and it is his obligation to slough it off.