It was May 29, 1979. In Washington, before signing the peace treaty with Egypt, Israeli reporters were invited to a meeting with Anwar Sadat. Those were the days when thousands of Iranian students at Egyptian universities were demonstrating in favor of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who had returned to Tehran from exile in France. One of the reporters asked Sadat if he was concerned about the unrest. The president took a few puffs on his pipe and said he had seen the demonstrations and that, because the students were so enthusiastic about Khomeini, he ordered them to be flown to Iran, where they could express their enthusiasm.
Sadat understood twice in his life the dangers threatening the Egyptian regime: a continued state of war with Israel and the risk posed by the Muslim Brotherhood. He solved the problem with Israel, but the threat of Islamic extremism to Egypt is becoming more serious, and now a conspiracy has been discovered to bring down Hosni Mubarak's government. That's the last thing Israel wants. And it's a pity Avigdor Lieberman did not understand what his statement for Mubarak to "go to hell" and his threat to blow up the Aswan Dam did to Mubarak's standing, and the extent to which such comments strengthen Iran and its appendages.
U.S. President Barack Obama has adopted the maxim that anything not done during the first 100 days of his presidency will never be done. Not much can be done about the economic crisis and nuclear threats in 100 days, but fires can be spotted that need putting out. For example, a solution to Iran's nuclear project through negotiations; certainly not by an Israeli attack. The U.S. defense secretary has already warned Israel against the serious repercussions of an Israeli air attack.
Obama is changing positions that one president has passed down to another. He is inclined, for example, to lift the 50-year embargo on Cuba and to talk to Iran. It's too soon to tell if he is also changing his stance on the moral obligation to Israel. True, he has been involved with Jewish groups and individuals his entire life. But he was not alive when the Holocaust happened and he does not feel regret that the death camps were not bombed. What is important to him is to mark in red the problems that need solving right now.
Obama views the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem in the framework of a regional agreement. He did not immediately invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a heart-to-heart talk. Obama was also "unavailable" to meet with Netanyahu after AIPAC's meeting in May. The old trick where the Israeli prime minister meets with the U.S. president after AIPAC won't work with Obama. Early signs are he doesn't plan to act like President Bush: Did someone say road map? So what. Did someone say dismantle outposts? So what. Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel has defined it best: We don't care how, but within four years there will be an agreement.
By the time Obama meets with Netanyahu in the second half of May, he will have been to Turkey, bowed to the king of Saudi Arabia and invited the king of Jordan, and even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will have met with Obama before Netanyahu. But Obama did send us his personal envoy, George Mitchell, who studied Israel's positions and sent messages to the president. Lieberman, who received Mitchell at his office and heard what he heard and said what he said, "forgot" to accompany Mitchell to his car as is customary and allowed him to walk alone on the red carpet. At least he didn't give the president's special envoy a kick.
Under these circumstances and in light of our challenges, it's unfortunate that Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni were unable to establish a government together. It's not certain, though, that either of them wanted to. Livni was unable to swallow her frustration that her party, Kadima, which won one more seat than Likud, could not form a government. She conditioned her joining Netanyahu's government on a rotation, which is asking for trouble because it ostensibly creates two prime ministers. A source close to Netanyahu said he really did want a partnership with Livni and even offered her both status and a wide field of action. Now she is on the outside and can do much less.
These lines are being written not to harp on mistakes, but to say that no matter who was wrong, the mistake can be corrected now. Considering all the challenges, the government can't dance to the tunes of Lieberman and the Labor Party with its wings clipped. This is the last call to Tzipi and Bibi: You have the power to form a government of 79 Knesset seats without Lieberman. Where are the leaders who have the courage to call for change before it's too late?
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