Ten tips for Netanyahu
Ahead of the prime minister's meeting with Obama, there are several things he should avoid, one of them is slogans, and another is the Jewish lobby.
1. Before you are warmly welcomed to the White House today as part of a pre-planned gathering, I hope you remembered to hide the boastful headline "I won" that appeared in big letters on the front page of the daily Maariv a month ago. Walk into the Oval Office with the goal of opening a new page in your relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama. No bragging of how "I won" or "I subdued him," but rather with the respect the president deserves - the man who received the Nobel Peace Prize before making peace and the leader we will almost certainly depend on for the next seven years.
2. Obama is a cold, rational figure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other important leaders have come to learn that he is not a president prone to giving pats on the back (save for the excessive genuflecting before the king of Saudi Arabia ). He is also not a president who hands out free meals and engages in pointless chatter. In face-to-face meetings, he will directly bring up the concrete issues. Be prepared for the fact that you will be expected to give straightforward answers and, for a change, to tell the truth.
3. Don't be impressed by the moving images of Rahm Emanuel's visit here, which included a picture of the White House chief of staff shedding a tear while leaning against the Western Wall. One can cry at the Wall and still favor a withdrawal from the territories while advising Obama how best to bring Israel to heel. The president and his adviser are on the same page. Don't even dream of trying to drive a wedge between them.
4. It still is not too late to resolve the crisis of confidence with Obama. Do not bluff when speaking about what you are willing to do for a peace agreement. Put all your cards on the table in a manner that fosters trust. Speak the truth and nothing but the truth, like in court. There is no other way to talk to Obama. He doesn't seem to be the type who forgives and forgets.
5. Do not summon the power of "the Jewish lobby" behind Obama's back. No one is more sensitive to such attempts to undermine him. If he takes a hit during the midterm elections in November, he will neither forgive nor forget your act of subversion. As long as Obama has not overtly declared his opposition to Israel or harmed its security, there is no need to call in the Jewish cavalry against him.
6. When he asks the tough questions, do not reply with cliches and slogans, but with truth, even if it is unpleasant, even if it is the answer he does not want to hear. Do not back down from your insistence on direct talks with the Palestinians in exchange for a freeze on settlement construction. Be forthright in revealing to him what it is you are ready to do to prevent a rift with the United States.
7. Try to persuade Obama that you are the only leader capable of taking historic and painful steps for peace. Convince him that you have an alternative coalition that backs a diplomatic settlement and, more importantly, the support of a majority of the people. Much the way Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin won approval for the Oslo Accords, the way Menachem Begin won resounding support for the peace treaty with Egypt in exchange for all of Sinai, and the way Ariel Sharon evacuated the Gaza Strip, the moment Israeli society sees a credible leader, it starts to be led.
Even though Ehud Barak pretends he is a key figure, in practice he has no political backing except the comfortable defense minister's chair which he guards religiously. You must sway the president to the view that you are the only one capable of cobbling together a coalition for a peace deal.
8. It's important that you speak with the president openly on issues ranging from the settlement freeze to our expectation that American support for our policy of nuclear ambiguity will remain in place, a policy that is still vital for Israel's security. While Obama is working toward social change in America, he is also seeking a change in global priorities. It is important that he gets the sense we stand with him in his quest for a sane Middle East. Nonetheless, you must explain to him that our problem is not the Holocaust that was, but rather the intentions of Islamic states to liquidate Israel. Thus you must let him know that his efforts to pacify the region are important.
9. Humbly remind him how vital it is for America to view us as a strategic asset. Remind him how willing we are to answer the call for a peace agreement not just with the Palestinians but also with Syria on condition that we can start with direct negotiations and that a solution for Gaza - a territory we withdrew from yet continues to be a security threat - can be found. Most importantly, you must create a mechanism of direct dialogue between Jerusalem and Washington that would nip in the bud any misunderstanding between the two countries.
10. At the end of your talks with Obama, as the two of you walk to meet with reporters and photographers, whisper into the president's ear: "Give me a hug."
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