U.S. President Barack Obama certainly never dreamt that one day he would be so warmly endorsed by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, of all people. But today, following Obamas speech at the UN General Assembly, Lieberman was literally gushing with praise. To contradict the attacks of Texas Governor Rick Perry, the Republican frontrunner, for Obamas supposedly arrogant attitude toward Israel, Obama will now be able to wave to his Jewish voters a kosher seal of approval from no less an authority than Lieberman, the Rebbe, as it were, of the ruling Israeli right-wing coalition.
And while posters plastered across New York City describe Obama as not pro-Israel, inside the United Nations building in Turtle Bay, Obama delivered what is probably the warmest pro-Israel speech ever given at an annual UN General Assembly meeting by any U.S. president, bar none. Not only did Obama refrain from directly mentioning the 1967 borders, much to relief of the Israeli government, but to a large extent he also made up for what he allegedly left out in his famous Cairo speech, expressing his empathy with, and sympathy, for the trials and tribulations of the Jewish people and their Zionist dreams. In the eyes of his Israeli audience, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obamas speech was nearly faultless, an assessment which was subsequently confirmed by the harsh criticism leveled at it by Arab and Palestinian officials.
Though it usually takes a few days before one really knows what goes on inside closed bilateral summits, it is safe to assume that, compared to their previous encounters, this one went relatively well. On the day that the New York Times publishes a front page story on Netanyahus sway over the Republican Party in Congress – and the newspaper didnt necessarily mean it as a compliment – Obama probably feels that this is not the best time to pick a fight with the Israeli prime minister.
But in any case, both leaders share the same objective of trying to circumvent the need for an American veto in the Security Council on the Palestinian request for statehood: Obama for fear of a deep backlash in Arab countries and Netanyahu in order to avoid being blamed for it. According to Israeli sources, Obama is trying to shore up the crumbling anti-Iranian Western Front, comprised of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, and he would rather not have to deal right now with what Israelis call the Palestinian irritant.
The Americans hope that Obamas firm stance, and the continued efforts to prevent the Palestinians from obtaining the nine votes required to force a U.S. veto, will persuade Abbas to settle for a symbolic move at the UN Security Council, and to refrain from going to the General Assembly where his victory is guaranteed. The price for such a move will be a renewed commitment to restarting negotiations with attached conditions that may not be so palatable to Netanyahu and Lieberman, including a definite timeline for ending talks such as the one mentioned Wednesday by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Because even in Middle East diplomacy, when the partys over, there is always the morning after and the hangover that accompanies it.
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