Even before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crosses the threshold of the White House Monday, the importance of his meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama can be said to "lie in the very fact that it is taking place."
This is the phrase that spokesmen typically reserve for high-ranking diplomatic meetings that go nowhere, or for those whose content is kept secret. Netanyahu will not hear anything from Obama that he has not heard before from the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or the national security adviser: Obama will make sure that Netanyahu has absorbed the message that attacking Iran before the U.S. presidential elections in November is tantamount to attacking the incumbent president. And for this time-out, Obama will be prepared to pay generously.
During election season in the United States - when Netanyahu's friends, the wheelers and dealers, come out in full force - Netanyahu can dress up as Samson the nebech and play the part of the Jewish victim. And, in the spirit of this week's Purim festival, the joint press conference that will take place after the meeting will be a masquerade ball. Obama will wear a friendly expression and pretend to be Netanyahu's best friend. He will utter familiar declarations about his commitment to Israel's security, and about preventing Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons. He will look in Netanyahu's direction, but he will be winking the whole time at his Jewish donors, and at the floating voters in Florida's retirement homes. Obama will not be satisfied merely with a second term; it is also important to him that the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC grant favors to the Democratic candidates for the two houses of Congress. And so, until November, Obama will be singing the tunes that the wheelers and dealers want to hear. The bill will arrive in December. Perhaps.
The real issues, though - the tough ones, the ones that Netanyahu and the Jewish activists don't want to hear - those Obama will keep to himself on Monday. He won't reiterate the statements he made at the end of his meeting in September 2010 with Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas - one of the many meetings in which it was agreed that there would be "accelerated negotiations about a final status arrangement."
The alternative to the status quo is not acceptable, Obama told journalists at the time, noting a chance to change the strategic landscape of the Middle East in a way that would help to deal with Iran - which does not want to forgo its nuclear program - and with the terrorist organizations in the region.
Obama stressed that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not only in the interest of the two sides, but also a U.S. interest and an interest of the rest of the world.
In order to bring these remarks up to date, in order to adjust them to the reality of the current situation in March 2012, Obama would have to say to Netanyahu Monday: "I have seen the grocery list you presented to the Palestinians as a list of 'Israel's positions.' I have read the latest report from our consulate in Jerusalem about the creeping annexation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. I regret that you are sticking to the status quo and missing the opportunity to influence the new strategic landscape of the Middle East. We have heard that your Foreign Ministry has also warned that the Palestinian Authority could collapse and that a third intifada could ensue, which would undermine stability in the region. You are demanding of us that we intensify the struggle against Iran, even as your settlement policy and your foot-dragging in negotiations with the Palestinians are not only making it difficult for us to put together an Arab and Muslim coalition against Iran, but are actually fueling terrorist organizations. I have told you many times that an arrangement with the Palestinians is also a U.S. strategic interest. A failure to establish a two-state solution to this conflict is a personal failure to defend this interest of mine."
From Netanyahu's point of view, Monday's meeting with Obama succeeded even before it took place. This will be the first time that the president does not nag him about the Palestinian state, about the 1967 borders, about freezing the settlements. Who has the patience now for the Palestinian bomb that is ticking right under our noses? The important thing is that all the newspapers report that Netanyahu succeeded in ironing out the disagreements with Obama over the Iranian nuclear issue.
In Tehran they are aware that "the little Satan" is the one that is busy undermining negotiations with it, and that it is busy beating the drums of "the big Satan." If the United States does eventually decide to do the work itself and attack Iran's nuclear reactors, the citizens of Israel will have to pay for all the noise and fuss. That is the real significance of Monday's meeting.
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