A Partner, Not an Enemy, in the White House

Netanyahu's only goal appears to be extracting himself and Israel from negotiations that could yield peace. But as Israel's Prime Minister, he has a responsibility to push them forward.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began his trip to the United States on Sunday. Netanyahu seemingly went there to discuss with U.S. President Barack Obama the continuation of the peace process, achieving a framework agreement and Iran’s new status. Seemingly, that is, since Netanyahu bears a fighting spirit that threatens to thwart diplomatic efforts.

The circumstances are convenient for him, since the crisis in Ukraine is keeping the White House busy and has diverted public interest from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was disappointed by his latest meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry – so much that there is talk of a crisis. Israeli public opinion is sleeping, and the heavy pressure from the right grants Netanyahu a strong wind at his back. Allied to all this is the traditional support – it is possible to presume – of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee for his policies.

All of this is playing into the hands of Netanyahu, who sees a single goal ahead: To rescue himself and the State of Israel from negotiations that could lead to a withdrawal from the territories and yield peace. The schedule is shortening, hence the efforts to evade the strangling hug of the American partner, which insists on getting both sides to sign a framework agreement. And so, in the barren months that have passed, it has become clear that the negotiations are not between Israel and the Palestinians, but between Jerusalem and Washington. It was, and still is, dirty negotiations, filled with vilification of Kerry, harsh hints about Obama, ridicule of his policies toward Iran and Syria, and the machinations of the Jewish lobby. On top of all this are nationalist initiatives such as the referendum bill and the demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, which is intended to prevent even a slim chance of peace.

Nonetheless, the American partner has not withdrawn. We must hope that it does not cancel, at a stroke, its enormous efforts and makes clear to Netanyahu and Israel what the loss of an American partner would mean for the peace process. If Washington thinks the continuation of the conflict harms not just the future of Israel but also critical American interests, it would be appropriate to say so openly and publicly.

Netanyahu is not going to the United States as the representative of Likud or Yisrael Beiteinu, or as the spokesman of Habayit Hayehudi, but as the Israeli prime minister. In such a role, he is required to understand the upmost importance of a peace agreement, to remove the potholes he has placed in its path, to stop blaming the Palestinians for thwarting the peace process and to leverage Obama’s efforts.

He needs to understand that a framework agreement is not a declaration of war against Israel, and certainly not an American betrayal. He must not sabotage it.