When Benjamin Netanyahu became prime minister, he made it clear in private conversations that his mission was dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. He analyzed the historical meaning of the threat in depth. He sharply criticized his predecessor's failure to blunt it. He believed that he had a mission the likes of which no prime minister had faced since David Ben-Gurion: to cope with a strategic development that was liable to endanger the existence of the State of Israel - and cast a dark shadow over the future of the West.
Netanyahu's perception of reality has not changed in the past year, but his ability to tell the truth out loud has been lost. Diplomatic activities against Iran are in the main conducted behind the scenes, and non-diplomatic measures are entirely carried out behind the scenes. This is also true of preparations for D Day, if and when it comes. Therefore, Netanyahu cannot share his true agenda with the public.
He does not report that both the time at his disposal and the state's resources are to a large extent subject to the strategic matter at hand. He does not inform us that the lightning and thunder we see and hear in the media are actually just marginal noises, beyond which a fateful drama is playing out in silence.
There are four possible responses to the Iranian threat: international sanctions, American military action, Israeli military action or joint American-Israeli preparations for a nuclear Iran. Each differs from the others, but they share one common factor: None of them can work without close American-Israeli cooperation, with Israel's being treated as a leper state, with the entire international community preoccupied with the occupation and settlements. The delegitimization of Israel, the weariness with Israel, the lack of attention to what Israel is saying - they are causing a situation in which any effort to come up with a real response to the Iranian threat is liable to run into snags and fail.
The significance of this is clear. Netanyahu, on the basis of his own beliefs, should have formulated a Palestine-Iran-Palestine strategy, a three-stage process that created a positive linkage between the challenge of the regional arena and the challenge of the immediate, local arena. He should have initiated a limited but meaningful move with the Palestinians that would have enabled the Americans to deal with Iran before coming back to try and end the occupation and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
One formula could have been no construction and no evictions until the Iranian question was settled. Another could have been reaching an interim agreement or an interim situation on the West Bank. A third formula could have been partial, unilateral withdrawal. One way or another, Netanyahu should have made a genuine move on the Palestinian front that would have made genuine moves on the Iranian front possible, that would have made dealing with the core of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute possible at a later stage.
On Tuesday night, relations between the United States and Israel were thrown into deep crisis. Barack Obama demanded that Netanyahu bow down on the Jerusalem issue, and Netanyahu refused. This crisis is foolish, redundant and dangerous. When maturity and responsibility are the order of the day, both the Americans and the Israelis are evincing a lack of those qualities. Instead of agreeing on constructive measures, they are insisting on brawling over an issue whose symbolic importance is great, but whose immediate importance is slight. They are allowing Ramat Shlomo, the Shepherd Hotel and Silwan to become trump cards in the hands of Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah and Meshal.
The Obama-Netanyahu crisis broke out now because of certain isolated events: the provocation against Joe Biden, the success of the health care bill in Congress, Netanyahu's speech at AIPAC. But, fundamentally, it springs from the fact that in the past year, the president and the prime minister failed to formulate a joint strategy to face the historic challenge that they are both facing.
It looks as if the two men don't like each other, and won't in the future. But ultimately they will succeed or fail together. History will judge both by the way they cope with the Iranian nuclear menace. The only way both can get out of the tailspin they are in is by adopting a joint strategy: Palestine-Iran-Palestine.
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