Working on Their Relationship

If the dispute over the settlements is not settled soon, Israel and the United States will become entangled in a superfluous confrontation.

President Barack Obama made two bad mistakes in his treatment of Israel: He lost the trust of both the Israeli public and the Israeli prime minister. Neither mistake was really necessary. Despite their previous wariness, most Israelis were quite happy to see Obama in the White House. Despite a few suspicions, our prime minister was quite charmed by the young senator from Illinois and his meteoric rise.

If Obama had embraced Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu, he would have achieved what Anwar Sadat, Bill Clinton and King Hussein did. He would have melted the right, conquered the center and brought Israel to the left. An Israel-loving Obama truly committed to Israel's security would have easily become the king of Israel.

But for some reason Obama chose to take the opposite approach. His meeting with Netanyahu in the Oval Office several months ago was an ambush. Without any preparation or advance warning, Obama placed his ultimatum in front of Netanyahu. Instead of acting as a good friend or counselor, he became the bad cop. That is how he turned Netanyahu from an admirer into an adversary in the blink of an eye. But Obama did not settle for that. Soon after the confrontation in Washington he renounced the commitments made by previous administrations on the settlement blocs. Barack Hussein Obama trashed the letter written by George W. Bush and the policies of William Jefferson Clinton. That is how he taught the Israelis a lesson they will not quickly forget: The word of a U.S. president is not worth much. A pre-withdrawal promise is only a promise.

Obama is not hostile toward Israel. Quite the opposite. But his mistaken behavior has paralyzed the Israeli public's willingness to support the next large-scale withdrawal. Because of Obama's actions and failures, only a few Israelis view him as a true friend of Israel.

In his dealings with the United States, Netanyahu made two bad mistakes: He did not take the initiative and did not make an effort to explain himself. The 2009 Netanyahu model is truly different than the old one. He has made his peace with the need to divide the Land of Israel and is moving toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. But Netanyahu's model is not that of the 1990s. After seeing the failure of Camp David and Annapolis, Netanyahu does not believe that true peace can be achieved in quick negotiations. He therefore seeks a different type of peace process: to build the Palestinian state from the ground up, to cooperate with the Jordanians, Gulf states and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad so as not to turn the West Bank into Hamastan but another Dubai.

Over the past year, and in particular since Netanyahu became prime minister, a quiet revolution has taken place in the West Bank. The number of roadblocks has been reduced from about 40 to 14. Economic growth has risen dramatically to 7 percent annually. The Palestinian security forces are growing stronger, as is Palestinian entrepreneurship and the tendency toward moderation. Netanyahu's approach is proving itself. After a decade of despair, the first shoots of hope are showing in Palestinian society.

But Israel's prime minister has not managed to leverage his success. He has not turned his pragmatic approach into an overall peace proposal. His big mistake was not presenting an alternative vision in the Oval Office that would win Obama's heart. That's why Obama is taking his path: He is trying to advance outdated ideas that have failed time and again over the past 15 years. And that's why Netanyahu is keeping his own counsel: He is stubborn and frustrated, and is once again seen as a peace rejectionist.

It is already the end of July. If the dispute over the settlements is not settled soon, Israel and the United States will become entangled in a superfluous confrontation. If the United States adopts a peace proposal disconnected from reality, a golden opportunity will be wasted. That's why Obama and Netanyahu must start speaking to each other directly and intimately. Maybe they should even take advantage of the August vacation to hold an honest meeting of reconciliation. In the end, Obama and Netanyahu are a couple, and without them nothing good can happen in the Middle East. Their relationship means the future of us all.