President Obama’s just-concluded visit to Israel, his first since his election in 2009, was by all accounts a public relations success. Long-demonized among a majority of Israelis, Obama’s charm offensive won him new friends, particularly among Israel’s younger generations. For the hardcore Likudniks, the specter of Obama being fawned over by his former harsh critic Bibi Netanyahu softened some of the hatred.
Back in 2009, when the newly elected President Obama appointed George Mitchell as his Middle East peace envoy, ex-President Bill Clinton urged Obama to go to Israel, to marshal public support for his peace initiative. Clinton warned the President that unless he built up a base of support within Israel, Netanyahu would clean his clock and sabotage any efforts to halt settlement expansion or move ahead on a two-state solution. Obama ignored Clinton’s sage advice and the rest is history.
Four years later, President Obama took up the Clinton recommendation. But the circumstances are very different now. For one thing, President Obama’s advisors have told him that, despite a weakened political situation, Netanyahu is more adamantly opposed than ever to a halt in settlement expansion and has no intention of moving forward with a two-state solution deal.
So, in their private talks, President Obama gave a great deal of ground to Bibi, dropping any attempt to get a settlement freeze. In effect, Obama ripped up the Quartet agreement, under which Israel was to halt settlement expansion once the Palestinian Authority cracked down on terrorism coming from the West Bank. The PA has fully complied with their side of the Quartet deal, and Obama just gave Netanyahu a green light to ignore Israel’s obligations.
In return for calling for a resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinians with no preconditions—key and code for settlement expansion—Obama extracted an unreliable promise from Netanyahu that Israel would not take any unilateral action against Iran for the foreseeable future. Obama indicated that there was some progress at the last P5+1 talks, but it could take a year to fully explore the chance for a diplomatic settlement. Obama provided Israel with detailed intelligence assessments of Iran’s nuclear program, making it clear that U.S. evaluations are more in line with those of Israeli intelligence. In these talks as well, Obama made it clear that Israel has the sovereign right to defend itself against the Iranian threat, but that the U.S. was prepared to use military force if the diplomacy failed. In effect, this amounted to a quasi-green light for Israel, given that Netanyahu’s “Red Line” for an attack on Iran is quite different than the U.S. Red Line. For Netanyahu, the first moment that Iran approaches 225 kilos of 20 percent enriched uranium, the order goes down for an attack.
Obama also conceded that the United States had to reassess the Arab Spring, particularly given the growing power of the most extreme Jihadists in the wake of the overthrow of Qaddafi, the Benghazi attack and the obvious leading role being played by the Al Nusra Front, an offshoot of Al Qaeda in Iraq, in the Syrian insurgency.
And Washington also celebrated the success of the Iron Dome missile defense program by pledging a continuation of ever-expanding American military assistance. Sequestration apparently stops at the banks of the River Jordan.
In short, in return for a passing and soon-forgotten “feel good moment” Obama once again gave away the store to Bibi.