Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Global Impact: Three Hours of Discussion in the Oval Office Fails to Persuade Netanyahu that Tehran Can be Trusted

According to Reuters, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bluntly told President Barack Obama on Monday (March 3) that he would never compromise on Israel's security even as the US president sought to "stroke" the PM on Iran nuclear diplomacy and pressure him on Middle East peace talks.

Obama assured Netanyahu of his "absolute commitment" to preventing Iran from developing atomic weapons, despite the Israeli leader's deep skepticism over US-led efforts to reach a final international deal to curb Tehran's nuclear program.

Obama and Netanyahu, who have had strained relations in recent years, showed no outright tension as they sat side-by-side in the Oval Office. Both were cordial and businesslike. Yet, respective views of the world are obviously much different for both leaders.

Netanyahu arrived in Washington to a veiled warning from Obama that it would be harder to protect Israel against efforts to isolate it internationally if peace efforts failed.

COMMENT: The Israeli PM used their joint appearance to put the onus on the Palestinians to advance prospects for peace and also to vow to hold the line on Israel's security.

Netanyahu offered the US president what was essentially a history lesson covering the last 20 years of conflict with the Palestinians as well as what Israelis see as an existential threat from Iran, an arch-foe of the Jewish state.

"Iran calls openly for Israel's destruction, so I'm sure you'll appreciate that Israel cannot permit such a state to have the ability to make atomic bombs to achieve that goal," Netanyahu said. "And I, as the prime minister of Israel, will do whatever I must do to defend the Jewish state."

Unfortunately, President Obama naively is seeking diplomacy with Iran, while Netanyahu, who has stoked US concern in the past with threats of unilateral strikes on Iran's nuclear sites.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been unsuccessfully attempting to persuade Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to a framework deal that would enable land-for-peace negotiations to continue, even though there is widespread skepticism among both leaders concerning the opportunities for success.

Abbas, who seeks Palestinian statehood, is due at the White House on March 17. He has resisted Netanyahu's demand, repeated during the Oval Office meeting, for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu appeared to be pushing back implicitly against Obama's warning in a Bloomberg View interview of "international fallout" for Israel if peace efforts break down and the building of Jewish settlements continues.
Israelis, increasingly concerned about an anti-Israel boycott movement, view such US warnings as an attempt to squeeze out concessions.

Further complicating the talks, an Israeli government report showed that Israeli construction starts of settler homes had more than doubled last year.

Palestinians seek to establish a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those areas in the 1967 Middle East war and in 2005, pulled out of the Gaza Strip, now run by Hamas Islamists opposed to Abbas's peace efforts.
"Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven't," Netanyahu said, an assertion he is likely to repeat on Tuesday to the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, a past podium for some of his most strident speeches.
Netanyahu told Obama that Jewish history taught Israelis that "the best way to guarantee peace is to be strong."
His remark harkened, but without the stridency, to an Oval Office visit in 2011 when he famously lectured the US president on the long struggles of the Jewish people, as he sought to counter Obama's call to base any peace agreement on borders that existed before the 1967 Middle East war.

Strangely, the domestic-oriented Obama possesses little breadth in comprehending what it is actually like to be totally surrounded by Arab states that find Israel's sheer existence repugnant. 

The underlying foundation that depicts the two world leaders' differences is that Obama trusts Iran half a world away whereas Netanyahu has no such luxury given the fact that he is surrounded by bad actors on all of his borders.