02 September 09
At Politico, Ben Smith reports that “Obama Ties Netanyahu Support to Talks”:
“Netanyahu’s at a pivotal moment,” said a senior U.S. official. “Depending on what he decides, he could wind up with a very strong relationship with President Obama and potentially become a historic figure in Israel.”
“It could very well hinge on what he decides in the next couple of weeks,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Another senior U.S. official held out a similar carrot for Netanyahu: This moment offers the opportunity to “forge a very important and positive relationship between Netanyahu and the president,” the official said.
The “senior U.S. officials” appear to be laying it on a little thick: potential historic greatness and a very strong relationship with Obama—if Netanyahu will just meet Palestinian preconditions for negotiations. Once Netanyahu agrees, he may find he will get repeated opportunities to demonstrate his potential for historic greatness, lest his very strong relationship with Obama prove short-lived.
Smith indicates that a six-to-nine-month agreement is being discussed, without a formal acknowledgment that Israel can resume building if (and when) the talks fail. But the idea that Israel, once it stops settlement construction, can ever resume it—without Netanyahu risking his chance for historic greatness and his very strong relationship with Obama—is naive. So the temporary agreement will likely be a permanent concession for whatever Israel obtains in exchange.
The current process is approaching the surreal: it results from Obama’s reneging on a six-year understanding with Israel on the meaning of a settlement “freeze” in order to meet a Palestinian demand for additional Israeli concessions prior to the commencement of new final status negotiations, which were not supposed to start in the first place before the Palestinians met their own obligations under Phase I and II of the “road map.” The Palestinians, having met neither Phase I nor II, and having had Phase III “accelerated” last year to produce an Israeli offer of a state from the most pliant prime minister in Israeli history, which the Palestinians then rejected, now not only want new final status negotiations with no Palestinian concessions to get them, but with new Israeli ones before they start.
Perhaps Israel will want, before it makes any new concessions, to seek a minimal commitment from Obama as well: to abide as president by what he promised as a presidential candidate. In his AIPAC address last year, Obama asked that he be permitted to be clear:
Any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state with secure, recognized, defensible borders.
Since those are minimum conditions for Israel in any negotiations, Israel may want a written assurance that Obama will not treat the commitment as a merely unenforceable oral understanding, nor as simply a letter from some other president—but as Obama’s own.
Netanyahu cannot offer Obama potential historic greatness, but he can offer him the opportunity to demonstrate that his words matter.