NETANYAHU'S AMERICAN TOUR: TRIP OR TRIUMPH?
"Israel and the US have made up. After much-publicised policy differences, snubs and personal acrimony between the Obama White House and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, everything is now back on an even keel. Or so both sides would have us believe. As Mr Netanyahu now interprets it: “You can have differences on occasion in the best of families and the closest of families.” Mr Obama asserts that the Israeli premier is “willing to take risks for peace”, and looks forward to direct talks resuming between Israelis and Palestinians, pointing towards an independent Palestinian state in the occupied territories currently being colonised by Israel.
Short of any content to actually substantiate this, Tuesday’s White House summit looks like a holding operation, a political armistice. Mr Netanyahu will have less trouble at home, especially in keeping the Labour party inside his otherwise irredentist coalition. Mr Obama and the Democrats avoid opening a flank to the powerful pro-Israel lobby ahead of the mid-term elections in November.
But what has changed, beyond the choreographed atmospherics?
There is not a shred of evidence Mr Netanyahu is willing to give up the occupied land needed for a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Indeed, on the eve of the Washington meeting, B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights group, published a study showing Israel has now taken 42 per cent of the West Bank, with 300,000 settlers and 200,000 in east Jerusalem. A year after Mr Obama said “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements”, the Israeli occupation continues to expand, despite a notional freeze, and it is inexorably pushing a two-states division of the Holy Land beyond reach".
Leader, "Israeli Mood Music at the White House," 8 July 2010, in www.ft.com.
"Notwithstanding some hints dropped here and there, so far, there is nothing of substance emerging from the incoming Administration of the junior Senator from Illinois, with the absurd name. However, in from some ultra-intelligent commentators, like my acquaintance, Professor Joshua Landis of Syria Comment, there is a hope, that the incoming Administration, will in some fashion or other reverse the failed policies of the Bush Regime towards the Near East, and, in particular towards: Syria, Persia, the Lebanon and of course Israel. This seems to me, based upon the prior history of incoming, American, especially Democratic Administrations, a very forlorn hope indeed....If Benyamin Netanyahu's Likuid Party were to win the elections, and, drag its feet concerning negotiations with the Palestinians, `a la its performance in its prior periods in power (1996-1999, 2001-2005), expect that the new American Administration, while perhaps in a sotto voce fashion, expressing its 'disappointment' with the newest developments in Israel, will do nothing of substance to revive the 'peace process'".
Charles G. V. Coutinho, "Whistling Dixie? Thoughts on what lies ahead for American Near Eastern Policy," 11 November 2008, in www.diplomatofthefuture.blogspot.com
"If you want things to stay as they are, things will have to change."
Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, Il Gattopardo [The Leopard]. Translated by Archibald Colquhoun. 1960, p. 40.
The Netanyahu visit to the White House this week, had all the hallmarks of a triumph for the Israeli leader: the American President praised him in exuberant fashion as someone who is willing "to take risks for peace." Terms which as some have noted seemed to eerily echo ex-President George Bush's words about the former Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon not so many years ago (see: "US and Israel Patch up relationship," 6 July 2010, in www.ft.com). The Israeli Premier was given the all hallmarks of the red-carpet treatment which he was not given previously by the current American Administration. And, from what one is able to judge from the public statements made, it would appear that Netanyahu was able to utter not one word which indicates that he is prepared to change Israeli policy substantively towards either Gaza (Netanyahu had already loosened a wee bit the blockade prior to his American trip) or peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. Much less anything of substance as it relates to say the continuation of building settlements on the West Bank. As the Israeli commentator, Aluf Benn noted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
"Netanyahu carefully avoided uttering so much as a word deviating from the political right's line, and his comments placed him firmly in the camp of Moshe Ya'alon and Benny Begin. Netanyahu warned that an Israeli withdrawal from the territories was liable to bring terrorism and rockets, as occurred in Gaza. He also called on the Palestinian Authority to alter its school textbooks. He promised only steps on the ground, without elaborating. In a press briefing, he made it clear that these steps would not include the transfer of parts of Area C to the Palestinians so that they can build a road to their new city of Rawabi, near Ramallah. The settlers are adamantly against the Rawabi project, claiming the city will adversely affect the quality of the environment and their lives - and Netanyahu has the settlers' interests in mind".
Aluf Benn, "Smiles and Ambiguity," 9 July 2010 in www.haaretz.com.
As Benn notes, "The White House has pulled a 180 with regard to Netanyahu." With all this being said, where does that leave the peace process in the aftermath of the American Administration's capitulation to the Israeli leader? Simply put, pretty much where I predicted that it would be, back in November 2008: that there will be no big American push on the peace front. At least not until after the 2012 elections (if that). Notwithstanding the futile hopes of people like that perpetual bien pensant, Philip Stephens or the Liberal American commentator Gershom Gorenberg (see: Gershom Gorenberg, "Publicity over Peace?" 9 July 2010, in www.prospect.org; Philip Stephens, "Obama has more cards to play in the Middle East," 9 July 2010, in www.ft.com). With the only possibilities of any movement on the peace front in the Near East being dependent upon the Israeli Premier's willingness to forgo his alignment with his right-wing coalition allies and claim the mantle of far-sighted statesman `a la Sadat, Begin, et cetera, et cetera. How likely is something of this sort occurring? If I had to make a wager I would surmise that it is not as unlikely as some may think. Surely, even a confirmed Likuidnik like the Israeli premier probably sees that the current, eternal holding pattern cannot last forever. Particularly if the Americans are able to block Persia from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. And, that by saving what can be saved, of the Zionist project, he will have accomplished something which can be said to rank with the greatest achievements of the founders of the Israeli State. A slim hope I agree, but, in the current atmosphere, faute de mieux.