VISION, NOT HISTORY
By Micah Halpern
Wednesday May 20, 2009
It happened because it had to happen, because history dictated that it happen.
Barack Obama, the newly elected President of the United States of America and Benjamin Bibi Netanyahu, the newly resurrected Prime Minister of Israel, were fated to meet. The meeting had historical precedence. The meeting had diplomatic overtones. And like historical precedence and like diplomatic two steps, the meeting yielded nothing except for another page written into history and another diplomatic gesture politely completed.
Think tactics, not strategy. The changes in the administrations brought about under the leadership of both Obama and Netanyahu will be tactical changes, not strategic changes. To think otherwise is to be naïve and overly optimistic.
The changes we will see will be in the attainment of short term goals, not long term objectives. Both men acted maturely and stately. The tensions that were expected were present, but only minimally. They heard each other out. They shared and they discussed for one hundred and five minutes. And they both leaned a little.
They learned about each other and about each other's agenda. And because they were engaged in discussion and dialogue, not in debate, they actually heard what the other had to say. In the end, Netanyahu confirmed what he knew about Obama the man and came away reassured about Obama the leader vis a vis his take on Iran. Netanyahu came away so reassured on that one important issue that he was quoted as saying that "the US and Israel see eye to eye on Iran" and since the meeting, Obama has repeated more than once, that Iran must not be allowed to acquire military nuclear power.
The Palestinians are another matter. As part of their give and take, their point and counterpoint discussion, Obama made his case for a Palestinian state to be created now. And Netanyahu, the consummate orator, treated Obama to a brief course on Israel’s reservations about creating a Palestinian state at this juncture. There was nothing new in the material that either the American president or the Israeli prime minister delivered over, but the time, the place and mutual respect between these two Western leaders required that it be said and said in its entirety.
They spoke, they listened, they changed nothing. Not at the White House, that is. On Capitol Hill Netanyahu who had been courting the Hill was greeted with great fanfare - and with frankness. Much as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had done, John Kerry, Chairman of the Senatorial Committee on Foreign Relations made it very clear that the United States is in favor of creating a Palestinian state and that the United States wants Israel to cease settlement building.
America wants a two state solution and so do the vast majority, over seventy percent, of Israelis. That comes as no surprise, but it does come with a bit of a problem. The problem for Israeli leadership, aka Bibi Netanyahu, is that in order for Israel to sign off on a Palestinian state there must be real safeguards, not theoretical safeguards, within the Palestinian government. And right now, there are no safeguards of any kind.
Looking out on the Palestinian horizon there is no leader who can control the Palestinian factions. Looking past the horizon the only figure to emerge would be Marwan Barghouti, but he is serving a term in an Israeli prison for his role in terror attacks against Israelis. In the absence of a real leader it will be almost impossible to reign in the various Palestinian factions in. Without a real Palestinian leader it will be impossible to strike a blow against Hamas and return Hamas to its proper place in the Palestinian hierarchy. And without a real leader the Palestinians will never be able to invest in building the institutions that will help pull them out of the muck and mire and into the modern technological world.
Despite their desire for a Palestinian state to be established, US senators realize the dilemma of the situation. And that is why, in a letter addressed to the president they wrote that they hoped he would "promote far greater involvement and participation by the Arab states both in moving toward normal ties with Israel and in encouraging moderate Palestinian elements."
Creating a Palestinian state takes vision, not history. The meeting between Obama and Netanyahu was historic. The meeting between Obama and Netanyahu was not visionary.
The relationship between Israel and the US remains very strong.
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