May 20, 2009

Netanyahu and Obama at Odds

By Chuck Missler

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with US President Barack Obama this week and, as expected, did not offer any interest in a two-state solution. Instead, Netanyahu focused on how to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. While the men maintained a friendly rapport, it was clear that the new American and Israeli governments have very different views on how to handle the tricky situation that is called the Middle East.

The US government has long supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama has stepped in line with that policy, and openly made it clear that he believes Israel should restart the peace process with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

Bibi, on the other hand, has resisted even talking about the creation of a Palestinian state. Some of his associates have brought up the idea of a sort of Palestinian entity, but not an actual state with the ability to sign treaties or control airspace. Netanyahu is willing to start a peace process, but doesn't believe there will be any success until the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, something that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has not been willing to do.
"I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians; we want to live in peace with them," he said.
West Bank settlements is another hot issue. Obama urged the new Israeli government to stop the expansion of settlements in the West Bank as Netanyahu promised he would.
"There is a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements; that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward," Obama said.
Bibi's government holds the position, however, that there isn't any new settlement building going on. The issue is actually a matter of definitions. Does expanding settlements mean building in entirely new locations, or does it mean building additional houses in existing settlement areas? New houses are being built by Jews in the West Bank, but the Israeli government holds the view that these are homes appropriately being erected in existing settlements. The Palestinians who want no new houses, though, consider these building projects to be unacceptable settlement expansion.

The issue of Iran was perhaps the most important matter discussed at the meeting, but while Obama recognizes Israel's right to protect itself, he and Bibi still have differing views on how to handle the problem. The Israelis are concerned that Iran might develop a nuclear weapon within the next two years, and therefore want a deadline by which to work things out with Iran diplomatically. Obama, on the other hand, wants to promote talks with Iran about its nuclear program and see what can be accomplished within the next year through peaceful negotiations. He has resisted putting any end date on cooperative dialogue with Iran.

The governments of Israel and the US also have differing views on what should be considered the Middle East's "key" issue. The American administration believes that if the Palestinian problem can get taken care of, then that will encourage other states in the region to cooperate regarding Iran. As long as Israel is perceived as an occupier, the Obama Administration argues, it will be difficult to get the regional support needed to pressure Iran. The Netanyahu administration, on the other hand, argues that Iran needs to be dealt with before there can be any hope for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian situation.

The Obama Administration is maintaining America's long-held support of Israel's right to protect itself, and the two leaders were warm and friendly with one another. It is clear, though, that the respective governments of Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama may have trouble seeing eye-to-eye for awhile to come.

Related Links

Core Differences Remain After Netanyahu-Obama Meeting - CFR
World Press: Obama Used ‘Tough Love,’ Bibi Stood Firm - Arutz Sheva
Obama Tells Netanyahu He Has an Iran Timetable - The New York Times
Netanyahu in U.S. to Meet Obama on Mideast Peace - Bloomberg
The Struggle For Jerusalem - Koinonia House