Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Round One For Netanyahu

( Damron). It was not a KO punch—there will be another round—but on points it was a clear and decisive win in the New York ring for Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He made a quick work of both the American President Barack Obama, and the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. You got to hand it to him; he did it with strength and with style. First, after exposing Obama’s weakness, he floored him with a cunning right hook. After that, it was an easy, almost nonchalant left uppercut that sent Abbas to the ropes, and from there wobbling down to face his angry. The triumphal Netanyahu was not glowing (here comes the style), yet he was embraced by the New York’s crowd—Jewish, gentile and UN delegates alike—as the victor. While more jubilant multitudes, and rising poll numbers, await him at home.

The boxing arena aside, here’s what actually happened in that trivet meeting. First, the diplomacy: Obama met separately, and jointly, with the leaders of Israrel and Palestine, admonished them for the lack of progress in peace negotiations, and urged them “sternly” to resume the stalled peace-talks. And he got them to shake hands, a hollow photo-op a la Begin and Sadat, Rabin and Arafat. Netanyahu “supposedly” indorsed the president’s call and urgency, declaring a wish to return to negotiations without any preconditions (how stylish…). Abbas, as a lamb brought to the slaughter, nodded half-heartedly, knowing very well what awaits him back home.

Second, to the “facts-on-the-ground,” as the Israelis are fond of saying, and to the analyses of Netanyahu’s win. To begin with, and most importantly, he withstood the pressure and demand of the Obama’s administration and did not freeze all settlements’ activity. In doing so, he not only retained his coalition at home and increased his popularity, but exposed Obama’s main weakness: that he’s a man of words, in essence, more than a man of deeds. To illustrate the point, here’s a short story: A friend met me the other day and asked how am I doing. I said, no complaints: the sun is shining, the skies are blue, the birds are singing and Obama is making another speech.

Netanyahu, you see, had figured out ahead of time a number of crucial elements in regard to the new administration: One, that Obama is a rookie and somewhat naive on the international stage; two, that he won’t walk the talk, because more urgent matters confront him at home, mainly the economy-crisis brought by the Great Recession, and the health-care reform fight, to name but two; and three, that abroad, too, more urgent matters were/are on his plate, such as ending the war in Iraq, figuring out what to do with the deterioration of the war in Afghanistan, and of course the nuclear issues of Iran and North Korea.

The end result being that the American President in actuality backed off his demand for all settlements freeze. A demand both he and Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state—a non-existent figure so far in the Middle East—had demanded. Netanyahu realized another important thing: that a president needs a cache of successes at home, with a large popularity and strength to back him up in order to be tough with Israel. Otherwise, he’ll be “eaten for breakfast” by the Israel-Jewish lobby, the Congress and the Media to boot.

As mentioned at the top, after manhandling Obama, Abaas was an easy work for Netanyahu. Abass needs America’s backing and support, and could not afford to refuse—glaring in the eyes of the world’s leaders at the largest world’s stage—to agree to the statement “of resuming peace-talks,” and to shake hands with Netanyahu. This handshake was bad for him, but good for Netanyahu. Here was a man of peace, offering his hand to his enemy, agreeing willingly to negotiate peace with him without preconditions, while at home he continued to occupy and settle his land, in effect causing the peace process to be more dead than alive. Which is the cherry on Netanyahu’s cake.

To seal his victory, Netanyahu kept pounding and exploiting the Iran nuclear issue, tying it neatly with progress in Middle East peace negotiations. The UN mass exit, rightly so, of most delegates when the Iranian president spoke, and the strongest than usual sanctions’ declaration by the leaders of America, Britain and France, all worked to his advantage. He was now able to return to Israel in a much favorable conditions for him and for his government—if not for the state-of-peace—than he had left it.