Monday, November 9, 2009

Does Obama delay in scheduling Netanyahu meet point to crisis?

(Aluf Benn-Haaretz).Relations between Israel and the United States are in crisis. This is the conclusion that stems from the difficulty in arranging a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The White House wanted Netanyahu to sweat before being granted an audience with the president, and wanted everyone to see him perspire.

The delays in finding a time to meet, and pushing it to a late hour - after the news programs on Israeli television - make Netanyahu look as if Obama threw him a bone. In such circumstances, it is no longer important what will be said at the meeting, and the extent to which there will be an attempt to present it as an achievement. The prime minister of Israel was humiliated before all.

Netanyahu likes to say that the United States is big and that the Israeli public is mistaken in identifying the American viewpoint only with the president. The true America, Netanyahu says, begins 70 miles west of New York and ends 70 miles east of Los Angeles, and within this enormous space, Israel has millions of loyal supporters.

In his view, the friction with the White House needs to be put in the appropriate proportion, and that falls within the tremendous support of American public opinion that favors Israel.

Those close to Netanyahu, who can express themselves more freely than him, ridicule Obama's inexperience and political amateurism of the administration. In their view, the White House thought it would be possible to bring Netanyahu down, but he only strengthened, according to public opinion polls.

They pressured him to freeze settlements, but he did not surrender.

These neat explanations seem to miss the point: The relations are not symmetrical. Netanyahu may be an experienced diplomat and politician, and Obama may be a novice, but Obama is the president of a superpower, and Netanyahu represents a small country that depends greatly on the United States.

It sometimes appears that Netanyahu forgets this, and pretends he is the head of a superpower, for example when he identifies himself with Winston Churchill, or in declaring that the Israeli mind will free the world of oil dependency in a decade.

Of course Israel can and should use influence and support in the United States, in order to push the policies of the administration in its favor. But in moments of truth and during a crisis, it would be good for Netanyahu if Obama was quick to respond to his call, and not place him on hold.

Obama is not always fair: Denying the existence of understandings between Israel and the previous administration on the settlements harmed his credibility. It is also unclear why he humiliated Netanyahu after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly praised the Prime Minister's proposal to limit settlement construction as "unprecedented."

The opaqueness of the administration rallied Israeli public opinion behind Netanyahu, instead of creating domestic divisions.