Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yoel Marcus/ Can Oslo take back Obama's Nobel?

(Yoel Marcus - Haaretz).David Ben-Gurion was not invited to the White House until the end of his term, and needed various excuses to meet with the presidents in hotels. In Benjamin Netanyahu's case, the fear of not meeting with Barack Obama made him sweat.

On the eve of his trip to the Jewish Federations' General Assembly in Washington, D.C., Netanyahu faced unflattering headlines saying it was not certain whether President Obama would meet him.

There are two likely reasons for the move. One is that Bibi was all-too-confident that the moment his feet hit American soil, the White House doors would open before him - as they did with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. The second possibility is that Netanyahu's excessive confidence angered Obama, who thought he was taking the meeting with him for granted. And so his aides advised him to let Netanyahu sweat.

And sweat he did. The fact that he didn't take his wife Sara with him indicates that the president's advisers didn't want the meeting to look too intimate and informal. In his previous term as prime minister, Netanyahu brought not only his wife but two of his children to Clinton's office. To the embarrassment of those present, the kids started throwing cushions at each other in the Oval Office.

In reality, there is no major difference in the relations between the two states. The Americans have not stopped the aid or the modern weapons supply to Israel. The only thing that can be said is that Bibi and Obama have not developed a personal, intimate relationship.

The White House and whoever is stirring things up over there has reduced the familiarity level to that of humiliation. For example, they released a photograph of Obama speaking on the phone with Netanyahu with his feet on the desk. This was their way of hinting that Obama is not Bush and does not see the prime minister as the king of Israel.

Just when the polls in Israel are showing that most of the public supports Bibi - who aspires to reach an agreement with the Palestinians - it's unclear why Obama had to kick-start the peace in Cairo with a reconciliation call to Islam. The result has been one big disappointment. Obama has not received from the Muslim world as much as a gesture to advance the Israeli-Palestinian arrangement, while Netanyahu has announced that Israel supports negotiations on the principle of two states for two peoples without any preconditions.

Instead of seizing the bull by the horns and setting about to open the negotiations immediately, Obama hesitated. Then Mahmoud Abbas brought up all kinds of conditions - starting with the demand to stop all the construction in the territories immediately. Olmert and Tzipi Livni held talks with Abbas for two years; not once did he raise the demand that Israel must first stop the construction in the West Bank for natural growth.

It is not clear how one can set about to hold negotiations "without preconditions" when the Palestinians are demanding the cessation of construction in the territories. Israel will have to concede in this area anyway, while conducting a complicated struggle - perhaps even an internecine war - to achieve peace.

Netanyahu has still made it clear that he is willing to negotiate an agreement with no preconditions. He says the same about a possible agreement with Syria. Once he used those slogans to avoid the issue. Now, in his second term, Netanyahu wants to succeed and he has the parliamentary majority to do so.

But Obama is in trouble at home. Democrats were recently defeated in both Virginia and New Jersey, where Republicans were elected. The defeat does not bode well for the congressional elections due next November. Meanwhile, Obama's great promise, on the issue of health insurance, is moving along slowly.

Apart from his rhetorical skills, Obama has failed to keep a single promise or solve one major problem during his time in office. In this situation he cannot afford to lose the support of the Jews, who are behind 40 percent of the contributions to the Democrats' elections. Meanwhile, the cold shoulder Obama is giving us and the hazing he's put Bibi through have achieved nothing but Abbas' announcement that he would not be running for the next Palestinian Authority elections. Perhaps he will and perhaps he won't.

While Israel is seriously talking about the peace process, Obama has problems at home. His list of disappointments now includes his failure to create a mechanism to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Obama received the Nobel Peace prize too early. I wonder if they have a mechanism in Oslo to take it back.