Friday, May 20, 2011

analysis/ Obama-Netanyahu: Not a personality clash, but a conceptual one

(HERB KEINON-Jpost). There are those who would chalk up the current difficulties in the US-Israeli relationship to a lack of chemistry or fondness between the two leaders. There are those who would look at the current tension and attribute it to Obama’s coldness, or Netanyahu’s arrogance.

But they would be wrong. Because what was on display in the White House Friday for the world to see was not a personality clash, but rather a conceptual one.

What happened Friday afternoon in the White House was actually exceptional. Less than 24-hours after US President Barack Obama -- the most powerful man on the planet -- called on Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines with mutual land swaps, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu -- sitting right next to the president -- said for the whole world to see that this was not going to happen; that it was a risk Israel simply could not take.

This isn’t a personal crisis, it is not the result of a ”bad connection” or “bad blood" between the leaders. Rather, it is reflective of significantly different way of viewing reality. Even were Obama and Netanyahu to get along as swimmingly as Prince Henry and Kate Middleton, wide chasms in how each views their country’s interests and what is and is not possible would still separate the two. Obama essentially believes in the land for peace formula, and that what it will take to solve the Israeli-Arab conflict is a painful ceding of Israeli land. Netanyahu, on the other hand, believes, based on past experience, that this will not do the trick nor ensure Israel’s security -- so forget about it.

The differences are real and genuine. Neither Obama, facing re-election next year and a divided Congress, nor Netanyahu -- with Opposition leader Tzipi Livni blaming him for poisoning Israeli-US ties -- need this squabble right now. It doesn’t help Obama with his Jewish constituency, and being cast as the US-Israel relationship-wrecker is not exactly the ticket Netanyahu wants to ride on in his next elections.

But yet the squabble is there, because this crisis can’t be reduced to a conflict of personalities. Rather, it is a conflict of competing perceptions of reality.