Sunday, May 22, 2011

Netanyahu's accomplishment, Obama retracts, Ball in Bibi's court

(Yitzhak Benhorin-Ynet).US President Barack Obama came to AIPAC to smooth all the feathers ruffled by his Mideast policy speech last week. Thursday's address focused on the Arab Spring and was meant for the Arab world – it did not focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But that was not something that Obama could ignore altogether.

He chose to address the subject in a general manner, using wording Arab ears would not find discordant; but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's strong reaction stole the show, stirring headlines away from the political and economical reforms the US offered Arab nation and its anti-Assad statements.

The initially upset, suspicious crowd left the Washington conference hall happy and relaxed, after hearing Obama reaffirm the United States' commitment to Israel's security and its political interests.

Since taking office, Netanyahu has been trying to get Obama to reaffirm a letter Bush gave former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in exchange for the Gaza disengagement: The letter states that any future agreement would have to consider demographic changes that occurred in the West Bank since the Six Day War.

The practical meaning is that Israel will retain large settlement blocs in exchange for creating safe passage between Gaza, the West Bank and other auxiliary territories.

Today, for the first time, Obama reaffirmed Bush's letter publically, explaining that the suggested formula for the peace process, "Allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years… to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides."

Netanyahu can present this as his trip's biggest accomplishment. Still, this feat may lose some of its luster if Netanyahu does not intend to truly strive for peace. We have to wait for his Congress address to see.