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Netanyahu Follows Obama's Lead

IsraCast Assessment: 'U.S. President Obama Signals Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu That He's Part Of Solution Or Part Of Problem!'

'Netanyahu Tries To Ride Out Obama Storm While Also Setting Israel's Red Lines On Security & Jewish State'

Obama's End Of Year For Progress On Iranian Nuclear Talks Before Stronger Sanctions Will Permit Tehran To Continue Stalling'

Netanyahu and Obama in the White House (Photo: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

After their extended meeting, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not only accentuated their agreement on the need for achieving Middle East peace, but also stressed their differing approaches for achieving the goal. The new American leader has a definite blueprint that includes a Palestinian state, something Netanyahu views as a hostile 'Hamastan' on the West Bank. As for the Iranian nuclear program, Netanyahu's assessment is that Tehran has already crossed the 'technological threshold' for producing the bomb while the U.S. has given until the end of the year before deciding on ' stronger sanctions'. IsraCast assesses the diplomatic parrying between the two leaders at the White house.

'Yes we can!' - Barack Obama has made clear to Benyamin Netanyahu that the new U.S. president is now applying his motto to America's Middle East foreign policy. This includes goading the Israeli and Palestinian sides into a peaceful Palestine alongside  a secure Israel, while giving until the end of the year to try and talk Iran out of producing nuclear weapons. Make no mistake - Obama is playing hardball; gone are the days of the Bush and Clinton administrations which held that ' the Israelis and Palestinians have to make peace themselves, we can't do it for them!' At their joint news conference, Obama seemed to be saying to Netanyahu and the world: 'I have heard what you said, this is what I am going to do!' And he pulled no punches - the two state solution, including Palestine was the only answer. Moreover, the settlements had to stop and Netanyahu must also address this issue. On the other hand, the Palestinians had to get their house in order and provide better security assurances to Israel. Obama had seen at first hand the intolerable rocketing of Israel from Gaza. 

For his part, the Israeli leader tried to roll with Obama's punches. While Israel did not want to rule over the Palestinians, it had to be concerned with 'another Hamastan like Gaza being established on the West Bank' that would also rocket Israeli towns and villages. Within hours of the White House meeting, Israel's cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser who accompanied Netanyahu, declared that ' no new settlements are on the cabinet's agenda'. It was unclear if this also applied to new building at existing settlements which Israeli governments have viewed as 'natural growth'. On the other hand, Yuval Diskin, the chief of the Shin Bet security service said: 'There is no prospect for progress in the diplomatic process as long as Hamas controls Gaza. If the Palestinians were to hold an election on the West Bank today, Hamas would have a good chance of winning'. (Under pressure from the former Bush administration, Israel agreed to Hamas running in the last Palestinian election which Hamas promptly won and later expelled the more moderate President Mahmoud Abbas from Gaza in a bloody coup. Since then, terrorists have launched some 6,000 rockets and mortars at Israel). In any case, Likud leader Netanyahu did not refer to his Land of Israel ideology that views Judea & Samaria (West Bank) as an inseparable part of Israel dating back to the biblical era. Netanyahu no doubt sensed that Obama has little, if any, sentiment on this score. In passing, the President did refer to America's commitment to the security of Israel, 'the only true democracy in the Middle East' but this sounded pro forma and the 'special relationship' between Israel and the U.S. may be less special with the new administration.

Barack Obama

What happens next? President Obama will soon see West Bank Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House and is likely to convey a similar message 'You like Netanyahu must be part of the solution or else you're part of the problem'. Just what Abbas can deliver is hard to foresee. For months the Egyptians have been trying unsuccessfully to patch up the blood feud between Hamas in Gaza and Abbas on the West Bank. Moreover, Abbas is not really in control of even the West Bank; he may have remained in office and alive solely due to IDF counter-terror operations against Hamas. Israel once tipped off Abbas about a Hamas plot to assassinate him.

Next on Obama's Middle East visitors' list will be Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak. Before traveling to Washington, Netanyahu first saw Mubarak and the two leaders apparently reached some understandings. Egypt has finally gotten serious about the Hamas arms smuggling from its Sinai territory into Gaza, realizing the threat posed by an Iranian supported Hamas on its border. Mubarak is among those Arab leaders who are very worried about a nuclear armed Iran. Obama is thought to support the Saudi now Arab League peace initiative offering peace with Israel in return for a total Israeli pullback to the 1967 lines along with the return of Palestinian refugees. Activating this track could put pressure on the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Netanyahu may be banking on the Palestinians to sabotage any chance for peace as they have every time in the past. It is hard to see how it will be possible to jump-start the Roadmap peace plan with Abbas and Hamas at each others throats. But the first step could be a back-door American channel to Hamas that would lead to a prisoner exchange for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and a new cease-fire deal with Israel.

Iranian President Ahmadinejad

Iran: While Obama and Netanyahu tried to accentuate their agreement on the need to move ahead in peace-making this was not the case on Iran. The U.S. linkage between the Palestinian track and stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is tenuous to say the least. Israeli experts give little credence to the notion that moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East really equate their fear of a radical Iran that wishes to overthrow them with these leaders' desire to remain not only in power but also alive.

Having said that, Obama revealed a discrepancy between the Israeli and U.S.time-frames of when Iran will go nuclear. The latest intelligence assessment is that the next twelve months are critical. Yet the U.S. leader seemed to say offhandedly that while he did not want to set a deadline, as espoused by Israel, he would wait until the end of the year to assess if any progress had been made. If not, then Obama might seek 'stronger sanctions'. At the White House news conference Obama did not speak of all options being on the table as he did in a recent interview with Newsweek. Along with a mounting sense of urgency there is also the concern that Israel might have to decide eventually on whether to go it alone in preventing Iran from getting the bomb 'for wiping the Jewish state off the map'. The Israeli concern now is that the Iranians now feel they have a nuclear free pass for the next seven months to proceed full tilt with their nuclear weapons program, stalling Obama all the way and then making  an unimportant concession at the end of the year to buy even more time.    

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