The Obama-Netanyahu summit, expected by some to be a “steel cage death match,” came and went, and while it is difficult to know what really went on behind the scenes, certain speculations are possible. Many expected the talks to be characterized as “frank and constructive,” diplomatic speech for “chairs were thrown at each other, and a screaming match ensued.” Instead, no such phrases were used, and what was most constructive is that it seems that Israel and the United States can diverge on their interests (or their interpretations of their interests) without the solar system collapsing.
Their post-conference body language indicated that Netanyahu had been eager to make his points and shift the diplomatic focus away from the Palestinian track to the Iranian track, and that Obama did little more than recite his talking points but failed to persuade the Israeli Prime Minister. All in all, Netanyahu appeared to have acquitted himself well, and has internalized and applied the lessons drawn from the mistakes of his first term.
The Old Bibi had good ideas but little staying power. He saw his political survival as rooted in pleasing an American President (then, Clinton) and satisfying Clinton’s and the media’s obsession with signing ceremonies, winners and losers and constant drama. What actually happened when Netanyahu could not say “no” – and signed the Hebron accords, made dramatic concessions at Wye Plantation, and failed to return from Wye with a liberated Jonathan Pollard, as he had been promised by Clinton – was that he alienated his own base, lost his political standing and credibility, and soon thereafter, his office.
“No” has a power all its own, and any self-respecting country has to say it on occasion – even to friends and allies – when its interests are jeopardized. Thus, at the G-20 summit in London in March, President Obama made two requests – for more European troops in Afghanistan and for increased stimulus spending by European countries. All of Europe responded to both American requests with a polite but resounding “no,” and somehow, life went on. The same can happen – did happen ? – here, and life, indeed, does go on.
Of course, the possibility cannot be ruled out that Obama will be tossed the bone of the uprooting of some outposts, as a “sign” of Israeli conciliation and a message to the Arabs that Israel will still play ball. If so, that would be an error on a number of grounds, including the fundamental notion that Israel need not show its conciliatory credentials. Most of the problems of the last 15 years have been caused by that pointless exercise, so it is foolhardy to keep heading down that road to a dead end.
New Bibi is in the strong position of being able to tell the American president that he, too, was elected on a platform of “change,” and he is charged with making a stark and dramatic break with the misguided policies of the past that have led Israel into this political and strategic morass. He is well situated – together with FM Lieberman – to introduce into Israeli diplomacy a new paradigm, where progress is made not toward peace but towards stability and prosperity, and Israeli surrenders of its territory – that has grievously weakened its strategic standing – are a thing of the past.
Good for him that he refused to publicly endorse a Palestinian state, and that he insists on diplomatic recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. That, coupled with the expansion of Israel’s settlements and a relentless war waged without letup on the terrorist infrastructure, bodes well for the immediate future. It bears a reminder that during Netanyahu’s first term as PM, terror declined dramatically, and less than 30 Jews were murdered by Arab terrorists from 1996-1999. That was the outgrowth of a strong policy, but Old Bibi received no political credit for that (bitter irony, that, in light of the monstrous years of terror that followed) because he betrayed himself and the people who elected him.
If appearances reflect reality, then New Bibi may accomplish great things, and there may finally be a Likud PM who governs from the right and implements the policies and preferences of those who elected him into office. What a novel concept that would be (!), and that would greatly facilitate Israel’s rehabilitation from its recent debacles.