In the face of Israel’s defiance of the world community, international law, refusal to negotiate, and deplorable human rights record including recently killing an unarmed American human rights worker in international waters, President Obama affirmed America’s commitment to Israel yesterday, while declaring Prime Minister Netanyahu’s dedication to peace.
We had a extensive discussion about the prospects for Middle East peace. I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved, but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security.
ThinkProgress sums up the situation quite nicely in its Re-forging the Relationship report.
by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Zaid Jilani, Alex Seitz-Wald, Tanya Somanader, and Matt Duss
Meeting at the White House Tuesday, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed the depth of the friendship between the U.S. and Israel, downplayed past tensions in the relationship, and agreed on the need to press forward on peace talks. A previous meeting scheduled for June 1 had to be canceled when Netanyahu returned home to Israel to deal with the crisis surrounding the Israeli raid of a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid flotilla. Speaking to the press following their afternoon meeting, both leaders reaffirmed the special relationship and the mutual goal of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Obviously there’s still tensionsand issues there that have to be resolved,” Obama conceded. “But our two countries are working cooperatively together to deal with these issues.” According to Netanyahu, “The President said it best in his speech in Cairo: He said in front of the entire Islamic world…the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. And I can affirm that to you today.” Obama and Netanyahu both stressed the need to move form proximity talks to directs talks, and “expressed confidence that preliminary discussions hosted by the United States will lead to direct negotiations over a new peace in the region, but they acknowledged that a final agreement will be difficult and require sacrifice.”
THE HIGH STAKES:As the Center for American Progress’ Brian Katulis and National Security Network’s Joel Rubin wrote in Foreign Policy, Tuesday’s meeting “comes at a sensitive juncture— Middle East peace efforts remain largely stuck, Iran continues to move forward with its nuclear program, and the United States and Israel are looking to patch up their bilateral ties after one of the rockiest years in recent memory between the two countries.” According to Katulis and Rubin, “The fundamental goal of the meeting is to bring the two countries towards closer strategic alignment on these issues.” Also among the issues going into Tuesday’s meeting was the lack of clarity about the Obama administration’s plansfor achieving a resolution to the conflict. In a recent article, CAP’s Matthew Duss and Israel Policy Forum’s David Halperin quoted an Israeli analyst who said “‘Obama has a vision but no strategy, while Netanyahu has a strategy but no vision.’ The president knows where he wants to end up, but not how to get there, while the prime minister seems concerned primarily with protecting his political flanks and avoiding hard decisions.” While Tuesday’s meeting clearly signaled consensus on the threat posed by Iran, and Obama did obtain positive commitments from Netanyahuon security in the West Bank and easing the blockade on Gaza, there was less evidence of substantive agreement on the actual steps to re-start the peace process in earnest.
WHEN CONSERVATIVES ATTACK:Despite the fact that both Obama and Netanyahu affirm that cooperation between the U.S. and Israel has never been stronger, a number of conservatives have tried to present the President as unfriendly to Israel. Speaking at a May rally sponsored by a number of hardline pro-settlement groups, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele accused the Obama administration “and its Congressional collaborators” of “[leaving] Israel to fend for herself.” Conservative activist Gary Bauer, an opponent of the two-state solution, recently launched Keep Israel Safe, cloned off of Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol and former State Department official Liz Cheney’s Keep America Safe, with the single goal of casting Obama as anti-Israel. Conservative celebrity Sarah Palin regularly posts error-ridden rants against the Obama administration’s Israel policy on her heavily-trafficked Facebook page. In reality, while on a recent visit to Israel, “there was consensus among the Israeli officials with whom we spoke that military cooperation and intelligence sharing between the US and Israel is robust.” “The degree of light between the Obama administrationand the Israeli government has been nonexistent,” said Robert Wexler, a former congressman who recently left office to run the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace. “I think there is a narrative that has been portrayed,” Wexler said, “but the facts speak for themselves.”
LOOKING TOWARD SEPTEMBER. Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force on Palestine warns that “there is a time-bomb lurking at the end of September,” when the settlement moratorium ends and the Arab League will review its endorsement of the U.S.-brokered proximity talks. Obama seemed to acknowledge the importance of the coming weeks in the press conference, stating “my hope is thatonce direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success. … So there ends up being more room created by more trust.” The President shared Netanyahu’s view that “Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] working with Fayyad have done some very significant thingswhen it comes to the security front” in the West Bank, an important public acknowledgment of the Palestinian Authority’s progress in taking control of security. Netanyahu also welcomed Obama’s efforts to get a United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions against Iran, saying, “I think the latest sanctions adopted by the U.N. create illegitimacyor create de-legitimization for Iran’s nuclear program, and that is important.” Unity on the Iran issue is essential for creating the trust necessary to move forward on peace.