Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will be in an unenviable position when he meets US President Barack Obama on Tuesday. He will need to walk a diplomatic tightrope of balancing conflicting issues. He is obliged to firmly resist pressures which could compromise Israel’s security needs, whilst simultaneously demonstrating that he is acting responsibly and endeavoring to satisfy the legitimate concerns of our most important ally.
If he botches this, his government could unfold and the extraordinary public support he has achieved amongst Israelis could unravel overnight.
Still smarting from the backlash against his appalling behavior towards Netanyahu on his previous visit, Obama will now roll out the red carpet. He will also probably commit to visiting Israel in the near future.
But beyond the charm, Obama is unlikely to provide much comfort to Israel. He will probably insinuate that even if the belated weak sanctions imposed on Iran fail to have an impact, Israel would face dire consequences if it acted alone.
Obama will continue to press Netanyahu to make further concessions to the Palestinians without reciprocity, and will also call on the prime minister to accept the indefensible 1949 armistice lines as future borders – a step which no responsible Israeli government would contemplate.
There will also be demands that the settlement freeze be extended. Netanyahu should not yield on this, having repeatedly promised the public and his political associates that the freeze would end in September. If he breaches this undertaking, his government could collapse. He may seek a compromise by offering to revert to the de facto arrangements which prevailed when the Bush administration concurred that settlement activity would continue in the major settlement blocs and areas which would remain within Israel, in line with demographic growth.
Opponents of Netanyahu demand that he provide the Americans with a new “plan.” This is nonsense. As it is, Netanyahu is obliged to indulge in double talk and continue behaving as if we were really engaged in negotiations with a genuine peace partner, despite the fact that Arafat and more recently Abbas had rejected offers to settle on 95% of territories over the Green Line. Regrettably, neither the US or Western countries are willing to face the fact that this is not a conflict between two people over territory. It is the determination of the Arabs to bring about an end to Jewish sovereignty. Despite lip service to the contrary, Abbas and the PA either endorse this as their ultimate game plan or are too weak to stand up against the extremists. In such a context, continued concessions without reciprocity amounts to conforming to the Palestinian strategy of dismantling Israel in stages.
Alas, we have a US president who is either unwilling to take these realities into account or more likely, simply indifferent to them. There is a chilling feeling amongst many Israelis that Obama is so obsessed with his goal of achieving an accommodation with global Islam that the sacrifice of Israel as a prerequisite is of little consequence. Yet the truth is that if Israel is compromised or defeated, the prime beneficiaries will be the extremists and the terrorists in the Islamic world who will be emboldened and exploit this as evidence that terrorism does pay off.
Netanyahu cannot please everyone. Those on the hard right are already accusing him of capitulating to American pressure and those on the left will continue depicting him as an extremist seeking to maintain “the occupation.” In the midst of this he seeks to retain the reins of government.
Netanyahu must resolutely resist some of Obama’s demands. If he permits himself to be intimidated into making counterproductive concessions without reciprocity, Israel will continue to be confronted with additional demands and transformed into a vassal of the United States.
He is in a stronger position to stand firm today than previously and if he avoids needless confrontations he will have the support of Congress and the American people who did not endorse their presidents confrontationist approach towards Israel.
Whatever happens, Netanyahu must take a public stand and speak out on issues. He must not pretend that all is well when that is not true. He must enable American friends of Israel and American Jews to appreciate why we cannot agree to concessions which will place Israeli civilians at risk. He has the ability to achieve this with dignity and without directly engaging in a confrontation with President Obama.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post