The Spine

Doomed To Succeed: Also A Good Beginning

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Check out Robert Satloff’s analysis of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s meeting with President Obama:

The Obama-Netanyahu Meeting: Assessment and Implications
By Robert Satloff
July 8, 2010

With smiles, compliments, and a strong dose of hospitality, President Obama did his best to provide a dramatically improved backdrop for U.S.-Israeli relations during Binyamin Netanyahu's July 6 visit to the White House, compared to the climate that greeted the Israeli prime minister upon his strained April visit. This included strikingly specific commitments on key issues important to Israeli security. Netanyahu, in turn, responded with generous and deferential praise for U.S. leadership on the broad array of Middle East policy issues. Given the near-term political and policy imperatives of both leaders, the result was a meeting doomed to succeed. Lurking behind the warmth and banter, however, remain tactical obstacles on how to proceed in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations as well as strategic uncertainty about how each side views the other's regional priorities.

From Domestic Politics to Strategic Interest
It is a mistake to argue, as have many observers, that Tuesday's meeting was a defeat for Obama or a victory for Netanyahu. In fact, both leaders came to the event with a political imperative to change the public image of their relationship.

On one side, Netanyahu seems to have understood that Israeli voters view management of the relationship with Washington as one of their prime minister's principal responsibilities, holding him accountable for maintaining warm and productive ties even with an administration that, in the view of many, might not reciprocate. On the other side, Obama seems to have recognized that the punitive spirit that added fuel to the fire of mini-crises in May 2009 and March 2010 ran counter to the deep well of popular support for strong U.S.-Israeli relations in the American heartland, in key parts of the Democratic Party, and on Capitol Hill, garnering him little political advantage in the process.

No less important for both leaders was repairing the strategic implications of public discord. For Israel, the appearance of distance from Washington is a blow to Israeli deterrence, welcome news for its adversaries, and an invitation for some friendly nations (e.g., in Europe) to distance themselves from Israel even further. For America, shabby treatment of one ally is a signal for others to take cover; even U.S. allies who are not friends of Israel, such as some Arab states, surely looked on with concern at how Washington seemed to be treating what is widely viewed as its closest partner in the Middle East. The result, therefore, was Tuesday's reclamation effort.

Article continues on the Washington Institute for Near East Policy’s website

  

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