Stage Is Set For a New Clash Between America, Israel

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The New York Sun

UNITED NATIONS — The next crisis between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyah — one from Venus, the other from Mars — is only a matter of time, though the vibes will be discernibly positive when the two meet at the White House tomorrow.

The two hold diametrically opposed political philosophies: the “realist” Mr. Obama – Venus – is all about nurturing regional hopes and dreams: think Palestinian state. The “ideological” Mr. Netanyahu – Mars – is keenly attuned to the region’s real and present dangers: think Iran.

As they publicly clashed in recent months, the region and those who document it gleefully sensed a growing rift between America and Israel. Now political stars are realigned. Mr. Obama’s closest advisers warn against a rift with one of his constituencies, American Jews. Mr. Netanyahu is politically stronger, but Israeli voters rarely reelect a leader who is at loggerheads with Washington.

So Mr. Netnayahu will likely remind his listeners that ever since assuming office he had called — even begged — for direct negotiation between the leader of the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas, who in turn is yet to agree to an unmediated meeting.

Mr. Obama will nod approvingly. “The gaps have narrowed,” an upbeat White House Middle East aid, Daniel Shapiro, said last week, referring to steps taken by Mr. Obama’s envoy, George Mitchell, to upgrade the Israeli-Palestinian discourse from “proximity talks” under American tutelage to direct negotiations. Yesterday Defense Minister Ehud Barak met Palestinian Prime Minister Salem Fayyed.

For his part, the American president will highlight the recent round of United Nations sanctions against Iran and the even tougher Congressional sanctions that he signed into law on Thursday. More to come on Iran, Mr. Obama will say. The Israeli guest will smile approvingly. Mr. Netanyahu has recently lauded his host’s leadership in creating a united world front on Iran.

For Mr. Obama, the concessions toward the Palestinians that his guest agreed to implement – including a nine-months moratorium on construction in West Bank Jewish communities – are insufficient. Some of his aides surely agree with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who insisted last week that direct talks are unjustified because of Israel’s intransigence.

Mr. Obama’s aim, after all, is to make significant progress toward establishing a new Arab state west of the Jordan River prior to the 2012 presidential election. But even as Mr. Netanyahu declares support for a Palestinian state, administration officials and regional leaders eye him with suspicion and accuse him of failing to spell out a plan to make the dream come true.

Meanwhile the Israelis – as well as many of the region’s leaders – believe Mr. Obama’s sanctions will fail to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state. The Mullahs’ belligerency will increase as will their motivation to hasten the return of the hidden Imam by incinerating the Jewish state. Failing that, a nuclear Iran will more readily use its proxies to make life in Israel intolerable.

And even while Mr. Obama says he will “never” let Iran go nuclear, many in the president’s inner circle have long ago settled on “containment.” Mr. Obama also clearly has failed to spell out a plan, beyond sanctions, to slow Iran’s nuclear dash. He clearly removed the military option off the table.

Mr. Netanyahu, a politician whose model statesman is Winston Churchill, sees gathering clouds of war. With the waning of America’s influence, the region’s leaders form new alliances. Iran is ascending and Israel is the region’s perennial odd man out. For Mr. Netanyahu, the only way to reverse that trend – and avert an existential war – is to stop Iran. Yes, he is ready to make what he sees as reasonable concessions on the Palestinian issue, but only as a tactic in his Iran strategy.

Mr. Obama, who has learned statecraft in academia, is not quite oblivious to dangers, but he believes that the root cause for much of the regional hostility toward Israel is its “territorial” dispute with the Palestinians. Solve that one, and the rest will fall into place. Yes, he is ready to placate Iran hawks by tightening Iran’s economic isolation, but only as a tactic in his Palestine strategy.

And so, even as White House hands prepare an uplifting daytime soap opera, the stage is set for the next dramatic clash between America and Israel.

The New York Sun

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