Friday, March 26, 2010
United States President Barack Obama, following the successful passage of a health care plan in the House of Representatives, suddenly started to look like a grand strategist who knows-it-all and plays a “long-term” strategic game. And it is true that nobody can and should underestimate his historic overhaul of the health sector that no other U.S. president has been able to accomplish.
The health care reform was the top priority agenda in domestic affairs, and Obama handled it triumphantly at the end. Now, one wonders if the president will turn to his top foreign agenda in foreign affairs; namely the Israel-Palestine peace process.
Foreign Policy, or FP, a magazine founded by Samuel P. Huntington, and published by the Washington Post, one of the most read foreign affairs magazines, has become unusually warm and embracing towards Obama's Israel-Palestine policy lately.
FP ran a story just last Monday, a day after the health care vote at the House, by Marc Lynch that argued how the successful passage of the reform could mean that Obama might have a Middle East strategy, after all. According the author, so far it is "Obama's method to lay out an ambitious but realistic final status objective in stark terms and then to let political hardball unfold around those objectives."
As we have seen during the health care debate, once the ambitious goal, which is to overhaul the health care sector was set, his radical opponents got more filled with ire by "raising the rhetorical pitch until they discredit themselves [recoiling] from their overheated, apocalyptic and nutty words. And then, just as the Washington D.C. conventional wisdom declares his ambition dead, they suddenly wake up to the reality that he's won."
Would there be another similar Obama game plan ongoing or even unfolding for the Israeli-Palestine conflict? Did Obama also set an aspiring and unlikely objective at the first sight, like a full settlement freeze for the Israeli administration?
Following this ambitious goal, Obama's radical opponents, in this scenario, the Benjamin Netanyahu government with all of its hard-core, right-wing forces in the coalition, revealed themselves along with their sharp and unwarranted statements to reach a point that they started to lose their own reputations. The latest episode of announcing the new housing permits during the close friend of Israel, Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Jerusalem, was one of those rare moments for the Israeli administration to discredit their posture in the ongoing dispute.
Netanyahu went on with this unbending posture and took the stage Monday night at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, policy conference, just a few blocks from where Obama resides. His statements in that speech chilled the Washington political theater once more. He said: "The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It's our capital."
Such a stern statement, which runs exactly opposite to the direction of the Obama administration's, was made only a day before Netanyahu went to visit Obama. Netanyahu was exposing "daylight between Israel and the United States" forcefully and plainly, while the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said such daylight let "others seek to exploit" at the same conference earlier in the day.
It could have been safely argued that the divergence between the two sides cannot be more “day-lit” than Netanyahu's AIPAC/Washington speech, only if one did not witness how the White House handled the meetings with Netanyahu a day after. As widely reported since then, Netanyahu had received "the treatment reserved for the president of Equatorial Guinea" at the White House with no photo-ops or a kind of joint statement.
Going back to the Roosevelt Room at the White House on Tuesday evening, according to the accounts, when the first meeting between Obama and Netanyahu ended, Obama told Netanyahu that he could stay at the White House with his staff to consider his proposals, so that if he changed his mind he could inform the president right away. “I’m still around,” the Yediot Ahronot daily quoted Mr. Obama saying. “Let me know if there is anything new.”
Repeated questions to Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary, on Wednesday afternoon on the substance of these meetings and why Netanyahu was met with such a cold-shouldered presentation, Gibbs said, "No, look, they spoke for over two hours last night, face to face, so I think we have a strong relationship with a strong ally. There are areas that they discussed last night, some of which they agree on and some of which they disagree on."
According to Gibbs, in the same conference at the White House, the first meeting on Tuesday evening between the two leaders took about one and half hours and concluded at 7 p.m.
"Then ... Prime Minister Netanyahu remained in the White House and consulted with his staff in the Roosevelt Room and then requested to see the President again, and they returned to the Oval Office at about 8:20 p.m.," he said.
One wonders what was going through Netanyahu's mind in those minutes at the Roosevelt Room while he was reviewing the meeting, which Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper called "disgraced and isolated" while others call "humiliated, after being dumped for dinner."
The Times Online explains well in its March 25 report what Netanyahu's calculation was before his visit to Washington: "[Netanyahu] had calculated that [Obama] would be too tied up with domestic issues ahead of the mid-term elections to focus seriously on the Middle East." Instead, the health care bill that was passed only Sunday had suddenly freed up Obama's hands and boosted his image as stronger than ever while meeting with Netanyahu.
Robert Wright, a journalist who writes regularly for the New York Times' online blog, predicted the following scenarios after Netanyahu's visit to Obama: "[As] more and more people are realizing, the only long-run alternatives to a two-state solution are: a) a one-state solution in which an Arab majority spells the end of Israel’s Jewish identity; b) Israel’s remaining a Jewish state by denying the vote to Palestinians who live in the occupied territories, a condition that would be increasingly reminiscent of apartheid; c) the apocalypse."
One can only speculate what was the conversation between him and his staff at the Roosevelt Room. I will take a wild guess and say, Netanyahu during those moments was realizing how serious the crack was between his country and the U.S. Netanyahu might have also underestimated Obama's possible “long-term” strategy, as the GOP underestimated him in the health care battle.
Prime Minister Netanyahu must, and should not be an apocalyptic messenger for his nation, nor work toward dimming the two-state prospect.