Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Barry Rubin on the Obama-Netanyahu Summit

(White House photo by Pete Souzs)
 From the Gloria Center (Israel) website (ht) Martin Peretz):

Continuing to freeze construction on settlements will give Netanyahu a domestic problem but he can hold his coalition together, if necessary by adjusting it. Parties are constrained from walking out of the government because if elections were to be held Netanyahu would win in a landslide partly at their expense.

Another thing Netanyahu wants is for Obama to escalate pressure on Iran regarding that country's nuclear weapons' drive. The new sanctions, thanks to Congress, are going to hurt Iran and undermine support for the regime there. Not enough, of course, to stop the program. Still, when Iran does get nuclear weapons, Israel will need the United States to take a strong stand in containing Tehran.

Does Israel's government trust Obama? Of course not. Israel's government and Israelis in general are under no illusions about Obama's view of their country, his willingness to battle revolutionary Islamists, or his general reliability and toughness.

For example, last October the Obama Administration, through the State Department, did endorse the "settlement bloc" commitment, but then appeared to have forgotten about it. The U.S. government also broke its promises over the settlement freeze (accepting Jerusalem's exclusion and then howling about it a few months later) and regarding the nonproliferation conference (pledging to oppose any reference to Israel's nuclear weapons and then going back on that point).

There is also clarity about the possibility of Obama turning to a much tougher stance on Israel after the congressional elections are over. Yet with a plummeting popularity at home and lots of domestic problems, perhaps Obama will have more on his mind than playing Middle East peacemaker.

The Palestinian Authority is so uneager for a peace agreement that anything said by Israel on the subject is most unlikely ever to be implemented. And it seems that the Obama Administration has at least some sense that it isn't going to get an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement so it doesn't want to look foolish in making this a high priority and then failing.

Thus, Israel's strategy is as follows: try very hard to get along with the administration, seek to keep it happy, and avoid confrontation without making any major irreversible concessions or taking serious risks. Have no illusions, but keep the U.S. government focused on Iran as much as possible.

The next Congress will be more likely to constrain the president and who knows what will happen in future. A building freeze might be ended on strong grounds the next time. It is quite possible that Iran, Syria, and other radical forces will so assault the United States and trample on its interests that Obama will be forced to alter course. And there's always the 2012 presidential election.