May 15, 2009
Are Obama and Netanyahu 'Frenemies?'
As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gets closer to next week's trip to Washington DC and his meetings with the Obama administration, alarms are being sounded all across the mainstream and blog media. Frightful headlines are asking; Will Obama Force Netanyahu into dangerous concessions by threatening to cut off aid---or worse? Will Bibi force Obama's hand on Iran? The answer to each of those questions is NO. Although you will still see disagreement between the two governments, even minor ones portrayed as a major breach.
The posturing going on between the two is necessary for political reasons which have nothing to do with the upcoming meeting. It's almost as if they are "frenemies" a person who is your friend but seems like your enemy.
Barack Obama needs to appear to push Bibi to satisfy his liberal base, by making a clean break with the Bush administration. Bibi needs to appear obstinate to satisfy the "right wing" leaning parts of his coalition. Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyhu's position on the Palestinian Issues and on Iran are closer than you think.
Both Barack Obama and Bibi Netanyahu believe in a two-state solution, Obama has said it publicly, Bibi has danced around using the words but everything he has said, including that he will honor previous agreements, displays that he believes it.
On the other hand, both leaders realize that they shouldn't "hold their breath" waiting for an Israel/Palestinian peace. Obama needs to look the part of a Middle East peacemaker, but doesn't really think it's possible. That was proven when he named former Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy to the region. Mitchell failed once before in the region, and despite the glory, was not the major player in the Northern Ireland peace process. If Obama was really serious he would have appointed someone like Richard Holbrooke, who was appointed as a special envoy to Iraq and Afghanistan the same day Mitchell was appointed. Holbrooke has a reputation as a forceful mediator who will "knock heads" to get his way.
Granted Obama's outreach to Iran is naive and will not help either the United States or Israel live in peace, but keep this in mind; neither Netanyahu nor Obama will accept a nuclear Iran. Obama will not spend much time with his outreach to Iran if there is no reciprocation. Just look at how fast the US renewed sanctions on Syria when despite the President's attempt at engagement, terror sponsorship continued.
As far as Israel attacking Iranian nuclear facilities, no matter what any leader in the world says if Biniyamin Netanuahu believes that Israel is in imminent danger he will attack. Obama realizes this and knows that he cannot stop it. Biden and Gates have both said that an Israeli attack would not be appropriate; this is a public/ political stance. So far there has been no threat or strong-arming of Israel about an attack. In fact the only demand that Obama has made is he wants to know about an attack beforehand.
So what will really happen next week? Look for more reports of a schism but understand that it is all political fodder. Look for minor concessions by Bibi on the Palestinian issue and by the US on Iran. This is not to say that these "frenemies" will not eventually become real enemies, but not now. For now, they need each other and this is just a political dance.
Sammy Benoit is Editor of the political blog, The Lid