Saturday, May 30, 2009

How Netanyahu failed in Washington: The Iran Push Backfires


"....Given the buildup and the fact that this was a first meeting, all Netanyahu needed to achieve was a degree of personal trust, leaving whatever differences there were for later meetings. "I can definitely work with this guy" is what Netanyahu wanted Obama to tell his staff after the meeting. Based on reports from Washington, it is unclear whether this objective was accomplished. The reason is that by pushing too hard on Iran, Netanyahu may have set himself up for failure...... the meeting was all about "the linkage," which now may prove to be highly contentious down the road. The linkage, of course, is the one between efforts to disrupt Iran's nuclear efforts and to promote the Israeli-Palestinian political process.

Currently, Israel wants the two issues delinked and claims that they each merit a distinct policy formulation. But in the weeks preceding Netanyahu's visit to the White House, Israel presented a linkage of its own. Hamas-controlled Gaza is an Iranian forward outpost, both militarily and ideologically. Now there is an ominous possibility that Hamas will take over the West Bank too, helping to create another Iranian launchpad for further destabilization. Iran has a vested interest in preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Therefore, until Iran is curtailed and its nuclear program halted, no real progress can be made on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

President Obama reversed the linkage.... the Americans suggested, a regional coalition must be forged and be supported by Russia and the European Union. Such a coalition, composed of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, needs to see a real commitment from Obama on the peace process. From Obama's perspective, this is what multilateralism is all about, and such alliances and balances are what political realism is all about. He does not see himself on some romantic or providential mission to achieve peace in the Middle East, but rather as a redefiner, promoter and enforcer of U.S. interests in the region.

Once Obama made the reverse linkage, Israel resorted to a delinking effort. In other words, if the idea was to convince Obama about the linkage, it backfired....

By making Iran the defining issue of our time and of his term as prime minister, Netanyahu also exposes a vulnerability. The shaping of a U.S.-led Iran policy could be used as a lever to extract from Israel policy concessions that Netanyahu is uncomfortable with. For example, the two-state solution. ....but that will require a better second meeting."

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