The suspicion with which the Obama Administration and the government of Benjamin Netanyahu view each other has been widely reported on over the past several months. Political slights and embarrassing gaffs have apparently created an atmosphere of rancor between the two historically strong allies. More significantly, media reporting of these “spats” has helped to augment speculation that Israel, feeling increasingly isolated from her primary ally, might be plotting to attack Iran on her own, with little or no warning to be given to the US for fear of opposition (see Will Israel Strike Iran?). Regardless of how realistic this speculation, such an atmosphere of mistrust can only complicate cooperation.
Given the amount of dissatisfaction between the two nations, it seems likely that Netanyahu has been looking for ways to mend some fences with President Obama without sacrificing anything of substance that could be used to destabilize his government back home. Quickly resolving the disaster that was the raid on the Turkey-associated aide flotilla by quickly repatriating those that had been detained was likely one such overture. But in all probability, the Prime Minister has likely been preparing for some time on how he could give the American administration what it really wanted: a resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. After two years, the Israeli Prime Minister and the President of the Palestinian Authority resumed talks, this time in Washington, D.C.
In all odds, the Prime Minister has no intention of making much progress. The most significant outcome so far has been to agree to another meeting within the next month, but even that is in question if Israel doesn’t extend the moratorium on building new housing in the West Bank (set to expire 26 Sep). It seems likely that Netanyahu will not be too keen to provide any concessions if Hamas is able to continue threatening Israelis (the outlaw organization claimed responsibility for an attack that killed four Israeli citizens earlier this week). The real reason for even agreeing to meet with Palestinian President Abbas was likely to provide a cover, a visible example to the world that it is not Israel that is hampering progress.
For the Palestinians, President Abbas finds that his general powerlessness will be on display once again. Since Israel refuses to talk about almost everything that the Palestinians truly want to talk about (having East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state, stopping settler growth in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, etc), expectations for this round of talks is low. Israeli News has reported that the Arab media are expressing little faith in him, and even suspect that Abbas is looking to make significant concessions, without asking for the same from Israel.
What is ironic is that Netanyahu is singularly qualified to advance the peace process in a way no other prime minister has been for decades. Like Richard Nixon with Communist China, Netanyahu has the strong national security, anti-compromise reputation of Ariel Sharon, but with little of the late Prime Minister’s baggage. Without the possibility of being charged with being a weak-on-security, Netanyahu could conceivably work to establish a realistic peace framework that could appease most Israelis, while at the same time giving Abbas something concrete to give to the Palestinians. However, there doesn’t appear to be anything in the cards this time that suggests a breakthrough is imminent. It might serve Netanyahu well to wait until after November. It could be that if Republicans in the US make significant gains in the Congress, the Prime Minister might find the American President less demanding on him.
A First Step: Re-launching Direct Negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians
Prem Kumar, Sep 03 2010
US Launches Direct Mideast Peace Talks, Meredith Buel, Voice of America, 2 Sep 2010
Analysts Pessimistic on Chances of Mideast Talks Success, Jerome Socolovsky, Voice of America, 3 Sep 2010-09-03
Arab papers warn against talks: Abbas is weak, Roee Nahmias, Israeli News, 3 Sep 2010