Thursday, May 21, 2009

Bibi v. Barack

The first of presumably many meetings between Obama and Netanyahu happened yesterday, with much chatter ahead of time that Obama was planning on taking a harder line on Israel's ongoing settlement activities in the West Bank, but that he was facing a tough customer for his tough-love approach in Netanyahu, whose overriding goal is to get the U.S. willing to apply a military force against Iran (the diplomatic euphemism is "serious consequences") if Iran doesn't clear back away from militarily useful nuclear activities. So how did it turn out?

The NYTimes piece offers a pretty curious piece of reporting on the matter:
Mr. Netanyahu got his timetable. “We’re not going to have talks forever,” Mr. Obama said of Iran, assuring Mr. Netanyahu that he expected to know by the end of the year whether Iran was making “a good-faith effort to resolve differences.”

But Mr. Obama did not get his settlement freeze. In fact, Mr. Netanyahu told him it would be politically difficult for him to halt the construction of settlements. That is a hurdle to the administration’s broader peace objectives because Israel’s Arab neighbors have characterized a freeze as a precondition for them to establish normal relations....

The two leaders set up working groups to deal with Iran, the Palestinian issue and Israel’s Arab neighbors. The groups will meet periodically, Israeli and American officials said. Agreeing to meet with Israel regularly to discuss the administration’s progress with Tehran keeps the pressure squarely on the United States, analysts said.
The first thing that's striking about this is the presumption that the US-Israel relationship is now adversarial. But what's even weirder is the notion that Israel is somehow capable of "pressuring" the United States. How can Israel, which is the biggest aid recipient of the U.S. and has a population, economy, and military which are each about a 50th of the U.S.'s, "pressure" the U.S.? I suppose there may be an answer to this, but it's one that the pro-Israel crowd typically responds to with puerile screams that anyone who is critical of Israel's policies or wonders why the U.S. has unfailingly backed these policies is an "anti-semite."

The second odd thing about this adversarial framing is the way that mostly unnamed sources allegedly representing both sides claim that their guy got the worse of the exchange:
“I’m asking the question, did our president get suckered?” said Martin S. Indyk [whereas] an Israeli official said [that] “Obama may be slightly less experienced than Netanyahu, but Obama knows exactly everything that the U.S. is doing."
Pretty darn weird. Reminds me a bit of how both Reagan and Gorbachev aids claimed that the other guy was getting suckered during their Reykyavik summit--the one that basically ended the Cold War.

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