Saturday, May 02, 2009

Barack Obama's first 100 days - part two

SAVE THE DATE -- SHMUEL KATZ

May 31
Sunday
Shmuel Katz hazkara
The Begin Center
6:30 PM
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Waiting for Netanyahu

President Barack Obama held a prime-time news conference Wednesday to mark his first 100 days in office. The potential flu pandemic was topic number one. Next came the economic crisis, with worries about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal a close third.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict went unmentioned.

Next week, however, expect Israel to be in the Washington limelight. The 2009 AIPAC Policy Conference kicks off on Sunday with speeches by leading US politicians and Christian religious leaders. President Shimon Peres is scheduled to talk on Monday morning, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will deliver his banquet address Monday evening, via satellite.

Following his AIPAC speech, Peres will head to the White House for a meeting with Obama. Their conversation will focus on Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons - another topic which got nary a mention during the news conference.

This is an international problem, not Israel's alone, Peres will say. In an Independence Day interview with Channel 10, our president mused about a coalition nuclear umbrella which signals the mullahs: "If you use a nuclear weapon - no matter against whom - you'll get a nuclear response."

A better plan is to give them every reason not to build a bomb in the first place, and if necessary to ensure that they do not.

We hope Peres tells Obama that while Jerusalem can appreciate Washington's reluctance to broadcast a timetable for giving up on trying to talk the Teheran extremists out of building a bomb, there is, in fact, very little time left.

NETANYAHU is booked to travel to Washington for an all-important May 18 White House meeting. There, he will present Obama with his plan on how to re-float talks with the Palestinian Authority in the wake of Mahmoud Abbas's rejection of Ehud Olmert's late 2008 peace offer.

Our premier will likely also come away from that meeting with a realistic appraisal of whether Obama will make good on his campaign promise to "use all elements of American power" and do everything to "prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is to travel to Italy, Germany, France and the Czech Republic next week to talk about Iran and the Palestinians. The EU's External Affairs Commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, has been pushing for a freeze on upgrading relations between the EU and Israel because... the Palestinians asked her to. She seems considerably less engaged over Iran's quest for an atom bomb.

Lieberman's task will be to urge more open-minded European leaders to await the outcome of Netanyahu's White House meeting and to accept that the current approach to Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations needs revamping.

Israel would like America and Europe to internalize that defanging Iran, while not a precondition to progress on negotiations with the Palestinians - or with Syria, for that matter - is an essential gateway. Also that flirting with an unreformed Hamas is a dead end if the destination is a two-state solution.

Pressuring Israel, a la Ferrero-Waldner, or making insinuations about an imposed solution, serve only to harden the already unreasonable expectations within the Palestinian polity. Thus is the conflict perpetuated.

THE PLAN Netanyahu will be taking to the White House next month needs to offer a sensible way forward on the Palestinian track, even if truly substantive progress may be difficult until the Iranian crisis is contained.

He will garner the support of Israel's majority - and of the pro-Israel community worldwide - if he broadly enunciates the country's "red lines" on defensible boundaries, strategic settlement blocs, the parameters of Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza, the issue of Jerusalem and Arab refugees.

Furthermore, his government's credibility would be immeasurably enhanced by the dismantling of unauthorized settlement outposts, demonstrating that the West Bank is not the Wild West. The Palestinians have just shown how "law" works in the territory under their jurisdiction: On Wednesday, a Hebron court sentenced a man to be hanged for selling a parcel of land to a Jew.

Though Fatah and Hamas continue squabbling, they agree on two things: a rejection of Israel as a Jewish state, and a refusal to share this land with non-Muslims.

If any plan presented by Netanyahu to Obama is going to matter, those attitudes have to change.

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