Media Mention of Hussein Ibish in Politico - July 7, 2010 - 12:00am

President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to exude a new sense of warmth in their rocky relationship Tuesday as both expressed confidence that the Israeli leader will soon hold direct peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable,” said Obama, seated in the Oval Office alongside Netanyahu following their meeting that lasted more than 90 minutes.

“We’ve seen over the last year how our relationship has broadened,” Obama added. “In fact, our relationship is continuing to improve.”

After months of tension between their governments, Obama and Netanyahu went out of their way to deny any friction between them or any cracks in U.S-Israel relations.

Obama praised their “extraordinary friendship,” while Netanyahu highlighted their “extensive, excellent discussion” and invited the president and the first lady to visit Israel. At one point, upon an Israeli reporter's suggestion that Obama's relationship with Netanyahu was distrustful, Obama said, “I entirely disagree with you.” At another point, Netanyahu called reports of the demise of the U.S.-Israeli relationship “just flat wrong.”

“In terms of my relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know the press both in Israel and stateside enjoys seeing if there’s news there, but the fact of the matter is, I’ve trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected president,” Obama said. “The United States is committed to Israel’s security. We are committed to that special bond and we’re going to do what’s required to back that up not just with words but with actions.”

Netanyahu said Israel is “prepared to do a lot to get that peace in place.”

“I think it’s high time to begin direct talks. I think with the help of President Obama, President Abbas and myself should engage in direct talks to reach a political settlement of peace,” Netanyahu said. “I think we have a unique opportunity and a unique time to do it.”

Netanyahu spoke of bringing “the great message of hope” and thanked Obama for committing, privately and publicly, to Israel’s security.

Obama stressed his desire for a two-state solution and said he believes Netanyahu is “willing to take risks for peace.”

“Israel’s security needs met, the Palestinians having a sovereign state that they call their own — those are goals that obviously escaped our grasp for decades now, but now more than ever I think is the time to seize on that vision, and I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so.”

Obama also called for “confidence building” measures by both side to improve the chances of successful talks. “I think it’s very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement, that they are not engaging in provocative language; that at the international level, they are maintaining a constructive tone, as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel,” Obama said.

He also praised Abbas for doing “some very significant things when it comes to the security front. And so us being able to widen the scope of their responsibilities in the West Bank is something that I think would be very meaningful to the Palestinian people,” Obama said.

The high-profile meeting was the White House’s personal attempt to repair months of strained relations between the two governments. Obama, who is not known to have a warm rapport with Netanyahu, is under pressure to move Middle East peace negotiations forward, to direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. His tough posturing with Israel has also raised concerns among congressional Democrats, many of whom face tough reelection battles this fall.

Veteran U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller said the concerted demonstration of friendship between Obama and Netanyahu Tuesday "was impressive. . . Obama and Bibi have set the parameters for their friendship pact for a while. There was no reason for a fight and every reason to do the proverbial reset.”

Still, lurking below the surface is an expectations gap that will test each leader, Miller said. “In the end, everyone will want to know how do we get to an agreement, given the gaps, particularly the Palestinians who have got to be wondering what the game really is," he said.

Hussein Ibish of the American Task Force for Palestine said it was “highly significant” that Obama supported state and institution building by Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minster Salam Fayyad, as is Obama’s support for expanding their responsibilities in the West Bank.

But while Obama faces pressure from his party to essentially kick past the November midterms any bold actions or pressures, analysts say he is also facing larger geopolitical calendar and deadlines that if not managed, could unravel the process he has managed to coax forward.

“It's a false calm,” Miller, with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said of the upbeat tone.

“Right now, the whole mode [is] of avoiding any form of confrontation,” added David Makovsky, senior fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “The storm cloud could come in the first six months of next year if the issue with Iran comes to a head and if peace talks do not produce results. [Then] will there be people pressing Obama to come forward with the Obama peace plan” for Middle East peace.

Makovsky said if Netanyahu has hopes that Republican gains in November midterm elections might give one or more houses of the U.S. Congress to the Republicans and thus make it harder for Obama to pursue his Middle East peace ideas, he should think again.

“Be careful what you wish for,” Makovsky said. “If Obama has no more domestic legislative agenda [because Republicans take a house of Congress], then he will spend 100% of his time on foreign policy.”


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017