20/05/2009

Dialogue of the deaf at the White House

« Agree to disagree » analysed the Yediot Aharonot after the meeting held on Monday between B. Obama and B. Netanyahu at the White House. Indeed, the two men appear to have conducted a dialogue of the deaf. And that’s for good reasons since the leaders addressed the Iran issue in two different senses: while B. Netanyahu advocates for instantaneous sanctions, B. Obama tries first to isolate Iran before focusing on Tehran. Therefore, he needs to rely on the Arab States and « fix » the Palestinian question.

However this blockage takes place while on May 26th and 28th Hosni Mubarak and Mahmoud Abbas will be welcome by B. Obama in Washington. The lack of progress on the Palestinian question after Monday meeting will complicate these planned discussions, and the horizon of a possible new U.S. peace proposal in June in Cairo seems to be compromised.

This new episode of American-Israeli relations reminded the media, despite important differences, of the 1996 visit of B. Netanyahu to the U.S. president, Bill Clinton. 13 years ago, B. Netanyahu had violently criticized the Oslo Agreements, which had exasperated the Democrat president. This week, after G.W. Bush’ two mandates during which US-Israeli relations have never been better, it is an Israeli leader aware of B. Obama’s goals but decided to stick to his positions who arrived in Washington.

Indeed, Obama’s position on Israel shows core differences with his predecessor’s, who was an unconditional support of Israel whatever the government. First, Obama reiterated that the freezing of settlements is urgent. Then he called for the two-States solution. On this issue, it is unclear if the new president will dare proposing to his Israeli counterpart to re-examine the 2000/2001 protocol of Taba that determined maps of the two future states. Moreover, if the U.S. Congress still includes Hamas in terrorist organizations, Obama’s administration is ready to help a Palestinian government of national unity that would include Hamas. Finally, the United-States have reiterated their desire to see Israel ratifying the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that would require the Hebrew state to dismantle its nuclear facilities, even if it is currently not expectable.

Are we then witnessing a turning point in the US-Israeli relations? Will B. Netanyahu’s government, weakened by a lowered U.S. support, feel forced to more moderation? It should first be recalled that B. Obama has been firm but did not commit too much during this meeting. Besides, such expectations do not take into account the Israeli tropism the majority of the American political class shows, Democrats included. Furthermore, B. Netanyahu has shown that he was able to remain deaf to American criticism. However, feeling somewhat « dropped » by B. Obama, the Israeli political class as the public opinion could look for more restraint.

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