More than any other thing Obama did on this visit was show us how much he cares for Israel. Anybody with eyes and an open heart will have perceived the love, empathy and concern the US President has for the State of Israel and its people. He showed these feelings in a very calm and deliberate way on every step of his visit here. He did so despite knowing very well that this would harm his ability to function as an honest broker in the eyes of the Palestinians, a position he was apparently willing to sacrifice since Netanyahu’s ongoing obstinacy has made it all but irrelevant. His remarkable ability to make light of the differences between him and PM Netanyahu, laugh them off in a way, could not but emphasize the stark divergence in worldviews between the two leaders. Obama, a pragmatic realist because he understands that the State of Israel has no future as a democratic and Jewish nation if the territories are not returned to create a viable Palestinian state and Netanyahu, a chauvinistic visionary, who dreams of a vague and hazy future where Jews are somehow in charge in the territories and Palestinians are in some kind of autonomy which presumably could be considered a state if only anyone could be made to believe in it.
Obama has finally given up on Netanyahu as an enabler to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians and has turned to the people of Israel, in particular its youth, to drive his point home. He told his young audience in Jerusalem that they will have to do the job, he told them that politicians do not take risks without being prodded. The subtext of course was that Netanyahu doesn’t take risks. The real problem is that Netanyahu does take risks, huge ones at that, just not the right ones. By desperately trying to secure our present at all costs, he risks our future. He does that despite the fact that Israel today is more secure than ever before in its history: There is no serious threat from the surrounding countries other than that posed by terror organizations, none of which pose an existential threat. Iran is threatening to become such a threat but is being kept in check by a very clear US commitment spelled out in no uncertain terms during Obama’s visit. At the same time Israel is the most powerful nation in the Middle East by far, armed to the teeth including, according to all estimates, nuclear weapons and capable of protecting itself to a degree that few other nations in the world can.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu’s intransigence has made all that power useless for the purpose of waging peace. Following a tradition that has plagued Israeli leadership from the beginning of the state, he too does not utilize Israel’s position of strength to reach an agreement with our adversaries. Once again it appears that we may have to wait until we are weakened, weakened by outside pressure, weakened by economic circumstances, weaked by another intifada, weakened by internal strife or weakened by an outright war. Thats how we went to Camp David 1 (after the Yom Kippur War war), that’s how we went to Madrid and ended up in Oslo (after the first intifada).
Until Thursday’s speech by President Obama, Israel’s agenda, guided by studious denial, set by the new coalition and as it is perceived by most citizens, was internal only: Sharing the burden, cutting the budget, concentration of power in the economy, lowering the prices of apartments, all issues that were at the center of the election campaign. The part in Obama’s speech about the Palestinians has changed Israel’s agenda in one fell swoop. His last minute effort to reengage Turkey and get Erdogan and Netanyahu talking, further set the tone. And Netanyahu finally did what he should have done a long time ago – apologize in his own convoluted way for a poorly planned military operation which never should have been carried out in that way.
Obama has left after stirring the pot in Israel but Secretary of State John Kerry will be on our doorsteps this Saturday night to pick up where his President left off. He won’t let himself be bamboozled and soon enough the partnership of Lapid and Bennett will be tested. This government will be under pressure to perform not only in the areas it was specifically elected for, but also in the areas which it is studiously trying to avoid dealing with in order not to endanger it own existence. Crunch time is near. And if Netanyahu, Lapid and Bennett don’t get it, citizens will have to hit the streets again, big time. Or Obama will have to come for another visit to remind us of our responsibilities. He cares. So should we.