A reader’s guide to the Obama-Netanyahu meeting

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Every meeting between a U.S. president and Israeli Prime Minister has it’s own special focus and texture, but in terms of news, such meetings generally follow some predictable cycles.

On Monday Prime Minister  Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Barack Obama for their first official get together, and in anticipation of the event spin machines have been in overdrive – predicting tensions over settlements, differences over Iran or that the two will get along just fine, thank you very much. It all depends on who’s doing the spinning.

We may not have a halfway complete picture of Monday’s meetings for days, maybe even weeks, but  it’s easy to predict some of the results.

Soon after the meeting and the ritual photo op, with reporters asking a handful of questions and the leaders responding with generalities that may or may not be meaningful, officials from both sides will start telling reporters that everything went swimmingly, that the two leaders liked each other and that they agreed on things like stopping Iran’s nuclear program, fighting terrorism and on the need for peace between Israel and her neighbors.

At the same time, they’ll lay down some markers that close observers will use to gauge the real content of the meeting.  Will Bibi’s people keep up the strong language on Iran, despite the Obama administration’s clear interest in having them tone it down? Will administration officials really pound away on the issue of a two-state solution, perhaps signaling that Bibi wasn’t as forthcoming as they wanted?

Those clues will be amplified by anonymous leakers from both sides, some of whom will know what they’re talking about, all of whom will leak with some specific agenda in mind. Some of the leaks will be meant for domestic political consumption here and in Israel; others will be aimed at putting pressure on the other side.

Very quickly, interest groups across the spectrum will get into the act, mostly telling us that things weren’t as rosy in the Oval Office as we’ve heard.

The left, deeply distrustful of Netanyahu,  will want us to believe that President Obama, absolutely determined to pursue both Israeli-Palestinian peace and security for Israel, was much tougher on issues like settlements and a two-state solution that the official photo op Q and A and the leakers indicated.

The right, deeply distrustful of Obama,  will say much the same thing, but assign different motives to the President.  They will claim the differences between the prove that the administration is cool or even hostile to Israel and that it doesn’t give a hoot about Israeli security.

Major pro-Israel groups and assorted Hasbarahniks, on the other hand, will offer a counter spin, telling us everything is just peachy in the U.S.-Israel alliance. At the same time, they’ll probably be sending out fundraising letters hinting darkly of tough times ahead, which of course means they’ll need more money.

In the end, Obama and Netanyahu will have a pretty good idea of how their relationship developed and how the results are likely to spin out in their bilateral diplomacy and in regional politics.  Some top officials in both governments won’t be far behind.

The rest of us? We’ll have to do with fragmentary, sometimes contradictory reports and commentary skewed by officials pursuing backroom political, diplomatic and personal agendas and by advocacy groups that have a clear interest in portraying results of the summit in dramatic, possibly inaccurate terms.

Welcome to Washington.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.