Different takes on the Netanyahu – Obama summit

Lots of different perspectives on yesterday’s Netanyahu – Obama summit, but still not a lot of information about what happened behind closed doors.

Aaron David Miller of the Wilson Center, a longtime U.S. peace processor who has become more skeptical about whether the two sides are ready for serious negotiations, has an interesting column in the LA Times today giving his perspective on what went wrong in past peace initiatives, especially the 2000 Camp David talks, and offering advice for President Obama.

Obama, he wrote, should “learn the lessons of July 2000: Be fairly confident of what you can get from each side before you go to a high-risk summit; know where the gaps are and be ready to bridge them; control the pace and the structure of the negotiations with a single negotiating text that you own; and don’t argue for one side at the expense of the other.”

Probably sound advice, but it’s far from clear whether Obama has the stomach for new initiatives that must look hopeless even to the optimists on his Middle East policy team and extremely risky to his political advisers.

At the Washington Post, the irrepressible Dana Milbank thinks he knows what happened at the White House yesterday: a complete Obama surrender to the wily Netanyahu.

“On Tuesday, Obama, routed and humiliated by his Israeli counterpart, invited Netanyahu back to the White House for what might be called the Oil of Olay Summit: It was all about saving face,” he wrote.

Then Obama “performed the Full Monty of pro-Israel pandering,” Milbank went on.

Well, yeah, but we still don’t know the reasons behind the Obama make-nice offensive. Was it just politics, as Milbank seems to argue, and fear of the pro-Israel lobby? Or was it pragmatic – a recalibration as the administration plots its next moves in the region and tries to make sure Israel is on board this time around?  As I said, I’m doubtful the administration has any big plans in the works, but we just don’t know.

Over at Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn said the visit was a huge victory” for Netanyahu. “His claim that he can stand against U.S. pressure, making only tactical concessions, has proven true. He leveraged internal U.S. politics in his favor, without weakening the right-wing coalition in Jerusalem. Netanyahu got off easy, without having to make any announcements that would anger Benny Begin, Moshe Ya’alon and the Yesha council. Meanwhile, Obama is strengthening him from the left.”

But he also had a warning for the Prime Minister: “Netanyahu should remember that his achievement is fine for the hour, and the American approach could revert back from carrots to sticks, especially if the pleasant chatter amounts to nothing, and Obama once again feels he needs political gains in the Middle East.”

ZOA’s Mort Klein isn’t buying the argument that the summit was a big win for Netanyahu (Sorry, no link)

The mutual praise was all political, he said, belying what he said is “unprecedented” U.S. pressure on Israel. How does he know? “Senior Israeli officials told me privately,” he wrote.

Friendly words and photo ops don’t change the fact that the administration is not seriously pressuring the PA to stop incitement and step forward for peace, he said.

Well, I’ll agree the administration has been pretty lax in pressuring Abbas and company. But I’m guessing Netanyahu and his top advisers are leaving the U.S. today with big smiles on their faces; more and more, it’s looking like he got exactly what he came for, and then some. But Klein has been pretty sour on Bibi lately, so maybe he believes the PM got snookered by the PR extravaganza at the White House yesterday.

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.