President Barack Obama said in an interview broadcast on Tuesday, June 2nd, that he “doesn’t see the likelihood” of an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement during the remaining term of his presidency. One of the main reasons he cited for making that prediction was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged failure to explore what the president called “the politics of hope.” Prime evidence of this dereliction on Mr. Netanyahu’s part was his statement, before the last election, that he did not expect there would be a peace agreement during his new term as prime minister, if he were to continue as prime minister.
One would think it would be impossible for President Obama to fail to appreciate that, in making his own statement about the prospects for peace during the balance of his own presidential term in office, he was making exactly the same kind of statement that Mr. Netanyahu made at the end of the recent campaign. Yet, impossible or not, the president has apparently managed to miss that point completely.
Clearly, when he said that he did not expect a peace agreement to be accomplished during the balance of his term, President Obama was not saying that he wished there would be no peace agreement. Nor was he saying that he would take steps to ensure that there would be no peace agreement. He was not expressing either a desire or a plan. Rather, he was making a prediction about the likely course of future events, which is different from either a desire or a plan.
Of course, in the context in which it was made, Mr. Netanyahu’s own statement was substantively identical to the president’s statement on Tuesday. Just as the president did, Mr. Netanyahu was making a prediction about what he thought the likely course of future events would be if he were to continue as prime minister. Any fair reading of his remarks would construe them as nothing more than a prediction that, in his next term in office, the “likelihood” (to borrow a term from President Obama) was that there would not be an Israeli/Palestinian peace agreement. Just as was true of President Obama’s statement, there is no reason to interpret that statement as the expression of a desire or of a plan to thwart peace talks. It is simply a way of saying: I am not optimistic about reaching an agreement in my next term in office.
Why is it permissible for President Obama to make predictions about what will or will not be accomplished in his remaining year-and-a-half in office, but prohibited for Prime Minister Netanyahu to do the same thing? It’s hardly a secret that Mr. Netanyahu is not President Obama’s favorite international personage, but it nevertheless would seem to be somewhat extreme to condemn Israel’s prime minister simply because he has the temerity to express his views as to the likelihood of certain events intimately involving his own country. It is, in my view, profoundly disappointing that, after more than six years in office, President Obama is still so clearly unable to rise above personal pique. It is long past time when President Obama learned to conduct the international affairs of the United States in a more statesmanlike manner.