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Obama-Netanyahu meeting papers over their differences

By Shoshana Bryen

Shoshana Bryen

WASHINGTON, D.C. — There is a crucial divide between PR and straight talk, between red lines, bottom lines and spin. Last week we cautioned against mistaking Israel’s bad PR for bad policy, and faulted people who respond to Israel based on how things look in the media rather than for what they are. We were irritated with those who demand better polish. This week, we are worried about people who mistake good PR – smiles, handshakes, mild jokes and a kosher lunch – for good substance. 
 
President Obama looked fairly relaxed during the short press meeting and told reporters, “Our commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering. And, in fact, there aren’t any concrete policies that you could point to that would contradict that.”   
 
That was a good PR move, sliding over the fact you don’t need “concrete policies” to embolden Israel’s enemies and objectively weaken its security. U.S. support of the biased Goldstone process and providing only very weak support for Israel when it was attacked by blockade-busters trying to sail to Gaza, and hinting that there is a mixed opinion in the U.S. government about the role of Hamas and Hezbollah in future negotiations all embolden Israel’s enemies. The President’s comment that the Israel-Palestinian conflict costs the United States in “blood and treasure” may not have been a policy, but it was close to a blood-libel on top of being untrue.
 
Over Israel’s objection, the U.S. allowed the UN Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty Review to single out Israel’s presumed nuclear capability for concern while it took a pass on Iran, North Korea and what U.S. intelligence believes is a secret Syrian program. This is the first administration to put Israel on that international “hot seat” paving the way for future meetings, including the IAEA meeting in September, to pressure Israel. 
 
But the President put a good PR gloss on that one, saying, “We discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference. And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues… the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.”  
 
The difference between the President “asking” Israel to take steps that would undermine its security and the President throwing Israel under the bus of Arab demands himself is too thin to measure and a craven abdication to those who would destroy America’s only democratic ally in the Middle East.
 
One such Arab demand delivered to Israel by the President of the United States was the call for a “total settlement freeze,” giving the Palestinians an excuse to cut off direct talks, substituting “proximity” talks and an announcement that the Palestinian Authority would negotiate only with the United States. That reversed 17 years of American policy for which Israel will now have to “pay” to get the Palestinians back to the table.
 
By calling the third of seven administrative levels of permission to build apartments in North Jerusalem (in the former “no man’s land” of the illegal Jordanian occupation of half of Jerusalem in defiance of the UN) a “humiliation” of the United States, Secretary of State Clinton and President Obama set the stage for ongoing Palestinian violence on the West Bank. Israel will now have to “pay” for a re-stabilized relationship.
 
But the President put a little PR gloss on that as well, figuratively patting the Prime Minister on the head and saying peace, “requires work and that requires some difficult choices – both at the strategic level and the tactical level. And this is something that the Prime Minister understands.” It requires considerably more work when one of your “partners” keeps moving the bar away from you and toward your adversaries. “Difficult choices” is a euphemism for continuing not to build houses for Jews in places the President – on behalf of his Arab and Palestinian friends – doesn’t want them built.

Oddly, Prime Minister Netanyahu allowed President Obama to characterize Israel’s commitment to its own security – and the President did it badly, saying, “During our conversation, [the Prime Minister] once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved, but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security. Israel’s security needs met, the Palestinians having a sovereign state that they call their own.”

Almost realistically, the President pointed out that, “Those are goals that have obviously escaped our grasp for decades now.” But PR trumped realism as the President concluded, “But now more than ever I think is the time for us to seize on that vision.”

Real progress toward a secure Israel requires an American president who understands that “what I think should be the goal” is relatively unimportant and it isn’t what “the entire world” thinks. It requires a president who understands that there are those – mainly housed in the Middle East – implacably committed to the destruction of the State of Israel and providing money, training, arms and political support for the most irredentist Palestinian vision.

A previous American president also foundered on “the vision thing,” perhaps forgetting that how it sounds isn’t what it is.

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Bryen is senior director of security policy of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.  Her column is sponsored by Waxie Sanitary Supply in memory of Morris Wax, longtime JINSA supporter and national board member.

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