No one expected this week’s Oval Office meeting to turn President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu into the best of friends, but it was a very welcome opportunity to put their relationship on a better footing ahead of the difficult challenges that await in what’s left of the president’s term of office.
The two leaders have very different world views that have led to bruising clashes over Iran and the Palestinians. Netanyahu felt that the U.S. president was too optimistic, too trusting of the Iranians in the nuclear deal he signed, and Obama felt that Netanyahu was too suspicious, too willing to take the Western world to war. But now that that battle is over, and Netanyahu has lost, it’s time to work together for what is clearly a mutual interest: ensuring that Iran abides by the agreement it signed and preventing it from using its post-sanctions windfall to bolster its worldwide terror network.
When it comes to the Palestinians as well, the big issues are over. No one believes that a two-state solution will be attained during Obama’s tenure. The issue is how to improve the atmosphere in Israel and the P.A.-controlled territories so as to eliminate the terrorism and improve the day-to-day lives of the Palestinians. At issue is which goodwill gestures Israel needs to make, and what it can expect in return from the Palestinians. This is a lot less contentious and dangerous for Israel than deciding on the borders and jurisdiction of a Palestinian state and dividing Yerushalayim.
The president and the prime minister this week acknowledged their past differences — it would have been impossible to ignore them — but radiated a determination to turn over a new leaf and work together. They were both careful to say the right things, the president affirming that Israel “has a right and an obligation to defend itself against Palestinian terror,” and Netanyahu saying that he remains committed to a two-state solution and “we haven’t given up on our hope for peace.”
Netanyahu’s wish list has at least three main items. First, he wants an enhanced U.S. military aid package that is commensurate with the increased risks and dangers in the region.
In the wake of the “Arab Spring,” which brought about the collapse of stable Arab governments, with the rise in influence of ISIS and other radical terror groups, and with a nuclear agreement that has made Iran even more of a threat, it is legitimate for Israel to seek additional funds and weapons systems.
Defending against this new range of threats costs money and the United States, a country of unprecedented chessed and generosity, has recognized this. President Obama played a critical role in helping Israel obtain additional Iron Dome anti-missile systems that saved untold Jewish lives over the past two years. But as the threats have grown, so too have the complexity and expense of the systems needed to defend against them.
Second, Netanyahu needs American support in pressing the Palestinians to end the incitement and to take a range of steps to restore the peace and quiet. Netanyahu, whose policy has always been to allow the Palestinians to live as normal a life as possible, will certainly have to make his share of gestures. But the extent to which Washington is on board in backing Israel’s demands will determine the likelihood of the Palestinians meeting them.
Third, now that the smoke has settled on the Iran deal, it is critically important that Israel and the United States agree on enforcement and on measures that will be taken in the event that the deal is breached. Clear guidelines will prevent misunderstandings between Israel and the United States and will signal Iran that the West is very serious about enforcement.
Also on the Israel-U.S. agenda is Syria, the future of President Assad, the involvement of Russia and Iran in the region, the rise of Islamic State, and much, much more. If the CNN report this week is true, and it was Israeli intelligence that provided the West with intercepted IS conversations confirming that the terror group put a bomb on the Russian plane that was downed over the Sinai, this further demonstrates the importance of cooperation among Western powers.
In light of the opportunity that Monday’s Oval Office meeting presents to turn a new page in his relationship with the president, it would be fitting for Netanyahu to announce that he was rescinding the appointment of Dr. Ran Baratz, 42, as head of the National Public Diplomacy Directorate.
His disparaging comments regarding the president and secretary of state are a thorn in the side of closer Netanyahu-Obama ties at a time when such ties are a national security issue of the highest order.
It may have been legitimate for Netanyahu to dig in his heels on the Iranian nuclear agreement even it meant putting a serious strain on his ties with the U.S. president. But that’s not the case with this appointment, especially now, considering the weighty issues that are at stake and the importance of engendering goodwill between the United States and Israel.