One of the non-substantive issues to be watched very carefully as the negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 return to Geneva this week to try to piece together the details of the outline they developed at the end of March, is whether by the end of June the President and the Israeli Prime Minister can defrost their still icy personal relationship. While Bibi certainly first needs to finish putting together his new Government within the next two weeks—the extension traditionally granted by the President during this inter-regnum period–it would behoove the Prime Minister to consider how he will approach the U.S. and the President as the Iran discussions come to what undoubtedly will be a very turbulent conclusion; regardless whether they do, or do not, produce a positive resolution.
For starters Bibi must demonstrate he can stay totally out of American politics. Congress had its vote and the President accepted their demand regarding its right to vote to reject the agreement once it is completed. Should an agreement be produced, Netanyahu ought not to take the public lead in critiquing it. There undoubtedly will be plenty of voices extolling or condemning the negotiated document. Bibi has stirred enough coals in the fire of all U.S. politicians that he ought to revert to a much more quiet approach with the White House and the State Department; if and when it should become necessary. Netanyahu must demonstrate by his actions if not in his words a clear comprehension that Israel ought not be the battering ram opposing an agreement; should that be needed.
Undoubtedly Israel will be informed and consulted as discussions proceed in Switzerland. Should the Israelis oppose the direction of the discussions on the sanctions lifting mechanism, for example, Netanyahu should not again be perceived as jumping up and down in opposition. He rightfully should protest but follow a more traditional approach of quiet diplomacy. Netanyahu can score all his points without ginning up Israelis, American Jews, and the American public into frenzy. It is past time to realize that he needs Obama’s friendship even if it is not a warm one.
Perhaps as Netanyahu celebrates the 67th Anniversary of Israel’s independence tomorrow, with Vice President Joe Biden scheduled to attend the Independence Day Party at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Bibi ought to consider what positive gestures he can make to reestablish a more cordial relation with Obama on possible Palestinian negotiations; settlement freeze; bringing Ron Dermer home to his inner circle of advisers in Jerusalem; and appointing a new Ambassador who will be more constructive for Israel’s relationship in Washington.