No lover of Israel could have not been moved at the magnificent reception given Prime Minister Netanyahu in his appearance before a joint session of Congress. At least 30 standing ovations — more than presidents receive at their State of the Union. And when he concluded his speech with the invocation “and God bless the United States of America,” it seemed as if he indeed were president.
Yet, on somber reflection, there was the frozen atmosphere when Netanyahu lectured Obama on TV in front of millions of viewers. Netanyahu probably realized that he had overstepped his boundaries when he went out of his way to praise Obama both in his AIPAC speech and his Congressional one, too. But it was probably too late. Obama was in Europe and probably did not hear Netanyahu’s contrition.
One would think that Obama’s State Department talk indicated a move from a pro-Israel position to one of cold even-handedness. A reading of both his and Netanyahu’s remarks, however, shows a remarkable amount of agreement and many items that would be opposed by the Palestinian Authority.
Take, for instance, their agreement that the Palestinian state be demilitarized. This is a crucial element in any future agreement and Obama came out foursquare in favor of a “sovereign non-militarized state.”
How about their shared opposition to Iran’s nuclear weapons program? Obama’s support of Israel’s refusal to negotiate with Hamas (“How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?”) insures that negotiations will not be held anytime soon. And finally, Israel’s most immediate threat is the Palestinian move, which will probably pass in the UN General Assembly, recognizing its right to a separate state and isolating Israel. It is only the American veto in the Security Council that will prevent this recognition from becoming official policy.
And yet, after all this, Netanyahu came to Washington saying he “expects to hear a reaffirmation from President Obama of U.S. commitments made to Israel in 2004.” Is this the way one talks to a friend and loyal ally?
What seems to be stuck in Netanyahu’s craw is that future borders will be based on the ’67 borders “with mutually agreed-upon swaps.” I must have been sleeping because it seems to me that this is exactly what Prime Ministers Rabin, Barak, and, most recently, Olmert used as their frame of reference. It is the borders that many of Israel’s former security chiefs — representing Zahal, Shin Bet, and Mossad — came out in support of. And by the way, those of us who used to trade baseball cards and comic books remember that swaps are not necessarily one for one. Now, if much of Israel’s security elite think ’67 is a good beginning place; if swaps do not mean equal land exchanges; and if, because of Hamas’ entry into the official Palestinian delegation, there won’t be any negotiations soon, why the big tzimmes?
I asked my rabbi that question. He is a rabbi of a large Masorati congregation in Jerusalem spending his sabbatical year ministering to my synagogue in Teaneck. He said that had Netanyahu not spoken in the manner in which he did to Obama, he would have “gotten it in the head when he returned home” (Hebrew translation mine). Simply put, his restive political allies at home wouldn’t have stood for it.
And so, on the eve of Obama’s trip to Europe, in which he was trying to round up votes against an independent Palestinian state and avoid Israel’s growing isolation, Netanyahu felt it was of greater importance to appeal to Avigdor Lieberman, the Shas party, and others in Israel’s right wing than to work with its closest and most vital international ally.
How sad. How terribly sad.