Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting
A range of issues — including the future of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Israeli-Syrian talks and
This is one of an endless series of meetings between
But this is Netanyahu`s second time as prime minister, and his government is as diverse and fractious as most recent Israeli governments. Israeli politics are in gridlock, with deep divisions along multiple fault lines and an electoral system designed to magnify disagreements.
Obama is much stronger politically, but he has consistently acted with caution, particularly in the foreign policy arena. Much of his foreign policy follows from the Bush administration. He has made no major breaks in foreign policy beyond rhetoric; his policies on
Obama faces major economic problems in the
This, then, is the problem: Netanyahu is coming to
Netanyahu also wants the
Facing a major test in
Obstacles to the Two-State Solution
The foundation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for years has been the assumption that there would be a two-state solution. Such a solution has not materialized for a host of reasons.
First, at present there are two Palestinian entities,
Second, the geography and economy of any Palestinian state would be so reliant on Israel that independence would be meaningless; geography simply makes the two-state proposal almost impossible to implement.
Third, no Palestinian government would have the power to guarantee that rogue elements would not launch rockets at
And fourth, neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have the domestic political coherence to allow any negotiator to operate from a position of confidence. Whatever the two sides negotiated would be revised and destroyed by their political opponents, and even their friends.
For this reason, the entire peace process — including the two-state solution — is a chimera. Neither side can live with what the other can offer.
But if it is a fiction, it is a fiction that serves
The Jordanians have feared and loathed Fatah in the
For their part, the Egyptians see Hamas as a descendent of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks the Mubarak government`s ouster — meaning
Meanwhile, the Saudis and the other Arab states do not wish to see a radical altering of the status quo, which would likely come about with the rise of a Palestinian polity.
At the same time, whatever the basic strategic interests of the Arab regimes, all pay lip service to the principle of Palestinian statehood. This is hardly a unique situation.
States frequently claim to favor various things they actually are either indifferent to or have no intention of doing anything about. Complicating matters for the Arab states is the fact that they have substantial populations that do care about the fate of the Palestinians.
These states thus are caught between public passion on behalf of Palestinians and the regimes` interests that are threatened by the Palestinian cause. The states` challenge, accordingly, is to appear to be doing something on behalf of the Palestinians while in fact doing nothing.
The various Israeli-Palestinian peace processes have thus served U.S. and Arab interests quite well. They provide the illusion of activity, with high-level visits breathlessly reported in the media, succeeded by talks and concessions — all followed by stalemate and new rounds of violence, thus beginning the cycle all over again.
The Palestinian Peace Process as Political Theater
One of the most important proposals Netanyahu is bringing to Obama calls for reshaping the peace process.
If Israeli President Shimon Peres is to be believed, Netanyahu will not back away from the two-state formula.
Instead, the Israeli prime minister is asking that the various Arab state stakeholders become directly involved in the negotiations.
In other words, Netanyahu is proposing that Arab states with very different public and private positions on Palestinian statehood be asked to participate — thereby forcing them to reveal publicly their true positions, ultimately creating internal political crises in the Arab states.
The clever thing about this position is that Netanyahu not only knows his request will not become a reality, but he also does not want it to become a reality.
The political stability of
But Netanyahu would love to see an international conference with the Arab states roundly condemning
Obama is likely hearing through diplomatic channels from the Arab countries that they do not want to participate directly in the Palestinian peace process. And the
The peace process normally ends in a train wreck anyway, and Obama is in no hurry to see the wreckage. He will want to insulate other allies from the fallout, putting off the denouement of the peace process as long as possible.
Obama has sent George Mitchell as his Middle East special envoy to deal with the issue, and from the
Netanyahu, of course, knows all this. Part of his mission is simply convincing his ruling coalition — and particularly Lieberman, whom Netanyahu needs to survive, and who is by far Israel`s most aggressive foreign minister ever — that he is committed to redefining the entire Israeli-Palestinian relationship.
But in a broader context, Netanyahu is looking for greater freedom of action. By posing a demand the
This means that the Palestinians can even anticipate the application of force by
If Netanyahu can get Obama to introduce a degree of ambiguity into the situation,
The problem for Netanyahu is that
Obama does not want a crisis from the Mediterranean to the
Netanyahu will then shift to another area where freedom of action is relevant — namely,
The Israelis have leaked to the Israeli media that the Obama administration has told them that
(U.S. President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert went through the same routine not too long ago, using a good cop/bad cop act in a bid to kick-start negotiations with
Such a raid would require a long trip through U.S.-controlled airspace for the fairly small Israeli air force.
The idea that
Netanyahu has promised that the endless stalemate with the Palestinians will not be allowed to continue.
He also knows that whatever happens,
He also understands that in the long run,
His electoral platform and his strategic realities have never aligned.
Arguably, it might be in the Israeli interest that the status quo be disrupted, but it is not in the American interest.
Netanyahu therefore will get to redefine neither the Palestinian situation nor the Iranian situation.
In the end, this is a classic study in the limits of power.
His problem is the same as that of the Arab states.
There are many in
It is a nation that is strong partly because it lives in a pretty weak neighborhood, and partly because it has very strong friends.
Many Israelis don`t want to be told that, and Netanyahu came to office playing on the sense of Israeli national power.
So the peace process will continue, no one will expect anything from it, the Palestinians will remain isolated and wars regularly will break out. The only advantage of this situation from the
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