This shift actually emerged prior to the speech, and the speech merely touched on it.
But it is not a minor change and it must not be underestimated. It has every opportunity of growing into a major breach between
The immediate issue concerns Israeli settlements on the
The basic understanding between the two sides has been that the
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to stop building new settlements, but not to halt what he called the “natural growth” of existing settlements.
Obama has positioned the settlement issue in such a way that it would be difficult for him to back down. He has repeated it several times, including in his speech to the Islamic world. It is an issue on which he is simply following the formal positions of prior administrations. It is an issue on which prior Israeli governments made commitments.
What Obama has done is restated formal
Given his initiative in the Islamic world, Obama, having elevated the issue to this level, is going to have problems backing off.
Obama is also aware that Netanyahu is not in a political position to comply with the demand, even if he were inclined to.
Netanyahu is leading a patchwork coalition in which support from the right is critical. For the Israeli right, settling in what it calls
Unlike Ariel Sharon, a man of the right who was politically powerful, Netanyahu is a man of the right who is politically weak.
Netanyahu gave all he could give on this issue when he said there would be no new settlements created. Netanyahu doesn`t have the political ability to give Obama what he is demanding. Netanyahu is locked into place, unless he wants to try to restructure his Cabinet or persuade people like Avigdor Lieberman, his right-wing foreign minister, to change their fundamental view of the world.
Therefore, Obama has decided to create a crisis with
He has chosen a subject on which Republican and Democratic administrations have had the same formal position. He has also picked a subject that does not affect Israeli national security in any immediate sense (he has not made demands for changes of policy toward
The more Netanyahu resists, the more Obama gets what he wants.
Obama`s read of the Arab-Israeli situation is that it is not insoluble.
He believes in the two-state solution, for better or worse. In order to institute the two-state solution, Obama must establish the principle that the West Bank is Palestinian territory by right and not Israeli territory on which the Israelis might make concessions.
The settlements issue is fundamental to establishing this principle.
In the course of all of this, Obama is opening doors in the Islamic world a little wider by demonstrating that the
By subtext, he wants to drive home the idea that
For Netanyahu, this is the worst terrain on which to fight. If he could have gotten Obama to attack by demanding that Israel not respond to missiles launched from Gaza or Lebanon, Netanyahu would have had the upper hand in the
But there is not much support in the
Obama has picked a topic on which he has political room for maneuver and on which Netanyahu is politically locked in.
Given that, the question is where Obama is going with this.
From Obama`s point of view, he wins no matter what Netanyahu decides to do. If Netanyahu gives in, then he has established the principle that the
If Netanyahu doesn`t give in, Obama can create a split with
Thus, the question is what Netanyahu is going to do.
His best move is to say that this is just a disagreement between friends and assume that the rest of the U.S.-Israeli relationship is intact, from aid to technology transfer to intelligence sharing. That`s where Obama is going to have to make his decision. He has elevated the issue to the forefront of U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israelis have refused to comply. If Obama proceeds with the relationship as if nothing has happened, then he is back where he began.
Obama did not start this confrontation to wind up there. He calculated carefully when he raised this issue and knew perfectly well that Netanyahu couldn`t make concessions on it, so he had to have known that he was going to come to this point.
Obviously, he could have made this confrontation as a part of his initiative to the Islamic world. But it is unlikely that he saw that initiative as ending with the speech, and he understands that, for the Islamic world, his relation to
Netanyahu has argued in the past that
The technology transfer now runs both ways, and the
This is very much Netanyahu`s point of view, and from this point of view follows the idea that he might simply say no to the
The weakness in this argument is that, while
This leads to a political problem. As much as the right would like to blow off the
A breach with the
Netanyahu`s problem is the problem
It is therefore difficult to see how Netanyahu can both deal with Obama and hold his government together. It is even harder to see how Obama can reduce the pressure.
Indeed, we would expect to see him increase the pressure by suspending minor exchanges and programs. Obama is playing to the Israeli center and left, who would oppose any breach with the
Obama has the strong hand and the options. Netanyahu has the weak hand and fewer options. It is hard to see how he will solve the problem.
And that`s what Obama wants.
He wants Netanyahu struggling with the problem. In the end, he wants Netanyahu to fold on the settlements issue and keep on folding until he presides over a political settlement with the Palestinians.
Obama wants Netanyahu and the right to be responsible for the agreement, as Menachem Begin was responsible for the treaty with
We find it difficult to imagine how a two-state solution would work, but that concept is at the heart of
Left out of Obama`s equation is the Palestinian interest, willingness and ability to reach a treaty with
Right now, given
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