May 18, 2011
What Obama should tell Israeli Netanyahu when they meet in the White House Friday
What President Obama should tell Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu when they meet in the White House Friday:
(…) Anyway, Bibi, in the past several weeks I’ve been working with my staff on Mideast policy speeches. So, the Middle East has been on my mind. And I’ve actually reached conclusions and made decisions.
Now, please, hear me out. You know that this is coming from a friend and ally.
You and I don’t see eye to eye on many policy issues, including the turmoil in the Arab world. I know that. Where I see hope and promise, you see threat and danger. And you know what, I really get where you’re coming from. You live in this tough neighborhood and you want to play it safe. Believe me, I know a thing or two about tough neighborhoods.
But I also know that doing nothing about peace with the Palestinians is not playing it safe, neither for the sake of your people nor for the interests of my country and our allies.
Look, both you and I need a de-radicalized Middle East, and I believe that you and I have a chance help the Arab world transform in a direction that serves all of us.
You don’t see linkage between your conflict with the Palestinians and the turmoil in the Arab world. I respectfully disagree. Sure, demonstrations in Egypt, Syria, Libya, the Maghreb and the Gulf are primarily about domestic grievances. But Arabs don’t care only about domestic issues. They are becoming as globalized as anyone. They want to be – and increasingly are – a part of global society. But they still view their relations with you and with America – and often with the world at large – through the prism of the Palestinian issue. Like it or not, that’s a fact.
So look, we have a moment in which attitudes in the Arab world are changing. Including attitudes about the United States. And if America is not perceived as leading on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace, that will impact America’s relations with the Arab street, with the Muslim world and with the international community. What I’m saying is that I would be doing a disservice to my country if I failed to lead on this issue. Frankly, Bibi, America’s national security interests are at stake.
And, frankly, I find it difficult to fathom how you don’t see that yours are at stake too. Allow me to tell you, as Israel’s strongest and staunchest ally: we’re all looking at September. We hear the clock ticking. It’s not only the UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian independence. It’s also what comes after. It’s the slippery slope of international isolation that your country is facing, and the further erosion of America’s image as a world leader that I am facing. You have an interest in that too. The last thing you need is further international isolation and further erosion of the credibility of your strongest ally.
So what do I suggest?
I’ve actually decided to make another push for direct final status negotiations between your government and the PLO, without preconditions. This time, the talks would be anchored in a set of principles that I intend to make public very soon.
Yes: 1967 lines as a departure point, with land swaps. Jerusalem as a capital of both states. No return of refugees into Israel. End of claims. You know the deal. My people will show the bullet points to your people. We won’t surprise you. But we are going forward with it.
You probably remember, Bibi, that two years ago, I vowed to break the Kabuki dance that goes on when dealing with the Middle East peace process. I vowed to do things differently. To demand that leaders do what they are supposed to do: that they lead their peoples toward peace; that they not let domestic politics dictate their pursuit of peace. Well, it is time for me to do just that. It’s time for me to personally lead this effort.