This headline wrote itself as I was watching President Obama’s press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Jeffrey Goldberg nicknamed it Operation Desert Schmoose. I suggested Desert Schmaltz. If you’re not sure about these terms and their meanings, go find yourself a Yiddish dictionary on Google for clarifications.
So what happened in Israel today? Here’s a very brief summary:
It was as good as you’d expect if not better. Obama's limousine getting stuck midway to Jerusalem was a nice start as it kept the sprits up while keeping it real and not too scripted. The President and the Prime Minister still don’t agree on many important issues, but both seem to have come to a point in which they can disagree agreeably.
Obama essentially said that this is an issue on which the two countries don’t see eye to eye. There is no daylight when assessment of the graveness of the threat is concerned, the President said, but as far as timetables go, well, Obama reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself (which in this case means “if you want to go at it alone, that’s your choice, not mine”)... It is logical to assume that Obama feels safe to say this because he is now more skeptical about the possibility that Israel will launch an attack.
This is the easy one, because both Obama and Netanyahu agree: Assad is bad, war is terrible, chemical weapons are a danger, there’s a need to make sure that the next Syrian regime is moderate and responsible. Both agree on all of these, and both would like to remain uninvolved. It is reasonable to assume that the two leaders privately discussed the possibility that Israel might feel forced to attack in Syria and generally agreed on how and why this could come about.
Obama wasn’t quite accurate as he answered the very long question from Chuck Todd. His original intention, he said, was to get to a quick start with the peace process, not to find a quick solution – an answer that could be easily refuted by looking at past statements by Obama and his aids. Never-mind: this day was about forward looking optimism, not about backward looking bickering. Obama promised to speak “more” about the Palestinian issue “tomorrow”. Clearly though, Obama didn’t come to make news. If there’s news to be made, John Kerry is coming back on Saturday night.
This is a small detail, but one which might mean something: Netanyahu opened with Iran, moved to Syria and only then spoke about the Palestinians – essentially following the script of recent weeks. Obama opened with Palestine, moved to Syria and concluded with Iran.
This was the only newsworthy item of the day. Obama made one promise that is somewhat significant – to begin talks about aid beyond 2017 (when the US-Israel aid agreement currently in place is scheduled to end). The more concrete promise was not to cut aid to Iron Dome, namely, to keep American aid to Israel basically untouched.
I’m going to risk it: if all goes as well as it did on Obama’s first day, the polls will show a significant jump in Obama’s Israeli approval numbers (of course, Kerry can change this back very quickly if he isn’t careful).