The speech showdown between the two leaders has not been decided yet — and it is doubtful whether it will be. This is about a clash of two opposites, between two conflicting world outlooks.
As of now, this is a war of words, not of deeds. The contenders are two speakers, the two fastest in the West; therefore, the battle has not been decided yet. It keeps unfolding unabatedly, with high intensity and great pathos. After Netanyahu made himself comfortable in Obama's parlor and delivered to his astonished face a public lecture, including dogmatic sermons of morality before the TV cameras, Obama barged yesterday into Netanyahu's home ground and gave a guest lecture there — a quick and precise retaliatory act.
As we said already, both of them know how to speak publicly, but each one from a different direction. Netanyahu is a master in speeches of intimidation. Obama is a whiz in speeches of hope. The two of them take their motto way too far. Netanyahu's intimidation is always exaggerated, staged, a black prophecy — just like Obama's hope, which at all times is naïve, blue-skied and too optimistic, considering the reality.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle between the two. The black is not so black, neither is the rose-colored that rosy (as the color of Obama's tie yesterday). The right color would be a light grey. And so far in the personal duel between them, Obama not only got even yesterday, he's also leading in scores. But Netanyahu, at the last count, has two more speeches to go. So everything is open, and this game will be over only after the lady sings and the last speech is finished. We should hope that this war won't get stuck in the stage of talks but will rather advance to actions.
So, what did we get yesterday? There was a resolute American president — self-confident, maybe even a little haughty — who has reached a lion's den and come out a winner. Yesterday, Obama emanated charisma; his address was a pure masterpiece of building a thesis and, in parallel, refuting the counter-thesis.
His speech should be studied over and over. First of all, he gift-wrapped the whole parcel in a bounty of honorifics, caresses, rustling cellophane papers — and pulled innumerable breaks for applause. And then, when it seemed like Moses our Rabbi [Moshe Rabbenu] himself had shown up in front of us in person, the president allowed himself to elaborate to Netanyahu what he meant in respect to the "'67 lines." And he did that so elegantly, so easily, to the point that someone should have forcibly held Netanyahu, lest he hurry, by himself, back to the Green Line.
A Struggle Between Two Antipodes
Obama did not take his words back, did not apologize, did not stutter. Yes, he added a few bonuses: over-emphasis on preventing Iranian nukes at any price, which extorted a huge surge of cheers (Iran occupied an extremely small volume in his original speech, to everybody's surprise and concern), and mention of the recognition of the "demographic changes" on the ground (a hint to President Bush's letters) — although Obama meant the changes of demography on the Palestinian side as well.
But he hasn't changed the gist. He said nothing on the refugees. He did not talk about the right of return. He did not discard his problematic expression apropos the border-to-be of the Palestinian state (with Jordan and Israel; that is, Israel would not go between and split up Palestine and Jordan — meaning Netanyahu's dream of a permanent presence in the [Jordan] Valley is to remain a pipe dream). And he really did not back off from the unprecedented reference to the "'67 lines as the basis for an arrangement."
But he has done all of that with great talent and rare charm, and enveloped the whole thing in a tempting package, to the extent that you couldn’t say at the end of the speech that he is not a first-rate friend of the state of Israel — with Netanyahu or without him.
The summary, before we turn over to the two remaining Netanyahu speeches (before AIPAC and before the Republican Congress) is simple: There is a frontal clash between two diametrically opposed people — and worse than that, between two diametrically different world outlooks.
Is Obama Able to Change Netanyahu?
On one side, there is Obama: a perpetual optimist, dreaming and looking forward, one to always identify the opportunity, even in a major crisis. On the other side, there is Netanyahu: always a pessimist, forever warning, on alert and one who'll pinpoint even in a stellar opportunity its risks. These two — oil and water, cat and dog, negative and positive — already don't like each other in their current incarnation.
The question is whether they will manage to work together. For the moment, it looks like not. On Friday, Netanyahu explained to Obama in the White House that he is not realistic, that he is detached from developments on the ground, that he does not understand with whom we're coping and with whom we're dealing. On Sunday, at AIPAC, Obama explained back to Netanyahu the complete opposite.
The president of the United States, who also is a leader of the free world, in fact told Bibi that he does not understand a thing, that reality is slapping him in the face, that the time has come for him to say aloud what everyone is whispering, that the time is running against him, that in another decade the situation is going to be much worse than it is today and that one who is indecisive is going to end up run over by the wheels of history galloping ahead. That is leadership, Obama implied, the ability to recognize chances, make decisions, take risks.
Is Obama capable of changing Netanyahu? No. Can Netanyahu compel Obama? Not that either. The most reasonable thing that could happen is that Obama just despairs and throws in the towel — at least meanwhile. He can afford that himself. Not sure we can, too.