U.S. and Israel: Cleaning Up the Rubble

The American–Israeli diplomacy of give-and-take remains a precarious undertaking

The American–Israeli diplomacy of give-and-take, upon which U.S. President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have successfully settled at the moment, remains a precarious undertaking, despite the brilliant presentation on Tuesday. Amid all the assurances and goodwill exchanged by Obama and Netanyahu during their meeting in Washington, both sides know what all of this is ultimately about: a Palestinian state.

The expectations of observers, who want to finally see the substance of a peace process, are correspondingly pessimistic. The question of a halt to settlements appeared to be off the table this time. Of the “indirect negotiations” — which are supposed to be broken off after four months if there is no progress, at the request of the Arab League — one only knows that they are still in substance very distant from the talks Israelis and Palestinians spoke of in the last phase of the Bush administration. Obama nonetheless agrees with Netanyahu that direct negotiations are now needed.

This meeting was for the purpose of cleaning up the rubble. The last weeks were a roller coaster. At the end of May, Obama supported an Egyptian initiative at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference that named Israel as a hindrance to a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Since then, as per the give-and-take philosophy, the U.S. approach to Iran has rapidly intensified. So much so that Obama left Turkey and Brazil, who — with the knowledge of the United States — had become diplomatically active in Tehran, out in the cold. At the meeting on Tuesday, Obama acknowledged (indirectly) that he had nothing against the Israeli nuclear weapons and promised that he will prevent Israel from being put on the rack at the upcoming Middle East nuclear weapons conference.

The message: Israeli security is of the very greatest concern to the United States. P.S. Israeli security is needed to allow a Palestinian state.

But Netanyahu also had to pay off debts. The showing of solidarity plus the unhappy mood of the U.S. regarding the Gaza ship attack cost him the relaxation of the blockade — a paradoxical result. He also promised increased aid in the West Bank (the transfer of more security expertise and economic aid). Nothing was said about the extension of the ten-month limited moratorium on the construction of settlements, but Netanyahu knows the expectations. After some domestic successes here and there against the ultra-right he may well be spared. But even if Obama obtains a quid pro quo for this clemency, at some point it will still get back to the heart of the matter.

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