In the Arena

Bad Week for Bibi

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The passage of health care reform has, rightly, stolen most of the media oxygen this week, but there’s also been a visit from Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, despite an eloquent (if wrong-headed) speech to the AIPAC lobbyists, this has not been a very successful week for him. As the Times points out today, Netanyahu has faced setbacks on both sides of the Atlantic.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have refused to bend in their dispute over Israel’s illegal settlements; meanwhile, the British Foreign Minister David Miliband–who is Jewish–announced that Britain had expelled an Israeli diplomat because of the use of false British passports by the assassins–likely Mossad agents–who killed a Hamas operative in Dubai last month. (Add: And, of course, there is the fact that the U.S. military, led by General David Petraeus, has gone public with its belief that Israel’s intransigence on settlements is endangering American troops in the field.)

This Washington Post report about Netanyahu’s meetings with President Obama is interesting because of the body language: First of all, for the second consecutive visit, Netanyahu rated none of the pomp that usually attends the visit of a head of state. Second, there were two meetings. Obama met with Netanyahu. Then Netanyahu consulted his aides in the Roosevelt Room. Then Obama and Netanyahu met again. This would seem to indicate that Obama was driving the conversation, either by making a new offer or continuing to insist on an Israel settlement freeze…and Netanyahu repaired to the Roosevelt Room to consider it. Chances are the offer was rejected, or  a definitive answer was put off, since there was no public photos after the second Oval Office meeting. Chances are that any sort of concession is difficult for Netanyahu, given his right-wing coalition straitjacket.

Finally, recent polling by Haaretz in Israel and J Street in the United States indicate that Netanyahu’s position isn’t entirely popular with Israelis or American Jews. The J Street polling–which conforms with other recent surveys–suggest that American Jews approve of the active role the Obama Administration is taking in the middle east negotiations…and that American Jews also, by wide margins, approve of U.S. efforts to get both sides in the dispute to make sacrifices for peace. The Haaretz poll indicates that feelings toward Obama aren’t as negative as commonly portrayed–though not exactly positive, either–and that feelings about Netanyahu are decidedly mixed.

It is easy to lose track of reality in the harsh, bullying blast of the neoconservative noise machine. But, as with health reform, it seems the noisemakers aren’t quite so representative of American opinion as they pretend. Most American Jews believe, as ever, that a two-state solution is the only logical outcome that will allow the continued existence of a state of Israel. It will be a state, as Netanyahu said, with Jerusalem as its capital. But Palestine will also be a state with Jerusalem as its capital–and the exact parameters of those two capitals are to be negotiated, not decided unilaterally by the Netanyahu government.