National Security Network

Netanyahu Endorses Obama

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Report 7 July 2010

Diplomacy Diplomacy Benjamin Netanyahu Middle East Peace Obama


While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finishes his trip to Washington with a visit to the Pentagon today, the meeting he held yesterday with President Obama should lay to rest any doubts about the Administration's commitment to Israel.  After their meetings, the President and Prime Minister made it clear that this relationship is strong, with Netanyahu using language directly rebuffing Obama's staunchest domestic critics.  In the clearest of terms, Netanyahu endorsed Obama's commitment to Israel and praised him for his efforts to enhance Israeli security vis-à-vis Iran and in the Middle East.  Obama also reiterated his commitment to Israeli security through the prism of Middle East peace, calling for direct negotiations that will pave the way for a two state solution, a goal that will advance American security interests in the region, secure Israel's long term survival, and meet Palestinian aspirations.  While Obama will continue to have domestic critics on his Middle East policy, they should take pause. Not only has his approach to the Middle East and Israel been endorsed by Netanyahu, but his policy to forge a two state solution also remains viable.

Affirming the enduring strength of U.S. - Israel relationship, Obama and Netanyahu agree to push direct talks. At the White House meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu - the first since the June flotilla incident - the two leaders agreed to push for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians to begin by September.  The Washington Post reports that "Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu offered to take ‘concrete steps' toward advancing the moribund Middle East peace process, saying during a closely watched meeting at the White House on Tuesday that he expects direct negotiations with the Palestinians to begin in a matter of weeks. ‘I think it's high time to begin direct talks,' Netanyahu told reporters in the Oval Office."  Expressing the urgency of the issue, "Obama embraced the offer, also saying that direct talks should begin in ‘weeks,' before a freeze on Israeli settlement construction, a condition of the talks, is set to end on Sept. 26."  Netanyahu added some optimism by saying "There are more things we are prepared to do...There are things like additional easing of movements, some questions of economic projects...There are quite a few. The point is we are prepared to do them... Don't be so skeptical.  Raise your hopes. It's summer time and we can perform miracles if we set our sights to them."

The meeting also reaffirmed the strong relationship between the two countries.  President Obama stated that, "The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable."  He further explained that "...the United States is committed to Israel's security. We are committed to that special bond."  In response, the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) said it "strongly agrees" with the President's description of the relationship between the two countries. [Washington Post, 7/7/10. President Obama, via AP/McClatchy, 7/6/10. AIPAC via Time, 7/7/10. Prime Minister Netanyahu, via the blog, 7/7/10]

Undercutting politicized rhetoric from the American right, Netanyahu strongly affirms Obama administration's commitment to Israel. While extreme conservatives have attacked President Obama for his outreach to the Muslim and Arab worlds, P.M. Netanyahu has a different view.  For example, President Obama's Cairo address last year - a speech widely vilified by the right as anti-Israel - was described yesterday by Netanyahu as an illustration of the White House's commitment toward Israel. "[T]he reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relations -- relationship aren't just premature, they're just flat wrong," said Netanyahu.  The Prime Minister continued, saying, "I think there's -- the President said it best in his speech in Cairo. He said in front of the entire Islamic world, he said, the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. And I can affirm that to you today."

Netanyahu's language directly undercuts what has become a refrain on the right - that the Obama administration is somehow not committed to Israel.  As the Washington Post detailed yesterday, this rhetoric has found particular traction among conservative candidates seeking to politicize the issue: "Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate in Florida's Senate race, delivered a speech sharply criticizing Obama's Israel policy. ‘There is the emerging sense that this long-standing relationship isn't what it used to be,' Rubio said. Robert Dold, a Republican running for an open seat in the 10th Congressional District of Illinois, has accused the administration of an ‘alarming pattern' in the Middle East. In Ohio's 15th District, Republican Steve Stivers questioned Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy (D) about her criticism of Israel's Gaza blockade, with his campaign saying ‘The contrast is very sharp on this issue.' And Allen West, a Republican running against Democratic Rep. Ron Klein in Florida's 22nd District, said Obama was ‘browbeating' Israel."  But given Netanyahu's remarks yesterday, and the fact that "no other foreign leader has had as much face time with the president," according to a senior White House official interviewed by the Post, it is clear that these conservative charges are baseless. [Prime Minister Netanyahu, 7/6/10. Washington Post, 7/6/10]

Extreme conservative rhetoric ignores the reality that pursuing Middle East peace is a major American national security priority. Politicized remarks from the right also ignore the fact that achieving lasting peace in the Middle East is a major national security priority for the U.S.  This past March, General David Petraeus, who was CENTCOM Commander at the time, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the imperatives of reaching a peaceful solution to the conflict: "The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR [CENTCOM Area of Responsibility]. Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas."  Petraeus's remarks followed an address earlier that month by Vice President Joe Biden at Tel Aviv University, which made a similar point, stating that the pursuit of peace would deny "Tehran the opportunity to exploit the differences between Israelis and Palestinians, and Israelis and the Arab world, and to distract the many countries that stand united against Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons and the support of terrorism."  Securing American interests in the Middle East requires that a conflict zone, such as the Israeli-Palestinian one, be resolved.  Not taking steps to do so would neglect American security needs and directly contradict the advice of our country's most valued national security leaders.  [General David Petraeus, 3/16/10. Vice President Biden, 3/11/10]

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