Monday, May 18, 2009

Observations on the Obama - Netanyahu Summit

This collection of analyses from the press is taken from the Daily Alert:

Differences Unlikely to Come to Fore at Obama, Netanyahu White House Meeting - Glenn Kessler
Analysts and government officials expect no fireworks when President Obama meets one on one with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office on Monday. The Obama administration has only the wisps of a policy toward the Middle East in place. With the Palestinians weak and divided, and the new Israeli government skeptical of high-profile peace efforts, many key strategic questions remain unanswered.
The Obama administration appears eager to coax small but symbolic confidence-building measures from all sides, especially Arab states, to build up a sense of momentum. Vice President Biden declared earlier this month: "Now is the time for Arab states to make meaningful gestures, to show the Israeli leadership and t he people that the promise of ending Israel's isolation in the region is real and genuine. They must take action now." (Washington Post)

Obama: It's Not My Place to Determine for the Israelis What Their Security Needs Are
Asked about Prime Minister Netanyahu's upcoming visit and concerns about Iran, President Obama said in an interview: "I don't take any options off the table with respect to Iran. I don't take options off the table when it comes to U.S. security, period. What I have said is that we want to offer Iran an opportunity to align itself with international norms and international rules. I think, ultimately, that will be better for the Iranian people. I think that there is the ability of an Islamic Republic of Iran to maintain its Islamic character while, at the same time, being a member in good standing of the international community and not a threat to its neighbors. And we are going to reach out to them and try to shift off of a pattern over the last 30 years that hasn't produced results in the regio n." "Now, will it work? We don't know. And I assure you, I'm not naive about the difficulties of a process like this. If it doesn't work, the fact that we have tried will strengthen our position in mobilizing the international community, and Iran will have isolated itself, as opposed to a perception that it seeks to advance that somehow it's being victimized by a U.S. government that doesn't respect Iran's sovereignty."
"I understand very clearly that Israel considers Iran an existential threat, and given some of the statements that have been made by President Ahmadinejad, you can understand why. So their calculation of costs and benefits are going to be more acute. They're right there in range and I don't think it's my place to determine for the Israelis what their security needs are. I can make an argument to Israel as an ally that the approach we are taking is one that has to be given a chance and offers the prospect of security, not just for the United States but also for Israel, that is superior to some of the other alternatives." (Newsweek)

Hamas Says Israel Recognition Not for Discussion - Jailan Zayan
The Islamist Hamas movement said on Saturday that it will not discuss the recognition of Israel with Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party during reconciliation talks in Cairo. "We can discuss with Fatah all the options...except the American card which stresses recognition of the Zionist entity and the conditions of the Quartet," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in Gaza. "This is not open for discussion." The Quartet has long demanded that Hamas renounce violence and recognize Israel and past peace agreements as a precondition for dealing with any Palestinian government in which the Islamist movement is represented. (AFP)

News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

Obama, Netanyahu to Focus on Iran Threat - Barak Ravid and Natasha Mozgovaya
Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama will discuss the threat posed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, National Security Council head Uzi Arad, a close aide to Netanyahu, said Sunday. "This is an existential matter. Iran is constantly advancing toward a nuclear capability, and joint efforts with the [Obama] administration to prevent this will be at the center of the discussion." "There is no subject more important to Israel, and the administration knows this," Arad added. "There is a sense of urgency and that time is against us."
On the matter of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, Arad cited the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in June 2007. "That is the presence of a huge terrorist infrastructure that was put in place, established precisely at the time when Israel evacuated G aza and allowed the Palestinians to rule themselves," he said. (Ha'aretz)

Iran to Mass Produce Long-Range Missiles - Yaakov Katz
Iran is in the midst of a multi-year plan to produce 500 missile launchers and over 1,000 missiles with a range of 2,500 km. by 2015. Tehran is believed to currently have an arsenal of 100-200 long-range Shihab missiles that have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers and carry up to one-ton warheads. "The Iranians are making great efforts to obtain a significant number of missiles," said Tal Inbar, head of the Space Research Center at the Fisher Brothers Institute in Herzliya. "They already talk about how one of the ways they will overcome the missile defense systems is by firing salvos of missiles." (Jerusalem Post)

Israel: Syria's Assad Wants Only Peace Process, Not Peace Accord; Strict Sanctions on Iran Could Make Military Action Unnecessary
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon said Saturday with regard to Syria's President Assad: "What interests Assad is not peace, but rather the peace process. Assad knows very well that he will have to pay for peace with normalization and open his country to the West, which could bring about the toppling of his regime. Assad is only interested in the peace process in order to get his country out of its international isolation and to remove the pressure of the international community." If Assad really wants peace, Ayalon continued, "He must come to the negotiating process without preconditions. It's impossible to desire peace and at the same time support and arm Hizbullah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad."
With regard to stopping Iran's nuclear plans, Ayalon said: "It's possible to stop Iran, which hasn't yet crossed the 'point of no return,' through diplomatic means. Iran is a very weak state in a shaky situation. They cannot withstand real sanctions; their banks and shipping companies are vulnerable. If the world insists on imposing strict sanctions against them, military action may not be necessary." (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

U.S., Israel Share Strategic Goals - Dore Gold
Will the "two-state solution," which the Obama administration has said it supports, be an enormous sticking point at Monday's summit meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama? The reality is that although Netanyahu has not embraced this formula, he has stated that Israel does not want to rule over the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza. He wants the Palestinians to have all the power necessary to rule themselves, but none of the power to undermine the security of Israel. What that means is that if a Palestinian state were to arise, it would have to be demilitarized and could not sign defense pacts with, say, Iran, allowing it to receive a contingent of Iranian Revolutionary Guards (as Lebanon did in 1982). Instead of waiting for such a situation to arise, N etanyahu is addressing this issue up front. Former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold heads the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. (Los Angeles Times)

Israel's Fears, Amalek's Arsenal - Jeffrey Goldberg
Benjamin Netanyahu faces the daunting task of maintaining Israel's relationship with the U.S., while at the same time forestalling Iran's nuclear program. If Iran gains nuclear capacity, Israel will have judged him a failure as prime minister; if he does serious damage to his country's standing in Washington, he will have failed as well. Netanyahu will have a much more difficult time convincing President Obama that Iran poses an existential threat to America. It is certainly true that a nuclear Iran is not in the best interests of the U.S. It would mean, among other things, the probable beginning of a nuclear arms race in the world's most volatile region, and it would mean that the 30-year-struggle between America and Iran for domination of the Persian Gulf will be over, with Persia the victor. (New York Times)

Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: The Smart Connection - Oded Eran and Emily B. Landau
A message coming from the Obama administration is that dealing effectively with Iran's nuclear ambitions is contingent on Israel being more forthcoming with regard to peace talks with the Palestinians. Yet Iran is today much higher on the immediate agenda of most of the Arab states in the Persian Gulf as well as Egypt than is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Because of the urgency of the emerging Iranian nuclear threat, they, like Israel, do not have time to wait for success in the Palestinian sphere. The common interest between Israel and these Arab states on Iran is real, and will not disappear if there is not movement toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Curtailing Iran's nuclear and regional ambitions is the major issue that must be resolved in the first place. In this regard, Netanyahu's equation that says Iran first, and then the Palestinians, rests on solid ground as far as its basic strategic logic. Oded Eran is the director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University and Emily B. Landau is a senior research associate at the institute. (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu and Obama Have a Shared Interest in Iran - Reuel Marc Gerecht
Therese Delpech, a leading nonproliferation expert at France's Atomic Energy Commission, warned last October: "We [the Europeans] have negotiated during five years with the Iranians...and we came to the conclusion that they are not interested at all in negotiating, buying time for their military program."
Never before have the Israelis had to confront a rabidly anti-Semitic enemy with nuclear weapons and a long track record of supporting deadly killers such as Hizbullah and Hamas. Western counsel to Israel to calm down and get used to the idea of mullahs with nukes doesn't sit well with a people who have already lived through the unthinkable. Iran's penchant for terrorism, its extensive ties to both radical Sunnis and Shiites, its vibrant anti-Semitism, and th e likelihood that Tehran will become more aggressive with an atom bomb in its arsenal doesn't reinforce the case for patience and perseverance. The writer is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. (Wall Street Journal)
See also Are Obama and Netanyahu Destined to Clash? - David Makovsky (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)


Obama and the Middle East - Hussein Agha and Robert Malley (New York Review of Books)
If the President's objective is to achieve a comprehensive, two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it will be pursued under unusually inauspicious circumstances.
On the Palestinian side, intense Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah have so far failed to stitch the national movement together. Hamas possesses the power to spoil any progress and will use it. It can act as an implacable opponent against any potential Palestinian compromise. Bilateral negotiations that failed when Olmert was prime minister and Hamas was a mere Palestinian faction are unlikely to succeed with Netanyahu at the helm and Hamas having grown into a regional reality.

The other question is what, in short, would a two-state solution actually solve? Peace may be possible without such an agreement just as such an agreement need not necessarily lead to peace. Unlike Zionism, for whom statehood was the central objective, the Palestinian fight was primarily about other matters. The absence of a state was not the cause of all their misfortune. Its creation would not be the full solution either.

Today, the idea of Palestinian statehood is alive, but mainly outside of Palestine. Establishing a state has become a matter of utmost priority for Europeans, for Americans, and even for a large number of Israelis. But universal endorsement has its downside. The more the two-state solution looks like an American or Western, not to mention Israeli, interest, the less it appeals to Palestinians.
There may be another way. Its starting point would be less of an immediate effort to achieve a two-state agreement or propose U.S. ideas to that effect. Rather, it would be an attempt to transform the political atmosphere and reformulate the diplomatic process.

Hussein Agha is Senior Associate Member of St. Antony's College, Oxford. Robert Malley, formerly Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs, is currently Middle East and North Africa Program Director at the International Crisis Group.

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