Obama and Netanyahu Need One Other, But Neither One Has Room To Maneuver

Lack of Trust Means Little Chance of Breakthrough Visit

getty images

By J.J. Goldberg

Published March 15, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

On the most visible level, each holds diplomatic cards that the other needs. Obama needs a commitment from Netanyahu not to surprise him with a military raid on Iran that could drag America unwillingly into the fighting. Netanyahu needs a commitment from Obama that if Israel holds back and then finds Iran going nuclear, America will take action.

It sounds simple enough, but it’s anything but. Each leader is being asked for a commitment that takes him way outside his comfort zone and risks angering his political base. Each one’s commitment is contingent on the other keeping his promise. And neither trusts the other’s promises.

The Palestinian issue is even more complicated. Obama has promised not to present Netanyahu with any new plans or demands during this visit. He is planning, however, to press Netanyahu to come up with ideas of his own. Obama doesn’t have high hopes for a seriously revived peace process, but he knows that America’s European allies are increasingly impatient for some sign of progress. Netanyahu knows the same thing. All three — Netanyahu, Obama and the Europeans — are aware that the Palestinian street is on the verge of eruption.

Despite his own history, Netanyahu is reportedly ready to take a significant step toward the Palestinian leadership, in order to shore up Mahmoud Abbas and open the way toward some interim agreement. He’s promised as much to Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid in the course of coalition negotiations. Unfortunately, he’s been handed a government — largely at Lapid’s insistence — that includes Naftali Bennett’s settler-backed Jewish Home party, which opposes Palestinian statehood in any form. Together with the upstart Likud hard-liners, Jewish Home might be able to veto any significant gesture that could bring the Palestinians back to the table.

The leaders’ domestic political agendas are less obvious, but no less compelling. Obama needs Israel to receive him warmly. Demonstrating a strong relationship with Israel and Israelis would help disarm some of his harshest critics at home. That’s no easy task, given Israel’s history of suspicion toward this president. He can’t generate the warmth by himself. No matter how much stagecraft his advance team puts together, he needs Netanyahu to embrace him.

Netanyahu, on the other hand, needs to show his public that he’s capable of standing up to Obama. Embracing the American president has no real political benefit for Netanyahu right now. He needs to treat Obama as coolly as he can get away with while still collecting whatever goodies he can extract.

In the end, each leader needs to get as much as he can from the other while giving away as little as he can, all the while maintaining an appearance of friendship that’s warm enough to please Obama’s domestic audience without alienating Netanyahu’s. It would be a tricky juggling act for a couple of players who were operating from a position of strength and trusted each others’ moves. For Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu it will take something close to a miracle.

Contact J.J. Goldberg at goldberg@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.