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The Obama-Netanyahu fight fizzled: what happened

By Tuvia Brodie
3/6/2014, 11:03 AM

Before Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to America to meet with US President Barack Obama on March 3, 2014, Israel’s press was filled with reports of doom for the Israeli leader. Israel’s press didn’t see this meeting as a conference between friends. They pictured it as an assault. Netanyahu was travelling 6,000 miles to get mauled by a  bully.

Israel’s press had reason to worry. Current US-led peace talks between Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas have not been going well. A March 28th deadline looms. No peace is in sight. With less than a month to go, President Obama has little to show from a massive US effort.

Enter a Netanyahu visit to the US. That visit looked perfect for Obama.

Obama wants action. He wants results. He wants ‘peace’. As you’ll see in a moment, he needs ‘peace’. It doesn’t matter what kind of peace he gets. He just needs a paper to be signed.

As Netanyahu’s arrival approached, Obama sent the Israeli PM a message: Israel had no more choices. Israel could no longer stall (“Obama: US won’t be able to defend Israel if peace talks fail”, Times of Israel, March 2, 2014).

For Israel’s press, the US agenda for this meeting was closer to a fight-card than a meeting. They saw Obama rolling up his sleeves to take the recalcitrant Jew behind the woodshed (“Report: Obama to Press PM to Take Kerry Deal”, Arutz Sheva, February 27, 2014).

Israel’s press saw only pain for Netanyahu (“Sources: PM Could Face 'Tough' Meeting With Obama”, Arutz Sheva, March 2, 2014). Even when Israeli officials said that Iran was their priority for this head-of-state meeting (“US unlikely to unveil peace framework during Netanyahu-Obama meeting next week”, Jerusalem Post,  February 27, 2014), the US fired a shot across Israel’s bow (“Report: US Pressures Israel, Stop Killing Iranian Scientists”, Arutz Sheva, March 2, 2014).

Israel couldn’t catch a break from the US. It seemed clear that Netanyahu was going to get mugged.

In the hours leading up to the meeting, The Times of Israel drew up an explosive headline (“For Netanyahu, a bombshell battering by Obama”, March 3, 2014) to report that Obama had said in an interview that he would pressure Netanyahu to sign for ‘peace’. Even the pro-two-state Haaretz characterized this meeting as hostile. Their pre-meeting headline declared, “Obama the inquisitor vs. Netanyahu, Abbas” (February 28, 2014).

But the build-up to this meeting turned into a bust. When Obama and Netanyahu met, nothing much happened. There were no fire-works or verbal fistfights. No angry words were exchanged. No dirty looks were recorded. What happened?

No one really knows.

After all the build-up, Israel’s press (as of March 6th) seemed strangely muted. No one reported much of anything.

Did Israel’s press get it wrong? Was the doom and gloom misplaced?

It might have been. But don’t count on it. There’s too much bad blood between these two men. There’s too much anti-Israel sentiment in the White House and the US State department. There’s also too much at stake for Obama.

Obama needs Netanyahu to surrender land to Abbas. He needs that because his foreign policy needs it. His reputation needs it.

The only person who can help him is Netanyahu.

Obama’s foreign policy hasn’t gotten any traction. Obama has failed with Egypt. He’s failed with Syria. He’s failed with North Korea. His ‘success’  with Iran looks increasingly suspect.

Every US President wants a positive foreign policy legacy. For US Presidents, it’s a must.

For his own foreign policy legacy, Obama doesn’t have much left to work with. Most everyone has rejected him. All he’s got is the Arab-Israel conflict.

In that conflict, he’s got two actors. One, Abbas, is a stubborn ideologue. He won’t move off of square one. But the other actor, Netanyahu, is different. Netanyahu wants to be loved by America.

Netanyahu can be manipulated. He can be played. He can be moved.  

That’s what this meeting was about: moving Netanyahu. Israel’s press didn’t get it wrong. If so little is being said by both sides following this meeting, then something happened.  Some kind of agreement has been made.

What was it?