Daily Israel Report

Strategic Studies Center Report: Netanyahu Doing Well with Obama

A prestigious think tank credits the Netanyahu government with foreign policy successes beyond what is commonly believed.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 1/3/2011, 4:50 PM / Last Update: 1/3/2011, 5:05 PM

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The Institute for National Security Studies, formerly known as the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, has published a report crediting the Netanyahu government with foreign policy successes beyond what is commonly believed.

The author is INSS senior staff member Dr. Zaki Shalom, who is also a senior staff member at the Ben-Gurion Research Institute.

Though “there has recently been much discussion of the State of Israel’s [so-called] ‘bleak diplomatic situation,” he writes, “and a dismissal of Israel's foreign policy over the last two years as a string of failures… this assessment is both insufficiently balanced and insufficiently sensitive to Israel's complex foreign policy arena. Israel has in fact had important foreign policy achievements, some of them a result of Israel’s activities and some a result of international and regional developments.”

Specifically focusing on Israel’s diplomatic achievements vis-à-vis the Obama administration, Shalom writes that originally, U.S. President Barack Obama appeared to place Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in an impossible spot by dictating a total cessation of construction in Judea and Samaria. This seemed to give Netanyahu’s government only two difficult options, Shalom wrote: Either clash with the Obama administration while the president was at the height of his power and his popularity, or accept the demand at the risk of his own government.

“Ultimately,” Shalom writes, “the Netanyahu government managed to escape these two options. It succeeded in redirecting the president’s demands into an ongoing dialogue with Middle East envoy George Mitchell. At the end of this dialogue, rules of the game were established that were rather comfortable for Israel.” These include the administration’s recognition, even if halfhearted, of the existence of the previous understandings between Israel and the U.S. regarding construction; its acceptance of Israel’s position that the peace process must be advanced within the framework of negotiations between the two sides, and not through imposed dictates; and the acceptance of Israel’s position that the goals presented regarding the settlements in Judea and Samaria should be realistic.

According to Shalom, Israel managed to extricate itself from the Biden-Jerusalem fiasco, deflecting the U.S. administration’s firm demands into a dialogue between the two countries leading to the conclusion that Jerusalem is a red line for the State of Israel. The Netanyahu government has also made it clear that it will not entertain another unilateral construction freeze. Israel demanded compensation for its consent to freeze building for another three months, and “when it became clear that the administration was not prepared to give this compensation, the issue of the freeze dropped off the agenda.”

Still Not Irreversible, However
Shalom concluded with a caveat: “In relations between the two countries, there are still serious diplomatic disagreements and large pitfalls. The achievements by the government of Israel are still not so firmly entrenched that they cannot be undermined. They are definitely not irreversible – for example, if President Obama decided to demand that Israel give him a ‘deposit’ with explicit and detailed clarifications about its positions on the core issues, particularly the country’s borders, the refugee issue, and the status of Jerusalem. This is definitely a reasonable possibility, and the government of Israel would do well to prepare for it as soon as possible.”