Obama and Netanyahu had their first date yesterday at the White House (transcript of their press conference here). Here’s a roundup of perspectives on the meeting.
- Lionel Laurent (Forbes): But sometimes discord can be a good thing. It is good that Obama is not afraid to publicly disagree with Israel’s prime minister, and it is also good that Netanyahu was not able to dodge the issue of Palestine statehood in favor of the Iranian threat. It also paves the way for a "work-in-progress" between Israel and the U.S., given that Obama will have the Netanyahu card to play when talking with Egypt’s president on May 26 and Mahmoud Abbas on May 28. The real discussions have barely begun.
- J Street: Today’s meeting was a first step on a difficult road that must be navigated skillfully and quickly before time runs out on the two-state solution and Israel is forced to choose between its democratic nature and its Jewish heritage. President Obama should know that the majority of American Jews support the direction he outlined and his commitment to actively pursue peace and security. We welcome as well his forceful statements that settlements must be stopped, Palestinian violence and weapons smuggling must end, and the humanitarian situation in Gaza must be addressed.
- Washington Times (Editorial): The Obama administration could seize this historic moment and use Iran as the impetus for comprehensive peace. But one idea being discussed is that there can be no movement on the Iran issue until the Palestinian matter is settled. This approach would give the Palestinians extraordinary and underserved leverage over U.S. policy and allows Iran breathing space to continue its pursuit of nuclear capability. If it looks as though peace may break out unexpectedly, Tehran can always abort the process with more violence from its wholly owned subsidiary, Hamas. The Obama administration should focus less on creating a Palestinian state and more on helping Palestinians earn the right to statehood. Washington also must realize that countering Iran should be the locus of U.S. strategy. Pressuring Israel to accept a bad deal with people fundamentally unready for self-rule will leave the Middle East with two states and no solutio.
- Roane Carey (The Nation): In his first meeting with President Obama, Netanyahu refused to support a two-state solution, instead calling for limited Palestinian self-government, insisting that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state and making no promises to limit growth in settlements, let alone withdraw them. Resolution of the conflict is impossible without addressing its root causes: a brutal Israeli occupation and ongoing colonization now in its fourth decade in the territories, and systemic, legally sanctioned discrimination in Israel proper. But grassroots attempts to cultivate the seeds of cooperation can help further the larger goal, and make the transition to genuine peace more bearable.
- Jerusalem Post (Editorial): Regardless of what was said publicly yesterday, the question is whether Obama appreciates the distinction between a Netanyahu who is reluctant to foster the establishment of what could quickly devolve into Hamas-led "Palestine" on the West Bank, and a Netanyahu who is an "obstacle to peace." The two are not synonymous. Most Israelis do not have to be convinced that the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state (initially with limited sovereignty) is a clear Israeli interest. That’s why the Netanyahu government is already reportedly holding discreet talks with Abbas’s people on renewing negotiations. Yet Netanyahu critics in Washington, along with the faux pro-Israel community, have been urging Obama to push for Israeli concessions on settlements as the perceived key obstacle, though they can’t help but admit that the Palestinians are paralyzed by divisions and have been unwilling to accept Israel’s viable proposals for reconciliation.
- Bret Stephens (Wall Street Journal): But if the words don’t matter, then accepting the two-state solution in principle comes with major advantages. For starters, it defuses a ticking bomb in U.S.-Israeli relations and hands Mr. Obama a talking-point victory. It also allows you to engage in the same fine-print diplomacy that has so neatly served your enemies via the 2002 Arab peace initiative, a poison pill of demographic destruction (aka, the "right of return") wrapped in the silk purse of "full normalization." Better to return the favor by accepting the two-state formula and challenging the Arab world, as you did yesterday, to accept Israel as a Jewish state — the way it was conceived by the U.S. and the U.N. at its founding, and the very essence of the two-state idea — and then see who is really opposed to peace. Most important, a show of flexibility on the Palestinian issue gives you added leverage with the Americans on the infinitely more consequential matter of Iran’s nuclear programs.