I mean to China. As in what Nixon was to China, Netanyahu can be to the Arab world.
Here’s the president in a roundtable with six Middle Eastern journalists on Thursday after his speech in Cairo addressing the Muslim world:
And so I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu will recognize the strategic need to deal with this issue. And that in some ways he may have an opportunity that a Labor or more left leader might not have.
There’s the famous example of Richard Nixon going to China. A Democrat couldn’t have gone to China. A liberal couldn’t have gone to China. But a big, anti-communist like Richard Nixon could open that door.
Now, it’s conceivable that Prime Minister Netanyahu can play that same role. But it’s going to be difficult — and I don’t want to diminish the difficulties for any of the parties involved in making these decisions because, as I said, there are a lot of passions in the people. But part of leadership is being able to push beyond immediate politics to get to where, ultimately, the people need to go.
Now, the "Nixon is China" cliche is, well, so cliche that it is almost meaningless — except when it is pronounced by one of Nixon’s successors.
Obama’s invocation of the cliche arises, I think, from his expectations of Netanyahu, and in both senses of "expectation:" He wants Netanyahu to go the distance, yes, but he also believes he is capable of going the distance — in fact, he would prefer striking the final status accord with Netanyahu.
This concurs with what very senior Israeli officials have been telling reporters in recent days: The notion that Obama wants to squeeze Netanyahu out of office is nonsense. The conversations among officials, at the most senior levels, have been about advancing a process that very much takes into account that Bibi is prime minitser.
Incidentally, one other thing: The White House included Nahum Barnea of Yedioth Achronoth — perhaps Israel’s most thoughtful columnist — on the panel. The panel of "regional reporters." This is a nice and welcome touch; the Bush administration, in its dealing with reporters, tended to segregate Israel out of the Middle East.