Monday, November 09, 2015

Netanyahu in Washington

Robert Hunter gives a rundown on what he expects to be the concerns on each side of the US/Israel governmental meeting today between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi Comes Calling: What President Obama Needs to Say LobeLog Foreign Policy; accessed 11/09/2015):

When Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, visits the Oval Office on Monday, both he and President Barack Obama have a domestic political interest in “making nice” with one another. Netanyahu has to show Israelis back home that his efforts to derail the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, following his outrageous speech to a joint session of Congress last spring, have not seriously damaged his country’s relations with the United States, Israel’s only firm supporter in the world. Obama also wants to show the American Jewish community that he bears no grudge, as he seeks its support for other elements of his foreign and domestic policies and as he paves the way for his successor in January 2017.
He notes that there won't be pretense of near-term progress on the endless peace process, as it is still politely called:

The ghost at the banquet on Monday will be the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Both Netanyahu and Obama will pay lip service, but that is about it. Although US interests and efforts in the Middle East as a whole would be immensely aided by serious progress on this front—a proposition that no serious observer rejects—nothing will happen for the balance of this administration and well into the next. Obama made this clear last week, presumably to keep it off the agenda with Netanyahu.
Despite the distinctly unfriendly, even hostile attitude that Netanyahu's government has taken toward Obama, Netanyahu is pressing for a substantial increase in US military aid to Israel, which is easily the strongest military power in the Middle East and the only one with nuclear weapons:

Israel will also want to complete work on a 10-year extension of its security agreement with the US, which runs out in 2017. This will certainly be agreed to, at least in principle. At about $3 billion a year in military aid, Israel wants this figure to be bounced up to $5 billion. Obama may not be willing to go that far. And Israel will want to intensify the agreements, some tacit, some explicit, under which the US is supposed to “coordinate” its overall Middle East approaches with Jerusalem.
Hunter also suggests that Obama wants Netanyahu to intervene with AIPAC, the largest group in the Israel lobby in the US, to tell them to moderate their criticism:

Obama also has items on his agenda. Beyond a shared interest in presenting a calm and mutually supportive relationship, he wants to get Netanyahu to “call off the dogs” in the continuing US debate about the JCPOA and its implementation. Groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which is a politically potent and reliable reflection of Israeli government thinking, continue to try limiting the pacing of the agreement, especially in terms of sanctions relief. These groups also have consistently portrayed Iranian behavior, both under the agreement and in general, in the worst light possible. Netanyahu could have a good deal of influence in Washington, but whether he will be responsive is another matter (Obama is unlikely to raise this sensitive issue, himself, but rather to relegate it to subordinates).
It is indeed a "sensitive" issue. For the President to ask a foreign leader to intervene on his behalf with a domestic political group like AIPAC would be a high-level admission of what is actually common knowledge about the lobbying power of AIPAC and its arguably uncomfortable closeness to the Israeli government.

Hunter also points out that the US needs to be more clear generally in Middle East policy that we are pursuing a sensible policy for American interests and less to satisfy the preferences of client states that may have divergent interests from the US on important issues:

In the final analysis, in the Obama-Netanyahu meetings and in other US diplomacy regarding the Middle East, the United States needs to make clear a general policy that applies to Saudi Arabia and other Sunni states as much as to Israel: America’s strategic partnerships with friends in the region must become a genuine two-way street not just a one-way provision by Washington of military goods and services and security commitments. If Obama adopts this position and gives it teeth, he will greatly improve the chances that the United States can succeed with its overall objectives in the Middle East, which would also benefit Israel and other regional states. In any event, “American interests first” is always a good approach.

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