Second round in a long bout


The long-awaited Obama-Netanyahu meeting has finally taken place. If this were a boxing match, one would probably have to call the result of the latest round at the White House a tie.

A look at the post-summit transcripts shows that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stuck to his hardline position, refusing to pronounce the words two-state solution, attempting to shift emphasis on Iran and reiterating the latest Israeli demand of Palestinians, namely to accept Israel as a state for the Jewish people. (Ironically Jews themselves don’t agree on who is a Jew, and Israel would clearly never accept to recognise Palestine as a Muslim country).

Neither did US President Barack Obama shift his public position in support of the roadmap and of the Annapolis calls for an independent Palestinian state. Obama also reiterated the call for a total end to Jewish settlement activities and the need to pay attention to the situation in Gaza.

Perhaps the best way to confirm that the meeting was nothing more than a tie is the way the US media dealt with it. The New York Times commissioned a junior journalist to cover it and ran the story on an inside page. It is true that the story focused mostly on Iran and Palestine, and even misrepresented Obama’s words, saying that he set a deadline for Iran when the president had clearly said that he was against "an artificial deadline" for dealing with Iran.

While to some Israelis a tie might be much better than a knockout, it is understood that the long-term Israeli policies cannot afford Washington being neutral about Israel. With the rest of the world and all international organisations consistently calling on Israel to end its occupation, a publicly exposed disagreement between the most senior executive leaders is not in the long-term Israeli interest.

But if the Obama-Netanyahu round was a tie, the White House round between the US president and His Majesty King Abdullah was a clear victory for Palestinian and Arab rights. The King met privately with the US president, vice president, secretary of state and the speaker of the House, in addition to speaking at think tanks (Brookings) and appearing on major US media (Meet the Press and NPR).

A senior US official who attended the King’s meetings told this writer that they were so successful that his talking points were sent out (with slight changes) to all US embassies as the official US foreign policy.

Two more rounds are expected before the end of May. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due in Washington next week and Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak will travel to the US thereafter.

Abbas’ meeting with Obama is likely to be much more cordial than Netanyahu’s. Armed with a newly sworn in Palestinian government under the leadership of the pro-US Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, Abbas will able to represent a moderate Palestinian position that is working hard to address the various demands of the international community. Palestinian police continue to be trained at high professional levels in Jordan and are returning to the West Bank to ensure the rule of law. US as well as Israeli military experts have been publicly praising the improvements of the new Palestinian security. The change of the minister of interior in the newly sworn-in government is one more signal to the international community about the seriousness of the Abbas-Fayyad government regarding this issue.

Despite the various expectations of observers as to what would or would not be coming out of the US government, it is obvious now that Washington will not roll out its Mideast policies until June, when Obama makes his long-awaited speech in Egypt.

It is not clear whether the fourth of June was chosen as the date by coincidence, but for Arab and Muslim peoples any successful US policy towards the region must reflect the Arab peace plan which offers 57 Arab and Muslim countries’ willingness to have normal relations with Israel if it accepts to return to its June 4th borders. Anything less will be seen as a technical Israeli victory and a knock out for the possibility of long-term peace in the region.