Even before he left for his recent visit to Israel (and the occupied West Bank and Jordan), the commentariat had expressed scant hopes for a major initiative emanating from President Obama that would jump start the long deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian talks. The way Obama’s visit was choreographed, it appeared that he was going through the motions and probably trying to make up for not having visited Israel—the staunchest ally of the United States—during his first term. Obama also tried to develop a more even-handed relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu, the prickly Israeli Prime Minister. It is a well-known fact that Obama and the latter had got off to a frosty start during the former’s first term. Obama had urged Netanyahu to stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as a precursor for resuming talks with the Palestinians, but Netanyahu had demurred. It was hardly a state secret that both leaders had developed an antipathy toward each other. This was vividly on display when last year, when Netanyahu made no bones about publicly expressing his preference for Romney over Obama in the 2012 Presidential elections. In the event Netanyahu’s wish remained unfulfilled as Obama defeated his rival handily.
It would be fair therefore to characterize Obama’s visit largely as a public relations exercise, meant in no small part to reassure Israelis that the relationship between the US and Israel remained solid. Obama is a realistic politician who is well aware of Netanyahu’s obstinacy towards settlements and even in wholeheartedly accepting a two-state solution. Obama therefore said all the right things to mollify the Israelis including on Iran’s alleged nuclear program, but espoused no new ideas to move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forward. Thus the only country that can by virtue of its relationship with Israel- buttressed by the grant of billions of dollars of military and economic aid disbursed to Tel Aviv over the years- influence Israel,feels powerless in changing the Israeli government’s mindset. The status quo will continue.
Rebecca Vilkomersom, Executive Director of the Jewish Voice for Peace group, which promotes democracy, justice and human rights for all in Israel, was disappointed at the outcome of Obama’s visit. She said that “those opposed to the extremist agenda of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee that dominates the shaping of US policy on Israel, have despaired at seeing Washington take the initiative in fostering peace.” In the long run however, Israel’s policies are not sustainable and may prove self-destructive. I do not know if Obama is conveying this long range view shared by many knowledgeable analysts to Netanyahu and other right-wing Israeli leaders. If he is not, he should as a good and loyal ally be sounding the alarm to his Israeli interlocutors about the current policies of Israel and their deleterious impact on the future of the state.