Netanyahu and Obama stake out familiar positions

It’s little risky to draw conclusions about a private meeting between heads of states based on the statements issued following the meeting. Nonetheless, the statements of President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their meeting on Monday suggest that neither party moved off of its pre-meeting positions.

Netanyahu declared that he is ready to begin talking immediately to the Palestinians, as Obama wants him to do. But Netanyahu added that any talks would have to include Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, and that the Palestinians must “allow Israel the means to defend itself.” The latter condition presumably means that Israel will not relinquish the entire West Bank.

These conditions, reasonable enough to those who want Israel to survive in its present incarnation, are deal-breakers for the Palestinians. Moreover, Netanyahu said nothing about stopping Israeli settlements on the West Bank or about a two-state solution. Thus, there is no evidence that Obama persuaded Netanyahu to move at all when it comes to the Palestinians.

Similarly, Netanyahu does not appear to have made any progress with Obama on dealing with Iran. Obama reiterated his familiar position – he will wait until after the Iran’s presidential election in June and then will make, in his words, “what I believe will be a persuasive argument” that Iran should change course. He added that by the end of the year, he should know how Iran intends to proceed. What happens if, notwithstanding Obama’s power of persuasion, Iran intends to proceed as it has been proceeding remained unclear.

Israeli officials tried to spin Obama’s statements on Iran in a positive light. It is clearly in the Israeli government’s interest to speak favorably about Obama in public since doing so (a) may prevent a burning of bridges with the president and (b) convince the Israeli public that Netanyahu made progress with the new leader of its key ally. But the best his spokesmen could do was point to Obama’s general statement of “deepening concern” over Iran’s nuclear program. It’s doubtful that, in private, either this pronouncement or Obama’s promise to try to talk Iran out of securing nukes impressed Netanyahu at all.

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