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Obama pays the price for his predecessors
By Dr Musa A Keilani July 11, 2010
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I doubt very much whether US President Barack Obama’s heart was with him when he went through an impressive public display of the strength of the US-Israel relationship when he received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on July 6.

The meeting sharply contrasted with the two men’s White House encounter in March where Obama rebuked Netanyahu for refusing to freeze Jewish settlement construction in occupied Arab East Jerusalem and announcing a new project even as US Vice-President Josef Biden was visiting Israel.

And Netanyahu should have been smirking inside on Tuesday that he and his powerful allies had forced the US president to go through an exercise that saw the leader of the sole superpower kowtowing to Jewish financial and political clout and paying respects to relations with a country better known for its defiance of all international norms and laws.

The White House meeting last week was hailed as a landmark in the US-Israel relationship, particularly that Obama endorsed Israel’s “right” to possess nuclear weapons and warned against any attempt to censure it.

There was no indication that Obama and Netanyahu had any serious discussion about the token Israeli freeze of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank that expires in September.

Except from the emphasis on direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, nothing much appeared to have happened in the Middle Eastern context during the White House meeting.

Let us face it. It was obvious that Obama had to go through the exercise to placate the powerful pro-Israeli lobby and members of the US Congress as penance for his treatment of Netanyahu.

Obama had come under attack from almost every quarters of the US political establishment for having pulled up Netanyahu for his defiance and the humiliation that Biden suffered. It was as if the Israeli prime minister mattered to the US far more than the American president himself, and Obama had committed the gravest crime in history when he rebuked Netanyahu.

We would not be far off the mark that the US president was gritting his teeth when he shook hands with the Israeli prime minister.

The differences between the two are too sharp for them to bury the hatchet in a hurry. Each of them stand against what the other stands for.

For Obama, his US presidency is a great opportunity to correct many of the wrongs committed by his predecessors, and bring about a better state of international affairs through ending conflicts.

He is keen on improving his country’s relations with the Muslim World and he knows well that the first step towards this goal should be genuine and realistic moves towards and a fair and just settlement of the Palestinian problem and the broader Arab-Israeli conflict.

Obama is painfully aware that Netanyahu would never allow him to deliver on his promise of a two-state solution in Palestine. The US president is in no position to lean on Israel as he found out after snubbing Netanyahu in March. Now he finds himself in a worse situation after having had to go through a humiliating experience which, for people with an insight, stripped the US presidency of its dignity and Obama of his commitment to what he believes in and strives for.

Obama must also be aware that most of the problems that the US faces with the Muslim World are directly linked to Washington’s strategic alliance with Israel, which is definitely a costly burden rather than a reliable ally. Obama’s frustration should be getting stronger by the realisation that he is unable to do anything about correcting the situation and resurrecting his country to the rightful position as the leader of the world.

For sure, Netanyahu, a shrewd politician, should be aware of the actual state of relationship on a personal level with Obama and that he has to be extremely careful in dealings with the US president from now on. But he knows well that Obama will be helpless if he tries to push Israel into doing things that Israel does not want to do. And that is his best insurance as he goes ahead with his plans that eliminate all prospects for a fair and just settlement of the Palestinian problem.

At the same time, it is an even bet that we have not heard the last of the Obama-Netanyahu episode. The two would clash again, unless of course Obama undergoes an absolute change of mind and develops amnesia.

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