WASHINGTON – President Obama is well familiar with the meaning of a second chance: He got some himself time after time during his life. Without a second chance, he would not have turned from a Hawaiian beach boy to a distinguished student at Harvard’s law school. Without a second chance he would have been able to trade the whiskey and marijuana for the life of a political star with a bright future.
Yet on Tuesday, Obama will open the Oval Office’s door in order to grant a second chance to Israel’s prime minister.
PM Netanyahu is considered to be a man who is well familiar with America. He grew up there and attended one of its best universities. He would not be saying what a senior minister in his government told a group of Israelis, with utter seriousness, when he arrived in Washington a few months before the elections: “Say, does this black guy even have the right to be elected?” Yet despite this, Netanyahu was unable to connect to the new spirit introduced by Obama.
In Israel, we saw the emergence of a stereotype whereby Obama is a weak and naïve president who curries favor with the Arabs, has no understanding of foreign policy, and makes rookie mistakes. Officials were so preoccupied with the above that they failed to notice how Obama quietly led revolutions in almost every area: He put the military in order, enlisted China and Russia to the front against Iran, hit the banks that robbed citizens, and turned a new leaf in the ties with Russia.
Last week, Obama approved severe sanctions imposed by Congress against Iran on top of those set by the Security Council. President George W. Bush, Israel’s good friend, did nothing like that during his eight-year term.
Only recently, showing a leadership that was not risk-free, Obama fired General Stanley McCrystal. After sending the general home, the president made it clear that a military man cannot create an atmosphere whereby the military leadership can address the civilian leadership disrespectfully. This move scored him many points in America.
Embracing NetanyahuWith all these assets in his possession, Obama will open the door to Netanyahu and invite him to a one-on-one meeting, to be followed by lunch. The president and his people will go out of their way in order to make Netanyahu feel good. For several hours, he will become Washington’s beloved son.
This won’t happen because they fell in love with him suddenly. Rather, the White House decided to change the tone because officials there realized that by embracing Netanyahu they will be able to get more out of him than through pressure and humiliation.
The PM will be pampered, yet the pressure won’t be lifted. The smiles will be broader and the compliments more stylish, yet the message will not change; it will be clarified even. Obama wants quiet in the Middle East and a state for the Palestinians, because for him this is a clear American interest.
This could be Netanyahu’s finest hour, should he have the inner strength to take advantage of it. Israel’s prime minister knows that our greatest defense asset is our good relationship with the US – a relationship that even during the vocal crisis did not undermine the defense cooperation channels meant to protect Israel openly, and mostly secretly.
Instead of quarreling with Washington, Netanyahu should reach out his hand and walk with it, because this is both his and our interest.
In order to connect to the new spirit in a tired world, Netanyahu needs to sit with Obama as a leader, rather than as a man who is being led; as one who has solutions rather than one who hinders them. Netanyahu will be given a second chance tomorrow. He must prove that this time he has no intention of missing out on it.
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