“If not now, when? And if not you, who?”
That, said the US president, would be his questions to Benjamin Netanyahu on the peace process, which now requires some significant concessions on both sides if it is to make headway.
The president’s direct approach, outlined in his interview with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg, was the talk of the town ahead of the two leaders’ appearance at the annual AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) this week.
Monday was AIPAC’s Day Two, with Republican hawk John McCain voicing predictable doubts about world powers’ interim deal with Iran, but try as he might to be enigmatic, all eyes were on Bibi and Obama, after THAT interview.
Having long lingered on the sidelines, John Kerry’s boss finally took the gloves off, jabbing Bibi with a Hillel quote or two before suggesting that if Netanyahu “does not believe that a peace deal with the Palestinians is the right thing to do for Israel, then he needs to articulate an alternative approach.”
He added: “It’s hard to come up with one that’s plausible.”
Obama wasn’t finished with that, however, saying: “There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices.”
He then asked aloud: “Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time? Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab-Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”
To those with an interest in peace, these are all the right kind of questions to be asking, but why was he asking them so publicly. Why, if there is “no daylight” between US and Israeli foreign policy positions, were these being voiced in this way? To many, it suggested a breakdown in relations far exceeding .
Netanyahu, for his part, responded with his standard retort, saying simply that he wouldn’t be pressured.
But the clock is now ticking, and there is a growing public perception (outside AIPAC) that Israel’s leadership is now as much part of the problem as part of the solution. Increasingly, staunch supporters of Israel have taken Obama’s approach, wondering aloud why there is no vision of a two-state future being painted from Jerusalem.
Nobody is better than Bibi at describing the problems associated with doing deals with Israel’s enemies: he’s the master of ‘why not to’. But the times, they are quite clearly a changin’.
Let’s hope AIPAC Day Three is when he lets us know he’s grasped that.