Thursday, November 12, 2015

Netanyahu's Washington triumph

His visit not only kicked off a process of changing his image, but also asserted Israel's role in the region.

Lamis Andoni


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right to gloat on his Twitter account about his achievements in the United States capital, as he was able to milk to the maximum Washington's need for his silence, even acquiescence, on the Iran nuclear deal.
His official visit not only kicked off a process of changing his image but, more significantly, asserted a practical Israeli role in shaping the region, especially Syria, thus giving a new meaning to the US-Israel strategic partnership.
Emboldened by his victories that all appeared to have been agreed upon even before his arrival in the US, Netanyahu brazenly demanded American recognition of the Israeli annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. This after all the Palestinian lives ended by the Israeli army and settlers, and even after US President Barack Obama's dignity was thrown ruthlessly under the wagon of consolidating the US-Israeli imperial goals and interests.
Arena: Debating the pro-Israel lobby in the US
Obama did not confine himself to the usual refrain of "Israel has the right to defend itself" but almost went as far as to condone the Israeli army's brutal suppression of Palestinians by saying "Israel has not just the right, but the obligation to protect itself."
Determinant bargain
But that was not all, as Palestinian blood is the cheaper part of an undeclared but obvious bargain. The statement was simply a requirement to open the bilateral talks on the wider strategic Israeli gains.
Washington's approval to expedite the renewal of the American-Israeli military and defence agreement, which was due in 2017, and to increase the $3.1bn US military aid, were almost a done deal before the talks.
What Netanyahu wanted - and still wants - is much more and he could achieve it all, even though US recognition of the Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights is a bit hard for Washington to fulfil.
Obama did not bow to Netanyahu, but he bowed to the strategic interests at stake, as he acknowledged bolstering Israeli security is about boosting the American security and military infrastructure in the region.

But he also knows how to use such a demand as a bargaining chip as Israel is more likely to seek a clear US and international commitment that the future Syrian regime - regardless of its make-up - will not take a hostile position towards Israel.
It would be enough for Netanyahu that a new Syrian regime, whose existence will rely on Western and Russian agreement and approval, would either enter in open-ended negotiations or even start informal "normalisation with Israel" without challenging the "status quo" of the Golan Heights.
In that context, Netanyahu's visit to Moscow in late September, and securing Israeli-Russian military coordination "to avoid a clash" of their respective military crafts over Syrian skies was necessary to ensure Israeli interests in any future agreed compromise on Syria's future.
Furthermore, rehabilitation of Netanyahu's extremist image and shifting the focus from his disputes with Obama were necessary for guaranteeing a full Israeli role in shaping the region, as well as the silence of Washington - as the Israeli army quells the Palestinian youth resistance of the Israeli occupation.
Thus, there was a tacit cooperation between all bastions of political power and thought centres in Washington who either received or even celebrated Netanyahu, who stressed a carefully worded political message at each appearance.
Strategic interests at stake
Washington turned into a well-produced scene from the theatre of the absurd. As Netanyahu left the White House, he went directly to the anti-Obama conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) to receive an award, followed by two stops at the Jewish Federation and the pro-Democrat "liberal" Center for American Progress (CAP).
Netanyahu's appearance at the CAP provoked anger among many liberals, partly because it ended the comfortable divide between pro-Israeli liberals and hawkish Zionists.
The venue was perfect for Netanyahu to deliver his call for "restoring the bipartisan" Republican and Democratic consensus on Israel, especially when only three guests in the audience were allowed to ask questions.

Restoring Israel as "a bi-partisan issue" is crucial to both the Obama administration and Israel: as the former is concerned that the open Obama-Netanyahu rift could diminish the appeal of the Democratic Party on Jewish voters and funders in the next elections, while Israel is worried about the level of support for Israel among the Democrats in the US Congress.
His call at the Jewish Federation "to end the rift over the Iran deal" within the American Jewish community was equally important, as the differences could weaken the strong Israeli lobby as well as obstruct the White House's efforts to sell the Iran nuclear deal to the US Congress.
Yet, it is wrong to assume that Netanyahu's triumph was an act of genius or even a personal triumph; it was rather a triumph of mutual and joint Israeli and American interests and goals that could no longer be hampered by the prolonged Obama-Netanyahu rift.
Pro-Israel Mark Makovsky, who is close to both leaders, revealed that a major "irritant" to the Israeli-American relations was eased when Netanyahu "brokered the resignation" of Economy Minister Arye Deri who was stalling deals with theAmerican Noble consortium over the Leviathan natural gas field in the Mediterranean, and selling gas to both Jordan and Egypt.
Obama did not bow to Netanyahu, but he bowed to the strategic interests at stake, as he acknowledged that bolstering Israeli security is about boosting the American security and military infrastructure in the region.
As in all scripts of the theatre of the absurd, there is a truth that is uncovered - in this case one that puts an end to illusions among Palestinians, Arab leaders and pundits who were betting that the Netanyahu-Obama rift would serve "Arab interests".
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.

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