When Bibi met Barack

Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama spent a lot of time together, but did they bridge their differences?

If nothing else, Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu put on a good show of camaraderie, said Yitzhak Benhorin in Yedioth Ahronoth. Meeting in Washington this week for their first summit, the liberal U.S. president and the conservative Israeli prime minister spent much more time together than was originally scheduled—four full hours, mostly one-on-one—and they emerged all smiles. Still, the “positive body language cannot cover deep gaps” between the two men. On the all-important Palestinian question, Netanyahu refused to utter the words “two-state solution.” And Obama stuck doggedly to America’s basic positions: “two states for two nations” and a freeze on Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank.

Obama came on much stronger than expected, said David Horovitz in The Jerusalem Post. He spoke “a little patronizingly” of his confidence that Netanyahu could “rise to the occasion” and fulfill Israel’s commitments under the “road map” peace plan. And he kept stressing that the U.S. wanted to see a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Netanyahu, meanwhile, went to Washington mainly to press the case for U.S. military action against Iran to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. But Obama refused to commit himself to any such thing, “not even as a last resort.” Instead, Obama’s biggest threat against Iran was that he might impose more sanctions. “The prime minister, his own hopes largely unrealized, was reduced to trying to finesse the stark differences” between himself and Obama.

Obama is starting to look like Jimmy Carter, said Yehuda Ben-Meir in Ha’aretz. And that’s saying a lot, because Carter was the U.S. president that Israel found the most difficult to work with—and “sometimes was even hostile.” For the first time in decades, there are officials in a U.S. administration who argue that American foreign policy “has been enslaved to Israel’s interests” and that a more balanced position is in order. But Israel won’t get anywhere by refusing to meet the U.S. halfway. Netanyahu will have to suck it up and “state clearly that the two-state solution is essential” to a lasting peace.

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“In practice, it is the Palestinians who reject the two-state solution,” said The Jerusalem Post in an editorial. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, offered a plan for land swaps that would have effectively given the Palestinians 100 percent of West Bank territory and a land link to Gaza. That would have “fast-tracked a two-state solution.” But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected that offer, insisting that Israel pull back to the original, “hard-to-defend” borders while demanding that millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war be allowed to settle in Israel. There are signs that Obama understands that Arab intransigence is the problem. He is “reportedly urging the Arab League” to come up with a “genuine peace plan.” That’s something that Israel—even under Netanyahu—could support.

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