When Bibi Meets Barack

http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1466, March 02, 2012

On March 5, 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu will enter the White House, representing the Jewish State, which is gaining in popularity among Americans.  According to a February, 2012 Gallup poll, Israel benefits from a 71% approval rating, compared with 68% in February, 2011, well above Saudi Arabia’s 42% and the Palestinian Authority’s 19%.

Netanyahu will meet President Obama, who is eager to secure the support of Israel’s friends in the US, in order to boost his frail approval rating of 43%, according to a February 27, 2012 Gallup Poll. Unlike previous visits by Netanyahu, this time Obama will be anxious for warm photo-opportunities with Israel’s Prime Minister. 

On March 5, 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet President - as well as presidential candidate – Obama, who is engaged in an uphill reelection battle. Just like all his predecessors, Obama is consumed – domestically and internationally - by reelection. The March 5 meeting will be part of that electoral context, irrespective of Netanyahu’s wishes. Therefore, in order to avoid the appearance of partisanship, Netanyahu should, also, confer with the credible Republican Presidential candidates, lest he be accused of partisanship.

Netanyahu should not be intimidated by – and should not subordinate his agenda to - the assumption that Obama, supposedly, has a lock on reelection. The Presidential Second-Term Curse, which haunted every second-term president since George Washington, except for James Monroe, has intensified in recent years. Thus, second-term presidents reached the pinnacle of their clout upon reelection day, followed by a significant setback to their governance capabilities.  Furthermore, Obama’s inability to reach the 50% favorability threshold – even when intra-GOP bickering dominates the news – reflects his vulnerability.

Netanyahu should not be perturbed by White House warnings to refrain from an intense strategic/legislative dialogue with Congress, lest it be construed as a rude bypass of the President. Such warnings offend the pillars of US democracy: separation of co-determining and co-equal branches of government, independence of the Legislature and checks and balances.  Such warnings insult the US constituent, while undermining vital US and Israeli interests.  Netanyahu should not tolerate the relegation of Congress – the most authentic representative of the American People and Israel’s most sustained ally in Washington – to a secondary role in the area of national security and foreign policy. While Congress prefers to be preoccupied with domestic matters, it is capable of setting the agenda in any area, including international affairs, in general, and US-Israel relations, in particular. 

Netanyahu should not be swayed by the “Palestine Firsters” in the Administration.  US-Israel relations transcend the Arab-Israel conflict and the Palestinian issue. They are based on ancient, shared Judeo-Christian values and contemporary joint interests and mutual threats, irrespective of the Palestinian issue. 

Netanyahu should highlight the clear, present and devastating mutual-threat to the US, as well as to Israel, posed by nuclear Iran, the seismic Arab Street and the surge of Islamic terrorism.  All are independent of the Palestinian issue, which has never been the core cause of Mid-East unrest, the crown-jewel of Arab policy-making, or the crux of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Netanyahu should not provide a tailwind to American involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict.  The more involved the US, the more intensified are Arab expectations and terrorism, and the less likely the attainment of peace. The more involved is the US as an “honest broker,” the less involved it is as Israel’s unique ally, which erodes a mega-billion dollar benefit to US national security, US homeland security and US commercial and defense industries.

Netanyahu should present, to both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, a series of initiatives, which would dramatically expand the mutually-beneficial, win-win US-Israel defense and commercial cooperation, as a derivative of the dramatically destabilized reality on the Arab Street. For instance, amending the 1976 Arms Export Control Act, which constrains strategic cooperation with Israel; the pre-positioning in Israel of advanced US military systems – currently deployed in Europe - could prevent the toppling of a series of pro-US regimes in the Mid-East; the establishment of a bi-national foundation for enhanced cooperation between the respective defense industries; the upgrade of the Port of Ashdod for the benefit of the Sixth Fleet and the renewal of regular visits by the Sixth Fleet to Haifa; etc.  

Netanyahu should sustain the can-do and independent image of Israel, refusing to subordinate the independence of military action to presidential pressure, promises or electoral concerns. The only way for Israel to refrain from a military preemption against Iran’s lethal nuclear threat, is for the US to undertake such preemption. Considering the failed track record of sanctions and diplomacy – which have played into the hands of Iran - the only way to prevent is to preempt, at all cost.