Sometimes, image matters.
Yes, security matters more. But if a nation (fairly or not) develops a reputation for intransigence, public support suffers, and with that, the ability to secure its borders.
With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barak Obama scheduled to meet next week, it would be beneficial for both the U.S. and the Israeli governments to consider in advance items on which they can publicly agree.
Agreement looks good. There are no good guys or bad guys. Everyone is working on the same team, trying to achieve the peaceful resolution of a weighty problem.
One logical area of agreement is the idea of the two-state solution. While Netanyahu has not specifically endorsed that strategy, his defense minister, Ehud Barak, told Ha’aretz on Monday that he believes the prime minister will present the United States with a plan based on that principle, as spelled out in the Oslo accords.
Since the Israeli government bound itself to that position in prior written agreements, it should be expected that Netanyahu will affirm this position. Especially if he plans to honor these accords, he should say so now. To do otherwise is to appear like a spoiler, and that matters.
Public perception is fickle. Right now, the media treat Egypt and Saudi Arabia as peace-seeking, pragmatic nations, determined to bring about a breakthrough in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. While there is some truth to this, the real reason for this newfound enthusiasm is that these countries are frightened of Iran and looking for some way to defuse tensions in the region.
That, however, is irrelevant. If they look as if they want peace, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is perceived as moderate (as compared with Hamas), it makes little sense for Israel to look like the only intransigent party – especially when she is holding out on positions the country has already endorsed.
It is equally important for the United States to engage in some straight talk. Sadly, Vice President Biden’s “You’re not going to like my saying this” speech at the recent AIPAC conclave did not break much new ground. For example, while urging that Israel help buttress Abbas’s authority, it did not allude to problems such as Abbas’s inability to stop Hamas from firing missiles into Israel.
If Netanyahu needs to look more flexible, Biden needed to be more nuanced. Let’s hope both governments put their best feet forward at their upcoming meeting.