Monday, May 04, 2009

PM Netanyahu’s tank

President Peres’ meeting with Obama to serve as introduction to Bibi’s visit

Eitan Haber
Israel Opinion

There is no doubt that someone at the White House’s protocol department suffered a stroke recently, or at the very least was overcome by consternation: Shimon Peres, the State of Israel’s president, is the first one to arrive for a meeting with President Obama? According to tradition and to the acceptable norms associated with the very special relationship between Washington and Jerusalem, it is customary for an Israeli prime minister, almost immediately after being elected, to pack his bags and head to the American capital. This is what almost all Israeli prime ministers in the last generation did.

Why? First and foremost, this is a gesture to the United States for everything it has said and done on behalf of the State of Israel thus far. And between us, this custom also constitutes acknowledgement and recognition of Washington’s influence (absolute influence, in my view) on Jerusalem.

Some would say that it’s a case of the slave traveling to meet his master (and I say: Let them say whatever they want! As long as the US cares for our security and economy.)

Moreover, in past generations, when it came to previous prime ministers, presidents or other ministers did not dare meet with the US president before the PM. The few attempts that were made to meet the president before the PM were cruelly torpedoed by the prime minister’s close associates.

Meanwhile, the US president would usually return the favor to a new Israeli prime minister, by always – always – meeting the Israeli PM before meeting any other Middle Eastern leader, thereby presenting to everyone in the world America’s fondness for the State of Israel over others. This is not just a question of protocol. Our neighbors would clench their teeth and mutter harsh words about the American president’s mother.

Yet this time around, almost half the world has already met Obama, including Middle Eastern leaders (amazingly enough, even Mahmoud Abbas,) while President Peres headed to Washington last night.

Obama to be ‘pleasantly surprised’

The fact that is visible to all, that is, Obama already met regional leaders and will meet Peres before he meets Netanyahu, points to one possibility: Netanyahu is greatly debating on the diplomatic plan he wishes to present to the US president.

The prime minister, who is more mature after 10 years in the opposition desert, is more American than many Americans and he fully realizes that with the kind of statements he made during the election campaign there is no point for him to even pack his neckties or head to the airport. He has overcome, a long time ago, the arrogance that prompted him to try to convince everyone, including the American president, that his way is the right way.

In addition, Obama conveyed very clear hints regarding his intentions and plans, and to Netanyahu’s credit, he understands the new winds blowing through the White House’s corridors. In this respect, President Peres’ journey to the White House is similar to a tank making way for the troops behind him through a minefield.

The experienced and wise Peres is the introduction to Netanyahu’s visit. He will praise Netanyahu and tell Obama about the lessons learned by the Israeli prime minister; Peres will also hint that Netanyahu of the election campaign is not the same Netanyahu when it comes to diplomatic initiatives (and of course, the same is true for Lieberman as well.) The American president shall be “pleasantly surprised” (or some kind of a similar expression) by Netanyahu’s’ peace intentions.

So at least in this respect, the State of Israel was granted the right Israeli president at the right time, as well as a prime minister who may reinforce, just like some of his predecessors, the well-known Israeli idiom: “Only the Right can bring peace, just like only the Left can embark on war.”

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