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Yoram Ettinger: When Bibi meets Barack

Netanyahu and Obama share parting words

Netanyahu and Obama share parting words
Photo Credit: Avi Ohayon/Government Press Office/Flash90

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

Netanyahu will meet U.S. President Barack Obama, who is eager to secure the support of Israel’s friends in the U.S. in order to boost his frail approval rating of 43%, according to a Feb. 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, Netanyahu will meet a President – as well as presidential candidate, who is engaged in an uphill re-election battle. Just like all his predecessors, Obama is consumed – domestically and internationally – by re-election. The March 5 meeting will be part of that electoral context, irrespective of Netanyahu’s wishes. Therefore, in order to avoid the appearance and accusal of partisanship, Netanyahu should, also, confer with the credible Republican presidential candidates.

Netanyahu should not be intimidated by – and should not subordinate his agenda to – the assumption that Obama has a lock on re-election. The presidential second-term curse, which has haunted every second-term president since George Washington except for James Monroe, has intensified in recent years. Thus, second-term presidents have reached the pinnacle of their clout upon re-election day, followed by a significant setback to their abilities to govern. 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 U.S. democracy: separation of co-determining and co-equal branches of government, independence of the legislature, and checks and balances. Such warnings insult the U.S. constituent, while undermining vital U.S. 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 U.S.-Israel relations, in particular.

Netanyahu should not be swayed by the “Palestine Firsters” in the U.S. Administration. U.S.-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 U.S., as well as to Israel, posed by a 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 Middle 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 U.S., the more intensified are Arab expectations and terrorism, and the less likely the attainment of peace. The more involved the U.S. is as an “honest broker,” the less involved it is as Israel’s unique ally, which erodes a mega-billion dollar benefit to U.S. national security, U.S. homeland security and U.S. 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 U.S.-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 U.S. military systems – currently deployed in Europe – could prevent the toppling of a series of pro-U.S. regimes in the Middle East; the establishment of a binational 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 U.S. 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 costs.

 

Originally published at http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=1466 

About the Author: Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger is consultant to Israel’s Cabinet members and Israeli legislators, and lecturer in the U.S., Canada and Israel on Israel’s unique contributions to American interests, the foundations of U.S.-Israel relations, the Iranian threat, and Jewish-Arab issues.


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