Analysis: By kicking Bibi, Obama hopes to save Abbas

By Shmuel Rosner, November 12, 2009

The Obama administration felt it had no choice but to humiliate Mr Netanyahu. It was a small price to pay if the gesture re-awakened the peace process. A small price to pay if the gesture convinced Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas not to make his resignation final. A small price to pay with a prime minister the Obama team never really liked, and probably will never like.

They look at Mr Netanyahu and see their own failure. They look at him and see the broken promise of the rekindled peace process. They meet him and they have to be nice — because being cold gained them nothing.

The White House had deliberately delayed the scheduling of the meeting, and demanded that Mr Netanyahu’s speech at the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations be conciliatory in tone. If Mr Netanyahu wanted the meeting, he had to pay for it. The PM could not complain. He almost religiously believes that “you have to give something if you want to get something”.

And he gave the speech — not quite as satisfactorily as the administration had hoped, but good enough for a meeting to take place. It was a long meeting, and an honest one. No wonder Bibi cancelled all press briefings scheduled for after the White House encounter.

Not that it was terrible or hostile — the participants say it was not. But it was also not a meeting from which one can emerge declaring that there were no differences.

Mr Obama — frustrated with the lack of progress on the peace front — knows quite well that he has made some mistakes, but is also unhappy with Mr Netanyahu for making his life even more complicated.

The triumphant tone of Jerusalem’s officials — claiming they had “won” the settlement-freeze battle, whispering that the Americans have “learned” a lesson, boasting that they “stood up” to the popular President — is not making Washingtonian officials happy. And it also makes it so much more complicated with the Palestinian leadership.

That is really the key to every American move on the peace process in the coming weeks. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stunned the White House with her careless statement last week, calling Israel’s settlement concessions “unprecedented”.

She made it even more difficult for the Obama team to make nice with Mr Abbas. And since Mr Obama can’t punish Mrs Clinton, he punishes Mr Netanyahu.

The battle with Mr Obama has made Bibi more popular, not less. His shoulders should be strong enough by now to bear the burden of trying to bring Mr Abbas back to the table.

Shmuel Rosner blogs at Rosner’s Domain

Last updated: 2:26pm, November 8 2010