There was some sense of relief and even hidden smiles in Jerusalem following President Obama’s confession that his hope to achieve Middle East peace was exaggerated.
This reminded me of a saying attributed to former PM Yitzhak Shamir: “A day in which nothing happened is a good day”. He meant that Israel should neither initiate nor give anything, because, according to another one of his legendary sayings, “The Arabs are the same Arabs and the sea is the same sea”.
Binyamin Netanyahu, Mr Shamir’s student, may think the same deep in his heart. Yet in his speech at Bar Ilan University, on June 14, 2009, the man who had sworn that a Palestinian state was a mortal danger to Israel spoke the unspeakable and endorsed — albeit reluctantly — the two-state solution.
Why this about-face? I believe Mr Netanyahu was impressed — if not intimidated — by the enthusiastic way charismatic President Barack Obama took on the awesome Mideast challenge. Maybe he reasoned that even if Mr Obama fails, it was unwise to stand in his way.
That some of us doubted in the first place the feasibility of Mr Obama’s ambitious goals is beside the point. What is more important is to see how Mr Netanyahu reacts now that Mr Obama admitted that his hopes had been unrealistic.
Mr Netanyahu can argue, with some justification, that peace between Arabs and Israelis was achieved only when there was a genuine desire for it on both sides, and when US intervention was not necessary in the first place.
But this is only partially true. It was the interim agreements between Israel and Egypt, brokered in the mid 1970s by the tireless Henry Kissinger, that laid the ground for the Camp David Accords.
And it was the Madrid conference in 1991, when President Bush dragged everybody to the table, that paved the way to reconciliation with the PLO two years later.
Rejoicing at the American self-disappointment, then, is not so smart.
At the same time Mr Netanyahu might retreat into a Shamir-like complacency, and continue buying time. Except that between the sea that Mr Shamir mentioned 20 years ago and the Jordan River there will soon be more Arabs than Jews.
Mr Netanyahu, by doing nothing, will actually do a lot: he will help create a one, bi-national state, in which Jews will become the minority. He should therefore do his utmost to prevent this, with or without American intervention.