With Israel confronting growing international isolation and a reckless Palestinian campaign to end-run direct negotiations at the United Nations in September, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces difficult challenges during his U.S. visit this week.
In particular, the prime minister’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday is both an opportunity and a risk.
If he makes a convincing case that his government is serious about finding new routes to direct negotiations despite Palestinian recalcitrance, and spells out in detail the steps he is willing to take, the beleaguered Jewish state may garner increased support. (That recalcitrance was highlighted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in his Tuesday New York Times Op-Ed, a masterpiece of evasion and historical revisionism.)
It will be a risk if Netanyahu’s speech, at the invitation of the House Republican leadership, plays into partisan battles in this country over the Israel issue. The strength of the pro-Israel effort has always been its breadth and its bipartisan character, a fact the prime minister should keep in mind.
It is appropriate for Netanyahu to remind his audience that the new Hamas-Fatah unity agreement represents one more major obstacle to a negotiated settlement; it would be counterproductive to leave it at that, without making clear his vision for breaking the deepening stalemate.
Netanyahu also can strengthen his case by explaining in the clearest possible terms Israel’s response to the tidal wave of change sweeping across the Arab world. Israel has good reasons to be apprehensive about the overthrow of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak and the ongoing unrest aimed at Syria’s Bashar Assad. Neither was a friend to the Jewish state but both kept the peace in ways that allowed Israel to focus on other threats.
But change is coming to the region, and Netanyahu needs to demonstrate to policymakers here — and to a nervous Jewish community — that his nation is prepared to meet it head on and continue to advocate for the cause of democracy even as it protects its own security.
There’s little question that relations between Netanyahu and President Barack Obama are less than warm. The prime minister would be well advised to use his speech and his private meetings this week to reach out and signal his determination to find ways to work collaboratively with the Obama team, and not try to use Congress as a blocking back to resist any new administration initiatives in the region.
This country remains Israel’s strongest ally, but its diplomatic initiatives in the Mideast appear played out. If the prime minister believes, as he says, that a two-state solution is best for all concerned, he needs to advance that cause before the opportunity is lost.