By presenting a two-year timetable for the peace agreements, the president will make it clear that dealing with Iran is more urgent than establishing an independent Palestine alongside Israel.
That will be a major diplomatic achievement for Netanyahu. In his visit to the White House in May, the prime minister’s main aim was to persuade Obama of “Iran first and the Palestinians afterward.” It was convenient at the time for Obama to present a disagreement with Netanyahu in order to strengthen U.S. credibility in the Arab world. One hundred days later, it turns out that on the crucial issue – setting the foreign affairs agenda – Netanyahu’s view prevailed.
Next year, 2010, will be the “year of Iran.” The Palestinians will have to wait their turn and pass the time in empty talks until Iran is restrained. Under the quid pro quo principle, in return for advancing action on Iran, Netanyahu agreed to freeze construction in the West Bank settlements for a period of nine months, according to leaks from his talks with U.S. envoy George Mitchell.
Netanyahu has a chance for a good second round with Obama. The president is hungry for a policy achievement, which Netanyahu can provide to him in the form of a construction freeze in the settlements and the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians.
But his true test will come when Obama’s timetable reaches the critical point. If Israel is perceived as the party that torpedoed the peace process and spoiled Obama’s 2012 campaign, Netanyahu will be punished – provided, of course, he manages to survive politically until then.