The Palestinians will continue their initiative to obtain UN recognition for an independent state come September. The Americans will keep working to soften and weaken the wording of the resolution, so that it will not be binding. Netanyahu will go on preparing the Israeli public for a confrontation. “It was a war speech, not a peace speech,” an Israeli diplomat said of Netanyahu’s warmly received appearance before a joint session of Congress.
Obama, for his part, also needed the quarrel with Netanyahu, though more for external than for domestic reasons. After his failure to get a construction freeze in the settlements, he wanted to show his pals in Europe that he is not afraid of the Jewish lobby or of Netanyahu. So he looked for a message that would be taken as moderate pressure on Israel.
The U.S. administration’s working assumption was and remains that there is no chance at this time to renew the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations;
Netanyahu wanted to take as firm a stance as possible ahead of the negotiations over the UN resolution in September. He therefore presented a stack of nos, wrapped in a promise that Israel would be the first to recognize Palestine if Abbas abandons his partnership with Hamas and recognizes Israel as the Jewish state. Abbas will not surrender to that dictate quickly, but Netanyahu is signaling that they have something to talk about. Four months is an eternity in diplomacy.
The tension and effort of that show for Congress was visible when Netanyahu met with the Israeli correspondents three hours afterward. He believes the effort was worthwhile and the result bears historic significance. As he sees it, the representatives of the American people endorsed his approach, including his demand that the Palestinians recognize “the state of the Jewish people” and his refusal to withdraw to the 1967 lines.
The collision between Netanyahu and Obama has been deferred for a few months, until the Palestinian move in the UN, or the third intifada, or both. It’s only then – maybe – that the moment for decisions will arrive. Netanyahu wants to come to that moment with the Israeli public, the coalition and the American political leadership standing with him, in case he has to take action and not just make speeches.