Obama-Netanyahu Meeting 5: A Victory for Both Sides and New Energy To Move the Peace Process Forward

Obama-Netanyahu Meeting 5: A Victory for Both Sides and New Energy To Move the Peace Process Forward
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Many sophisticated experts confidently predicted that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu would have another failed meeting this week. It was not a failed meeting. Many analysts declared the meeting a victory for Netanyahu. This may be true. But it was also a victory for Obama. Both of them achieved a goal that many considered beyond their reach.

Both leaders decided to give up their attempts to intimidate each other and, instead, to cooperate in order to achieve some results while the two men are still in office. Both leaders reached the conclusion that the special relationship between their two countries, which began on the very day of Israel's establishment with President Truman's recognition of Israel in the first hour of its existence, must be bolstered.

The combination of reasons which initiated this relationship remains surprisingly robust and solid. Israel was the first democracy created under the new United Nations and after the emergence of the Cold War. Truman understood what some State Department Middle East hands could not grasp: that Israel would be a strategic asset to the United States, supporting America through the Cold War and many other conflicts. He further recognized that Israel's presence in the Middle East, though opposed by America's Arab allies in the region, would still be an important bastion of American values and American military strength. The United States, Truman realized, would not have another ally in the Middle East as loyal and as militarily effective.

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu decided this week to forcefully declare, once again, these basic facts of their countries' relationship. They resolved to not allow their continuing disagreements about the peace process's specific issues, including very important concerns, to grow into a crisis in the special relationship. They both acknowledged that, in the era of Iran's nuclear ambition, of Al-Qaeda and other Islamic radical threats, and during a period of what is likely to be transitions of leadership in several important countries in the region, they would not permit themselves to veer off the main course.

By reinforcing the special relationship they provided the new energy required for moving the peace process forward now, so that an agreement will be reached on some issues before November 2012. I expect that direct talks will resume before the 2010 United Nations General Assembly in September. It would be made possible, not only by the economic improvements in Palestinian life engendered by effective Palestinian leadership, but also by an undeclared continuation of the Israeli settlement freeze without further provocations against the Palestinians in Jerusalem. I also anticipate that we will even see the first meeting of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu before the end of this calendar year.

Stephen P. Cohen, author of "Beyond America's Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2009), is president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development..

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