Netanyahu’s Dilemma: What Happens in Washington Stays in Washington

David Horovitz, writing in today’s Jerusalem Post, paints a very compelling picture of the situation that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu finds himself in after this week’s meeting in Washington with President Barack Obama. Horovitz points out that Obama has left Netayahu with little “wiggle room” on the settlement issue: either stop all settlements, including “natural expansion” or be cast as obstructionists.

Recall that the settlement issue is like kryptonite in Israeli domestic politics, and that Netanyahu himself rode to power defying a previous generation of Israeli leaders who tried to use the settlers as pawns in a wider peace initiative. Ironically, Netanyahu himself now has to decide whether to defy the U.S. and keep his coalition intact, or else risk his entire government in the hope that an American-led process will overwhelm intransigent Israeli hard-liners.

It’s hard to feel sympathy for a hardball player like Netanyahu, but we can certainly appreciate the horns of his dilemma.

What strikes me as interesting about this discussion and many others surrounding the meeting in Washington is that everyone seems to act as if Hamas doesn’t exist, or that somehow they are going to be willing to negotiate themselves out of power. On top of that, despite all his peaceful posturing, Netanyahu returned to Israel and declared that “Jerusalem will never be divided,” as if to somehow signal to the Israeli right — and to the Palestinians — that, to paraphrase the TV commercial, “what happens in Washington stays in Washington.”

History suggests that we are heading down a familiar path. Like a chess game between two bitter rivals who know where the game is heading after the first gambit, one wonders, Why bother?

It may be time to pull back from all the big, comprehensive “roadmaps” and instead concentrate on smaller, and more realistic, objectives. If the U.S presses the settler issue too hard and too fast there could erupt a kind of civil war in Israel. Does anyone in Washington want that? Trying to resolve the issue of Palestinian governance without somehow dealing with the fact that Hamas, and its Iranian backers, are happy with the way things are is also likely to lead to civil war. Unless someone is willing to go into Gaza, clean out Hamas and shove the PA down the throats of the Gazans, then trying to negotiate a comprehensive deal that excludes Hamas, and by default Iran, seems to be a losing proposition.

A fully independent, autonomous Palestinian state is a nice idea,but in the current climate, with the current cast of characters, itjust isn’t going to happen. The best that can be hoped for in the short-term is that the Israelis freeze their settlement activity without any major pullbacks, that Hamas stops the rocket attacks and that Israel gets to serious work on cooperating to revive the Palestinian economy, including Gaza. Washington may not accept it, even if in Jerusalem it is gospel: The road to peace in the region runs as much through Tehran as it does through Ramallah and Gaza City.