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Why Obama Should Listen to Bibi

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
June 15, 2009
The Daily Beast

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In his speech Sunday, the Israeli prime minister made security points that Team Obama must not ignore—and absent Palestinian concessions, he went as far on settlements as any Israeli leader could go.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today threw President Obama a couple of big bones, and the White House will label them a step in the right direction. Neither will confront the other further for a while, as both digest the Iran situation.

Bibi, as he is known, actually made some significant points that Washington shouldn’t ignore. He said a two-state solution was acceptable as long as the Palestinian state was demilitarized and it recognized Israel as a "Jewish state," meaning no return for exiled Palestinians. Obama and the Palestinians won’t like these conditions, but they are very widely supported by Israelis and reflect legitimate security concerns. Bibi also conceded that Israel would not build "new settlements" on the West Bank, but would continue "natural growth" within existing settlements. This is about as much as any Israeli leader could do on this volatile issue, absent concessions from Palestinians.

Privately, Team Obama will let the press know that Bibi’s offerings fall short of what’s needed for negotiating progress. Publicly, they will utter kind words.

Privately, Team Obama will let the press know that Bibi’s offerings fall short of what’s needed for negotiating progress. Publicly, they will utter kind words. Obama has larger fish to fry. He wants to keep doors open for talks with Iran, as Vice President Biden said today. He can’t take on conservatives both on talking with Iran and criticizing Bibi at the same time. Priority goes to Tehran, where Obama hopes to avoid new confrontation and move toward common action in the region.

The time probably will come to beat up on Bibi. But Washington should heed Bibi’s security points and not push further until the Palestinians themselves offer compromises—which they have not done.

Meantime, these two allied leaders will restrict their serious pushing and shoving to how to handle Iran.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009), a book that shows how to think about and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.

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