If all goes as planned, President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, once diplomatic allies but now divided by a handful of substantive issues, will meet in Washington today. hat transpires at the meeting will directly and immediately impact both domestic and foreign policy in each nation. Consequently, there likely is far more at stake today than in any of the eight previous meetings between the men.
The main topic of conversation today is sure to be Iran's nuclear program and how to deal with it. Stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be a major agenda item as well. The on-going strife in Syria and the political situation in other Arab nations will get an airing, too. Underlying it all, will be each man's need to tailor what emerges from the meeting to his own political need. That will be difficult.
The on-going Republican presidential primary makes Obama's task especially difficult. The situation in Iran and the U.S.-Israeli relationship are staples of GOP stump speeches. The implication is that Obama is too soft and slow in promoting U.S. interests, and that a GOP nominee will be tougher. That may or may not be true, but the president can not afford at this juncture in an election year to give ground on either topic. That likely will make Netanyahu more intransigent.
The Israeli leader wants something done about Iran and its nuclear threat. Indeed, it's increasingly clear that Israel has not ruled out a military attack on Iran if it would promote the Jewish nation's security. Netanyahu would like assurances that the United States would support or even join such a mission. Obama, of course, is unlikely to make such a commitment.
The president, instead, wants Netanyahu to give sanctions and other efforts against Iran to work. The Israeli seems somewhat willing to do so, but in a much shorter time frame than Obama would like. That's understandable. Israel's proximity to Iran means it has less time to develop and implement a response to nuclear initiatives.
Palestinian peace talks, the near-civil war in Syria and unrest in other Arab countries are divisive topics for Obama and Netanyahu, as well. The former must find a way to placate the large and politically active pro-Israel community in the United States without compromising his Mideast peace efforts. Netanyahu, too, must balance the competing political desires of Israeli militants and moderates willing to make some territorial sacrifices in return for peace and security guarantees. Neither will find his highly politicized task easy.
It might be too much to expect that today's talks will end the evident rift between Obama and Netanyahu, but it is always possible that a candid conversation will begin the process of rebuilding the once strong bond between the men and the nations they lead.