While he and Obama have differed over whether a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is wise, there is still a good chance for coordination. The Israelis don’t want to strike unilaterally. Netanyahu is hoping that either through a credible deal on restricting Iran’s uranium enrichment or through U.S. military action, the Iranian nuclear program will be constrained, if not undermined, and Israel won’t have to act alone.
On the Palestinians, past experience suggests that common ground will remain elusive. But the new Israeli government isn’t looking for a confrontation with the United States. A substantial number of seats in parliament are occupied by those who either support a credible process with the Palestinians or would acquiesce in one. And because the chances for a breakthrough are slim, there won’t be much U.S. pressure. So Netanyahu won’t get a lot of mileage from the old trope of Bibi, King of Israel, standing up to Obama.
Similarly, Obama isn’t looking for a fight right now. He is already a historic president; he wants to be a great one, too. And that means taking his biggest risks on a domestic agenda, not a foreign one. (He has acknowledged that the chances for Mideast peace are bleak.) His domestic legacy requires working with Republicans or taking the House back in 2014. So he’ll want to avoid fights with Israel that will stir up Republicans and make Democrats nervous.
Most important, Obama and Netanyahu may realize that without better cooperation, they will have zero chance of managing the two problems — the Iranian nuclear issue and the Palestinians — that threaten their individual and collective interests. If Netanyahu wants to be remembered as more than a do-nothing prime minister, and if Obama wants to avoid being the American president on whose watch Iran gets the bomb and the two-state solution expires, they’ll have to cooperate. As leaders, their time is running out.
I’m betting they make the effort to work together. But if not, they can always go back to the alternative. They certainly have had plenty of practice.
Read more from Outlook:
What Bill Clinton can teach Obama about the Israelis
Five myths about Chuck Hagel
How to break a Middle East stalemate
Five myths about Obama’s foreign policy
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