The most surprising thing about President Obama’s press appearance with Israeli prime minister Netanyahu today was the way in which Netanyahu kept returning to first principles in his discussion with Obama.
Obama went first, and largely went over the ground he covered in yesterday’s speech, while noting that “obviously, there are some differences” between his views and those of Netanyahu. Netanyahu, in contrast, took Obama back to the basics of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. He explained that the 1967 borders were indefensible and that they were the “boundaries of repeated conflicts.” While Obama merely acknowledged that that “Hamas is an organization that has resorted to terror,” Bibi made the statement more starkly and tried to fold Obama’s views in with his own: “Hamas, as the president said, is a terrorist organization, committed to Israel’s destruction.” He also highlighted a specific and recent act of terror, Hamas’s anti-tank-weapon attack on a school bus. Netanyahu then brought Hamas’s hostility to the U.S. home to Obama, pointedly saying that “Hamas attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States, for ridding the world of bin Laden.”
Netanyahu further explained that the Arab attack on Israel in 1948 created two refugee problems, of equivalent numbers. In addition to the Palestinian refugees, Israel’s Arab neighbors expelled their Jewish residents during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The difference, Netanyahu said, was that “tiny Israel” absorbed their refugees, while the Arab countries refused to do the same with the Palestinians. Finally, he brought out his trump card, 4,000 years of Jewish tragedies, including pogroms, expulsions, and massacres.
None of what Netanyahu said was new, but what was striking was the way in which he felt the need to provide this kind of a history lesson when discussing Israel’s situation with an American president. After 60-plus years of friendship between the two countries, one would think that we were past that point. Obama’s speech yesterday evidently showed Bibi that with this president, he feels the need to return to square one.