As with many things in life, timing in politics is everything. Take Gorbachev’s visit to Beijing in the summer of 1989 in the midst of the widespread unrest taking place all over China. The Communist regime was having a hard time dealing with the growing anarchy on the streets, and was divided as to how exactly suppress it. Visiting heads of state were traditionally received in Tiananmen Square, in front of the Forbidden City, but the ceremony for the Russian president was moved to the airport, because of the mayhem taking place in the square. Many party leaders were shamed by this change in plans into lobbying a more aggressive approach. On the 4thof June, the Chinese army entered into Beijing and violently dispersed the demonstrations.
Assuming that American presidential visits to Israel are never accidental or coincidental, one has to wonder about the specific timing chosen by Obama’s team. The peace process is frozen, Netanyahu is still struggling to build a coalition, and there are no apparent internal political points to be gained by Obama, so why now? What has changed?
The answer can be found in the results of the Israeli elections, which demonstrated a weakening of Netanyahu’s political clout. The strengthening of the Israeli center-left parties, and the emergence of a strong alternative rightist party, coincided with the rise of new political stars. More than anything, these results expressed a public sentiment of disappointment with, and disillusionment from, Netanyahu, a fact that was not lost on Obama’s advisers who identified a unique window of opportunity for pressurizing Israel into making a serious effort to renew the peace talks with the Palestinians. Capitalizing on Netanyahu’s political weakening, the American administration announced the planned visit, and the effects were almost immediate.
The change of tone by Netanyahu, who, much to his credit, astutely understood the changed circumstances, became quite apparent. The two-state solution suddenly reemerged in Netanyahu’s post-election rhetoric after not being mentioned at all during Netanyahu’s campaign. The purposely set pre-conditions for renewing talks, dropped. Additionally, the planned visit also influenced Netanyahu’s strategies to form his new government, as he quickly moved to close a deal with Livni, who heavily campaigned on renewing the peace talks.
Interestingly enough, there is an obvious effort by political elements close to Netanyahu, and certain media outlets, to try and tie the visit to the issue of Iran. Obama’s visit, so they claim, is intended to dissuade Israel from attempting to counter Iran’s nuclear aspirations by acting unilaterally. I have to doubt the reasoning behind this claim, as it seems highly unlikely that Obama would make the trip just to repeat the exact same warning voiced time and again during the past few months in numerous high-level consultations between American and Israeli officials. It is almost as if Netanyahu is making every effort not to appear pressurized.
In what is perhaps his last opportunity for justifying the Nobel Peace prize he won by brokering a deal between Israel and the Palestinians, Obama is going to try and convince a tired, apathetic and mainly disinterested Israeli public that a renewal of peace talks is the only viable option for ensuring a democratic Jewish state of Israel. It is of course a shame that it is an American president making this sales pitch and not an Israeli prime minister.