President Obama was a man changed for the better on his trip to Israel. He offered a more realistic base for approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was muscular in standing with the Jewish state against Iran’s march toward nuclear weaponry.
Previously, Obama insisted that Israel must freeze construction of all “settlements” — which often meant homes built for Jews in parts of Jerusalem — as a precondition of peace talks.
This elevation of what had been a side issue was tactically naive and gave Palestinians an easy out rather than demand that they confront the terrorism and obstinacy in their midst.
Now, though, Obama urged Palestinians to return to peace talks whether or not a settlement freeze is in place. The President seems to have learned better than to minimize the depth of Palestinian rejectionism. Rockets fired into Israel from Hamas-controlled Gaza underscored that he has awakened into wisdom.
Regarding Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been pressing Obama and the world to recognize that the mullahs are dangerously close to the “red line” at which they can proceed without difficulty to assembly of their enriched uranium into a deliverable nuclear weapon.
He has placed the line sometime this spring or summer, while Obama said, most unhelpfully, just before his trip that Iran was a year or so away from having the bomb. The two men did their best to display joint resolve to stop Iran, if necessary by force, while differences on timing remained subtly but clearly apparent.
Based on press coverage, Obama accomplished the mission of winning greater trust from the Israeli people and government, trust that he had diminished in his first term. He must work to strengthen these new bonds with action, because he and Netanyahu must have full confidence in each other in order to confront the existential threat posed to Israel by a nuke-wielding Iran.
For his part, Netanyahu helped Obama score an unexpected diplomatic breakthrough by apologizing to Turkey for tactical errors in a commando raid that left nine Turkish activists dead.
In 2010, Israel intercepted a ship that had sailed from Turkey with the goal of breaking Israel’s naval blockade of shipping into ports in Gaza. Israel enforces the embargo, recognized as lawful by the United Nations, to prevent Hamas from importing weapons with which to attack Israel.
Critically, Netanyahu acknowledged only that Israeli forces had botched the raid, not that stopping the ship was improper. Making the call to Islamist Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan — who has called Zionism a “crime against humanity” — must have been tough for Netanyahu.
But he sent Obama home with the surprise coup of restoring diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey, along with a sense that the U.S. and Israel are in closer sync. They must be.