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Obama,Netanyahu - the alternative

We'd call this week's White House meeting between President Obama and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a draw. Mr. Netanyahu promised to promote Palestinian independence as a basis for a state. Whether or not he mentioned "two state solution" is really irrelevant as even moderate leaders Fatah, can't bring themselves to acknowledge the right of a Jewish state to exist in the Middle East. Mr. Obama promised that his patience with Iran, and its nuclear ambitions, was limited, but aside from promising harsh sanctions if Iran doesn't restrain its ambitions promised no teeth to prevent Iran from developing these dangerous weapons.
A draw was probably the best that could be hoped for -- and far less than is needed. But it is unserious to classify the meeting as a draw. It reflects narrow thinking, which believes that diplomacy is simply a matter of who scored the most points, rather than who presented the best way forward. It's not clear that the President has done that.

Mr. Obama has concluded that to succeed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the United States must repair its relations with the Muslim world. This is putting the cart before the horse. For too long the Muslim world has used the Arab-Israeli conflict as an excuse for acting against American interests and as a cover for its own failings.

The Israeli leader is not likely to make that easy. His coalition government -- which reflects a broad consensus of Israeli society -- must be respected. If the Muslim world refuses to acknowledge our democratic ally we must stand by Israel.That will not be politically popular in the Muslim world, but it is in its best interest.

Mr. Obama also needs to rally Arab states to treat Israel appropriately. We don't agree with every Israeli policy and don't expect them to. However, whatever mistakes Israel makes, do not render it illegitimate. The Arab world must normalize relations with Israel, and rejecting those who refuse to accept Israel's right to exist. It's hypocritical to hold Israel responsible for the Palestinian failure to build the institutions of governance, while denying the right to vote their own populations. Palestinians must do more to prove that they are capable of self-government.

Mr. Netanyahu is, not surprisingly, uncomfortable with Mr. Obama's decision to test Tehran with an offer of negotiations. The Israelis are right that time is clearly on Iran's side.

The current plan is for the United States to join the Europeans and Russia in talks with Iran, right after Iran's June presidential elections. There is the possibility of bilateral talks to follow. Mr. Obama said he would assess progress by year's end. If diplomacy is moving forward, he should resist pressure to shut it down prematurely. We hope he is using the time now to prepare Europe and Russia for the necessity of military action if this effort fails.

Mr. Obama is scheduled to meet with Mr. Abbas at the White House next week and to give a major speech in Cairo on June 4. Aides are discouraging rumors that he will use that speech to lay out an American peace plan. With so many watching, he must speak honestly with the Muslim world, and encourage it to embrace freedom and reject antisemitism as official state ideologies.

George W. Bush, the first president to outline the responsibilities the Palestinians and the Arab world had for creating a state of Palestine never followed through sufficiently. Mr. Obama must do better.


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