Marc Lynch

Arabs get the message on the Obama-Netanyahu meeting

 I don’t have time today to write anything substantive about yesterday’s meeting between Obama and Netanyahu — more later.  But I did want to mention that the headlines across virtually all the Arab papers have the same basic message: Obama backs two-state solution and calls for stopping settlements.  That has to be the message which ...

 I don’t have time today to write anything substantive about yesterday’s meeting between Obama and Netanyahu — more later.  But I did want to mention that the headlines across virtually all the Arab papers have the same basic message: Obama backs two-state solution and calls for stopping settlements.  That has to be the message which the administration hoped would reach Arab public opinion, and judging by the first round of coverage it did.  (His direct mention of the need to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza played well as well.)

The message was roughly the same across the great Arab divide, from al-Jazeera to al-Arabiya,  from al-Hayat (which ran a picture of Obama smiling and Netanyahu grimacing) to al-Sharq al-Awsat, from Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar  to Palestine’s al-Quds and Jordan’s al-Dustour. Hamas wasn’t impressed, but even it’s site noted Obama’s statements about the two-state solution.  I could give a lot more examples, but it’s pretty much the same across the board. 

 That doesn’t mean that Arab publics expect a quick solution or have instantly abandoned their deep skepticism about American intentions or ability to deliver results.  There were clear differences in how much the different media outlets emphasized his commitment to engaging Iran.  But there is little in this initial round of press coverage to suggest that the Arab public is disappointed or frustrated with the Obama-Netanyahu meeting.  

 UPDATE:  to clarify:  this generally positive Arab perspective on yesterday’s meeting obviously doesn’t extend to Netanyahu.  Coverage of his remarks was scathing, disappointed, and angry — his refusal to mention the two-state solution or to respond on settlements, and his seeming preference for what al-Jazeera labeled Palestinian "self-rule" drew a lot of critical attention. 

I see that Israelis are spinning the meeting as showing a strategic convergence on Iran as more important than the disagreements on the Palestinian issue.  It’s an especially tough case to make since Obama explicitly rejected the Israeli "sequencing/linkage" argument by saying "If there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way.. to the extent that we can make peace… between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with the potential Iranian threat." The idea that the Israelis scored by getting Obama to put a "deadline" of the end of the year for engagement is also pretty weak — especially considering the Israelis had evidently been pushing for a one month deadline for the talks (according to Gen. Herzog at WINEP last week), and that Obama explicitly rejected the idea of an "artificial deadline."  The people selling — and buying — the spin that Obama endorsed a deadline and the Israeli view are either deluded, or else hoping nobody is really paying attention.  

Overall, the Arab media is highlighting the wide chasm between Obama’s and Netanyahu’s position on Palestinian issues, to Obama’s benefit, and not any supposed convergence on Iran.  That will only last until the first serious test, of course — over settlements most likely. His response to that first test will crystallize Arab views of his seriousness and credibility. 

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