Few can question the wisdom of the American president, Barack Obama, in deciding to visit Israel right at the beginning of his second term in office. The relation between the United States of America and Israel has been on a gradual downslide since Mr Obama’s first presidency, when he had unequivocally objected to Israel’s settlement-building in the disputed territories, besides being critical of Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership. Mr Netanyahu had shrewdly used this as an opportunity to distance Israel from the US’s fawning guardianship and strike out on his own in what he declared was Israel’s core objective — self-defence. That naturally gave the country the prerogative to decide its own strategy vis-à-vis its perceived enemies such as Iran, apart from the perpetually restive Palestinians in its own neighbourhood. The heightening of Israel’s conflict with Hamas and its repeated threats to launch independent attacks on both Iran and Syria have added to the US’s tensions, especially given America’s loosening control over both West Asia and the Maghreb. The fact that the recent elections in Israel have shown that not everyone is too happy with Mr Netanyahu’s choice of priorities may have given the US the hope that it could prod Israel into a de-escalation and revive the peace initiative for a two-state solution.
From his light banter to put Mr Netanyahu at ease to his commitment to Israel’s security, Mr Obama has shown during his Israel visit that his heart is in the right place. He has pledged to prevent Syria’s use of chemical weapons and stop Iran from developing its nuclear weapons in return for Mr Netanyahu’s renewal of commitment to the two-state plan. However, Mr Netanyahu may have gained more from the visit than Mr Obama did. Israel still retains its right to unilateral action in the name of self-defence and the liberty to follow up the peace plan according to its convenience. The inclusion of the rightist Jewish Home party in Mr Netanyahu’s government has offset the centrism of Yesh Atid. So there is no possibility of an immediate cessation of Israel’s settlement plans. Mr Obama, in fact, has even less hope of placating the Palestinians. The latter no longer harbour hopes of an equitable division of land, given the US’s undying loyalty to Israel that has been put on such open display at the United Nations through US hostility to the Palestinian bid for membership.