Monday, May 18, 2009

Obama vs Netanyahu: The confrontation that wasn't

The meeting between Israeli Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, which was supposed to be a major event of diplomatic pugilism, has ended in a gentleman's draw. Media hype-ists were selling ringside seats to the fight of the decade: "Chicago Killer vs IDF Commando." The Obama - Netanyahu meet was billed as a critical championship bout in which fans would see blood. Netanyahu would ask for immediate action on Iran, Obama would insist on immediate Israeli concessions and backing for a two-state solution.

Instead, what the spectators got to see was at most a velvet gloves sparring match, in which both leaders emphasized points of agreement and studiously avoided confrontation. We don't really know everything that went on in the closed doors meeting, but the impression left by the news conference following what was to be a supposedly historic face-off was somewhat of a Rashomon or projective test, which allowed everyone to come away with the message they wanted to hear or expected to hear. At worst, it was a 15 round sparring contest, in which Obama, who has both the advantage of being President of the United States as well as enormous charisma, won on points. There was no knockout. Publicly, there were no surprises.

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