FOR the first time in many years, an Israeli government is scared stiff that an American administration may squeeze it until its pips squeak. That is surely a good thing, if it makes the Israelis more amenable to giving the Palestinians the fair deal—in essence, a proper state of their own—that might bring peace to the two peoples and to the wider region of the Middle East. So when Barack Obama meets Binyamin Netanyahu in the White House on May 18th, he must be tough with him.
Mr Netanyahu refuses publicly to accept the notion of two states. He seems to want to continue to squeeze the Gaza Strip until its elected government, run by the Islamist movement, Hamas, is toppled. He says he will not give Syria back the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered in 1967. He now adds a demand that the Palestinians should not just recognise Israel as a country but as a specifically Jewish state. He refuses to freeze the growth of Jewish settlements that continue to bite into what is left of a barely contiguous Palestinian state on the West Bank. And, most pressingly, he seeks to link peace with the Palestinians to a prior deal between the West and Iran to ensure that the Islamic Republic is prevented from having a nuclear bomb. His stance on these issues makes him appear an unpromising partner in negotiation; but much the same was said of Menachem Begin, whom the Americans persuaded to make peace with Egypt 30 years ago, so it’s certainly worth Mr Obama’s while to put some political capital into budging him.
Mr Obama must tell Mr Netanyahu that he is flat wrong on all those counts. No more settlements can be built or expanded—on pain of a reduction in American aid. On Iran, Mr Netanyahu’s logic is back-to-front. For sure, sensible leaders the world over, including Arab ones, want Iran to forgo the bomb. But how much easier it would be to persuade the Iranians to drop their ambitions if they were unable to invoke the unresolved conflict over Israel as part of a holy nuclear cause.
It is not just for the Palestinians’ sake that Mr Obama needs to take a tough line. Being too kind to the Israelis, as American administrations have been in the past, does them no favour in the long run either. Israel’s long-term security can be ensured only by America cajoling and even threatening its leaders in the hope that they will accept that the Israeli state’s safety depends overwhelmingly on the viability of a Palestinian one.
The rest of the leader deals with the problem of a divided Palestine, urges Obama to back a reconciled national unity government, and there is another article here on the Israel-US relationship and one on Obama's Middle East policy more generally here.