Obama is under no illusions about the short-term prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The convulsions rippling across the region pose gargantuan complications. So does the alliance between Fatah and Hamas; in his own speech at AIPAC in May, Obama affirmed that “no country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction.” But equally problematic is Netanyahu, whose consistent failure to rise to the occasions presented him over the past years put him in a position to adopt as his own the tagline that the great Israeli diplomat Abba Eban famously applied to the Palestinians: that they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The premise of Obama’s approach to Israel all along has been straightforward. Given the demographic realities it faces—the growth of the Palestinian population in the territories and also of the Arab population in Israel itself—our ally confronts a fundamental and fateful choice: It can remain democratic and lose its Jewish character; it can retain its Jewish character but become an apartheid state; or it can remain both Jewish and democratic, satisfy Palestinian national aspirations, facilitate efforts to contain Iran, alleviate the international opprobrium directed at it, and reap the enormous security and economic benefits of ending the conflict by taking up the task of the creation of a viable Palestinian state—one based, yes, on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon land swaps, with East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.
The irony is that Obama—along with countless Israelis, members of the Jewish diaspora, and friends of Israel around the world—seems to grasp these realities and this choice more readily than Netanyahu does. “The first Jewish president?” Maybe not. But certainly a president every bit as pro-Israel as the country’s own prime minister—and, if you look from the proper angle, maybe even more so.