This week, US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Israel. There appear to be at least five storylines that have begun to swirl around his arrival. Taken together, they could make for an interesting Passover, which follows the President’s visit.
First, the US has declared that this trip will not be political. The President will not come with a peace plan. He won’t speak to the Knesset. If you believe the White House, this trip will be closer to kissing babies than doing business.
The second storyline says that Obama isn’t going to kiss anybody in Israel. He’s coming to kick butt, most particularly that of Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to this storyline, Obama has an agenda. He will threaten Israel. He wants to see a ‘state of Palestine’ in place of Judea-Samaria, and he wants it now. His message to Benjamin Netanyahu will be simple: it’s my way or else.
That ‘or else’ could be withholding US help for Israel against Iran; withholding military assistance; cutting aid to Israel; threating to increase military aid to Israel’s enemies—or all of the above.
The third storyline suggests Netanyahu at his best—or worst. This storyline highlights the trouble Netanyahu has had forming a coalition. That ‘trouble’ has been in Israel’s news for weeks. Yes, he’s finally got his coalition. But it’s shaky. It’s built around two newcomers, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennet. These two have been tough, according to Israel news. They have pushed Netanyahu to the wall. They give Netanyahu a coalition--but it’s not the one he wants. These men are not dependable. They could embrace Obama and endorse whatever Netanyahu agrees to-- or, they could reject Obama’s agenda and collapse the coalition.
But such a ‘shaky’ coalition could be Netanyahu’s ace-in-the-hole. His supposed ‘troubles’ could be a pre-mediated game-plan to prepare for any American ultimatum. You see, if Obama pushes too hard, Netanyahu can now push back: reduce your demands and deal with me, he can claim-- or, provoke my delicate coalition to collapse and force new elections. Then, you could end up dealing with two loose cannon balls. His argument will be as simple as Obama’s: better the devil you know than the two devils you don’t know.
The fourth storyline leading to Obama’s arrival is about Jonathan Pollard, who is now closing in on 10,000 days of incarceration in the US for spying for Israel. No spy in US history has served so much prison time. The President has refused to release him; still, some talk openly about Pollard playing a key role in the Presidential visit.
Given the tough stance many say Obama will take towards Israel on this trip, some speculate that the President might use a Pollard release as his own ace-in-the hole. It would be brilliant politics to announce that Pollard will indeed be released just as Obama demands—perhaps-- an immediate surrender of land for a new Palestine. The impact of such a double declaration could be tectonic. It could rival the celebration over Gilad Shalit’s release. It certainly would consume reams of newsprint and hours of gushing TV news stories just at a time when Israel could be facing its greatest existential political challenge.
A Pollard release could be the ticket that gets ‘Palestine’ into Judea-Samaria. Look at Israeli poll numbers. Depending on whose numbers you look at, some 45 - 52 per cent of Israelis appear ready today to accept ‘Palestine’. If a Pollard release is played right, how many Israelis would jump over to a pro-Palestine vote?
Will Obama play the politician and attempt to trade Pollard for Palestine—or will he be Pharaoh and harden his heart?
The last storyline is unusual. It falls well below most everyone’s radar screen. This story posits that Barack Obama will play an active role in the Jew’s Final Redemption. Most people reject such talk. The West might indeed be considered related to the descendants of Biblical Edom, and America might be a Western leader. But few connect such ‘religious’ talk to the real world of modern international politics: Obama is a politician, not a Jewish history figure.
But then, it’s certainly a coincidence that Obama arrives at Passover, the time of ‘our Redemption’. Could there be a connection?
For many, ‘coincidence’ is not an accident; it’s another name for ‘Hand of G-d’. Whatever you believe about politics and religion, headlines about Obama, Pollard, the new Israeli coalition—and Passover—all converging at the same time seems odd. Obama coming into Israel with a Pharaoh-like hardness towards Israel seems just as odd. Then there’s Israel: in December 2012, how many of you expected to see a new Netanyahu government containing Tzipi Livini, Amir Peretz and the son of Tommy Lapid arriving as if on cue with the impending pre-Passover visit of Obama who, because of timing, will be forced, along with his entourage, to eat kosher for Passover food in the King David hotel?