Israelis Like What They Heard in Obama’s AIPAC Speech

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Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

President Barack Obama takes to the stage to deliver remarks at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington, March 4, 2012.

Israeli television went live with President Obama’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Sunday night.  It amounted to theater here, high drama framed by, rather than the proscenium, a kind of structural tension between the Israeli and the American positions on Iran’s nuclear program. Monday morning the reviews came in.  They were overwhelmingly positive.

“Those disappointed by Obama’s speech yesterday, and it turns out there are such people, claim that he didn’t make a clear commitment to a military strike,” wrote Ben-Dror Yemini in the daily Ma’ariv.  “Come on, really.  He couldn’t be clearer.”

Yemini, a plain-spoken conservative regarded as the voice of the workaday Israeli, heard in Obama’s warnings to Iran’s ayatollahs the bass rumble of Israel’s right-wing political establishment.  “He didn’t say he would vote for the Likud.  But aside from that, one should pay attention, he sounded almost like the Likud leader,” Yemini said.

Wrote Nadav Eyal, also in Ma’ariv: “A masterpiece of political work.”

The analysts were no less enthusiastic in Yedioth Ahronoth, the largest paid daily. “Yesterday Obama gave Israel’s citizens a good reason to be friends of his,” wrote Sima Kadmon, under the headline: “Shalom, Friend.”  “His speech was aimed directly at our nerve center, at our strongest existential fears.  Obama promised us that the United States would not accept nuclear weapons; it simply would not permit their existence….It was a good speech for us, even an excellent one.  We heard in it everything we wanted to hear—and heard that we have someone to rely upon.”

The press reaction increased the odds that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Monday morning White House meeting with Obama will produce comity.  Obama’s remarks to the Israel lobby included passages that could have been seized on for argument and contention. (Recall that a year ago, Netanyahu created a huge flap by lambasting Obama’s call for basing an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement on 1967 borders — while ignoring the president’s crucial parenthetical, “with agreed-upon swaps.”) This time, the signal from Netanyahu’s camp was positive, especially over Obama’s reference to Israel’s soverign right to go it alone against Iran, if it feels it must, even though the American president also made clear that he’d much prefer it did not.

The left wing Haaretz made that its play headline: “PM welcomes Obama’s recognition of Israel’s right ‘to defend itself, by itself.”’

“I appreciate all these statements and expect to discuss them [on Monday] with President Obama,” Netanyahu said in Canada on Sunday, where he was meeting with prime minister Stephen Harper, an ardent supporter of the Jewish State who, like Obama, signaled his preference for a “peaceful” solution to the Iranian challenge.

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