Israeli President Shimon Peres, speaking this morning at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference, clearly sought to play down reports of a strain in U.S.-Israeli relations with the new Obama and Netanyahu administrations. “There is no difference between our position and the American position,” he said, “We want peace.”
Peres had high praise for President Obama. “You are young enough to offer hope to the world,” he said. “You are strong enough to see it come to light.” He wished Obama success and “Godspeed” and said, “We trust the leadership of President Obama.”
Peres said he would be meeting with Obama tomorrow, and that Netanyahu would be later this month. While Peres reminded the audience that he was once a political opponent of Netanyahu, he said that he knows the new prime minister is a man of peace. Netanyahu “wants to be making history, and in our tradition making history is making peace.” He empashized, “peace is his priority.” Peace can happen right way, through regional and bilateral agreements, Peres said.
The problem with Peres’s speech was that all of the rosy talk obscured the very real differences that exist between Obama and Netanyahu. Netanyahu campaigned on the view that peace talks are futile at the current moment given a split in Palestinian leadership with Hamas in contol of Gaza and Fatah in control of the West Bank; the Obama administration sees the peace process as a good in and of itself, regardless of whether there are any realistic prospects that it can actually achieve peace. Netanyahu sees the Iranian nuclear threat as the more pressing issue than a peace agreement with the Palestinians; the Obama administration has the opposite point of view. The Obama administration has left the door open to recognizing a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas; Netanyahu would never recognize a government in which a terrorist group dedicated to Israel’s destruction played a leading role.
No amount of lofty rhetoric — either from Peres or Obama — is going to paper over these substantial differences, which will inevitably cause tension between the two allies.