On Monday, President Obama will host Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu of Israel at the White House, where they will discuss Syria, the future (or, Bibi hopes, lack thereof) of Iran’s nuclear program, ongoing peace talks with the Palestinian Authority, and any other issues facing the two countries (spoiler alert: there are a lot of them). Here are five things I hope they discuss.
1. What’s Israel’s end game with West Bank settlements?
Just last month, Israel’s housing minister approved the construction of 1,200 new homes in a contentious area of the West Bank that would — ideally — be a part of a Palestinian state. Now, politically I understand what’s happening. Netanyahu is playing the delicate game of trying to keep both the international community and his right-wing base of support happy by participating in peace talks, while continuing the program of Jewish settlement in the West Bank. It also serves as a power play, signaling to anyone watching that the Israeli government won’t let anyone tell them where they can and can’t build. What’s unclear is if he’s considering the ramifications of this building program in the long-term, specifically…
2. What happens if a Palestinian State ceases to be viable?
It’s already impossible to find enough continuous land in Bethlehem to have a marathon, so for the reason of geography alone — not even touching the geopolitical head-clutcher that is Israel-Palestine — it’s seeming less and less unlikely every day that an independent Palestine won’t happen. If that ends up being the case … so nu? Does the Israeli government try to keep the current status quo in place? They’ve already all but admitted it’s untenable by entering into peace talks. Do they begin the process of trying to integrate the millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into Israel society as equal citizens? Lol. I honestly want to know, because I don’t have an answer. I don’t know how Bibi views these thorniest of issues, and wish I did. Changing subjects…
3. What exactly would Netanyahu like the USA to do about Iran?
Beyond what we’re already doing, i.e. tough economic sanctions, that is. I assume that Bibi and Obama have more information about Iran’s nuclear program than I do, so I’m not going to prescribe a specific course of action they should take. But even if Netanyahu does, in fact, “tell the truth” about the newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Rouhani's moderate, almost-conciliatory tone makes the Israeli push for a “credible military threat” from the U.S. a much tougher sell. So does Bibi keep trying — most likely — in vain, or does he recognize that the diplomatic game has changed and try to meet Rouhani halfway?
4. So … Syria and Egypt, eh?
I don’t doubt that this will come up, but I’m curious as to how it will be broached by the two leaders. As thorny as Syria and Egypt’s troubles are for us in the U.S., both countries are, to be blunt, way over there. We’ll absolutely feel the ramifications of a foreign policy failure sooner or later, but for Israel, the violence and turmoil plaguing the regions can, and already has had, direct consequences. I would be interested to see if Israel has a specific path they’d like to see for either country, or if they’re going to go the whole, let-them-figure-it-out-and-keep-our-artillery-loaded route. With Al Qaeda potentially knocking at Israel’s southern and northern borders, one hopes they’re going with the first approach. But finally, most importantly…
5. Favorite Israeli coffee chain: Aroma or Café Café?
Seriously. Like, Aroma definitely has the advantage in the sandwich/salad category, but C.C. has them beat in the ice coffee area. They seem to have the ice to coffee-to-cream ratio down just right, whereas Aroma’s has been known to be watery at times. If Bibi and Obama disagree on this point, is this a surmountable obstacle or is this the final gust of wind in an often-icy relationship? These are the questions that keep me up at night.