Middle East
3:56 pm
Fri March 22, 2013

Obama Leaves Mideast With Better Relationship With Netanyahu

Originally published on Thu March 28, 2013 6:17 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Today was the last leg of President Obama's Middle East trip. It was mostly to Israel, with a side trip to the West Bank, and today a trip to Jordan. What was accomplished? We're going to ask Aaron David Miller for his assessment. Miller is a former long-time Middle East negotiator for the State Department. He's now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, and he joins us from Houston. Welcome to the program once again.

AARON DAVID MILLER: Pleasure to be here, Robert.

SIEGEL: Aaron Miller, lots of atmospherics, lots of very friendly meetings between Barack Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who had practically campaigned against his reelection, but what of any substance was actually achieved by this visit?

MILLER: I would argue no breakthroughs on either Iran or the Israeli-Palestinian issue, but a functional partnership, according to - which each leader may well be prepared to give one another the benefit of the doubt. And that, in an effort to resolve these two critically important issues, I would argue that's a substantive breakthrough, a personal relationship that now is functional rather than dysfunctional.

SIEGEL: Well, let's say that the results of this visit are a better relationship between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu and a higher opinion of President Obama among Israelis. Do those two factors actually advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace at all?

MILLER: Well, if you accept as I do that you can't go from zero to 60 on this issue quickly or easily, then you do have to begin to rearrange the pieces that might allow you to get there. And I think, certainly, on the Iran issue, I believe that the president persuaded the prime minister to give him more time and space to pursue some sort of negotiated deal on capping of enrichment on the nuclear program, which I think is important.

And second, I do believe, with follow-up by Secretary Kerry, that the president probably set into motion a framework which will enable both the Israelis and the Americans working a little more closely perhaps to begin to take some steps to build more credibility into a process that over the last several years has had none. So I think, yeah, it's a longer movie, but he made a good start.

SIEGEL: And if, in fact, the U.S. has embraced Israel's position that talks with the Palestinian authority should begin without an Israeli halt to West Bank construction, does it risk further eroding the position of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the expense of the support for the - his rival Palestinian faction, Hamas?

MILLER: I think it may, but I'm not entirely persuaded the administration is going to go that route. I really do believe that they understand that trying to push the Israelis and the Palestinians back to a formal high-profile negotiation will fail, which is why I think the game is this: to try to induce the Israelis to adopt a set of interim steps on the economic security and political side and at the same time use Secretary of State Kerry to begin a series of more intensive shuttles to begin to try to determine where the gaps are on the core big issues: security, borders, refugees and Jerusalem.

I would give that effort - quiet and discreet and credible - six months, and then the administration will have to make a decision. Does it offer up formal bridging proposals quietly and then publicly or does it offer up the Obama parameters?

SIEGEL: Aaron David Miller, one other thing happened just as President Obama was heading for Jordan, which was a story came out, first from U.S. sources, that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had called the Prime Minister of Turkey and used the word apology in his description of what happened when lives were lost in the Turkish - the peace flotilla to Gaza. This had been a hang-up The U.S. wanted to see some kind of Israeli-Turkish (unintelligible). A small success for U.S. diplomacy?

MILLER: Absolutely. And I think it may be the first sign that the Obama-Netanyahu relationship is bearing some sort of fruit. So rather than conclude on an annoyingly negative note, Robert, I'm going to say that I'm encouraged and maybe things will even get better.

SIEGEL: Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, thank you very much for talking with us once again.

MILLER: Pleasure, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.