For Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this week has been one long, continuous photo-op: Visiting President Obama at the White House; chatting with George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America; facing off with Katie Couric on CBS Evening News; kibitzing with Larry King. This afternoon, heâll be at the Council on Foreign Relations in Manhattan, where heâll have the opportunity to reiterate his carefully honed message for an audience of diplomatic professionals. The contrast with Netanyahuâs past visitsârushed affairs conducted mostly off-camera and narrated by anonymous leakers with at-odds agendasâis already stark.
Even his one visit before an explicitly Jewish audienceâan hour-long talk last night at the Plaza Hotel organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizationsâwas crafted to play to a wider audience. The 200-person crowd included members of New Yorkâs congressional delegation, both Jewish and notâAnthony Weiner, Jerrold Nadler, Yvette Clarkâalong with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly. Bibi was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who recounted the trauma of her visits to Sderot, and by New York Gov. David Paterson, who called him âa visionaryâ on terrorism.
Here, in a nutshell, is Bibi’s substantive message: He wants to sit down for face-to-face peace negotiations with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as soon as possible; heâs really happy about the new Iran sanctions passed by Congress and the new sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, but if they donât prove effective at averting the Islamic Republicâs nuclear ambitions, he reserves Israelâs right to âdefend itself,â whatever that may entail; and finally, he really, really likes Barack Obama, and doesnât know why anyone would possibly have thought otherwise. Meanwhile, he firmly bats away various television interlocutors’ efforts to pin him down on thornier issues like settlements, pre-emptive strikes against Iran, and the nasty words traded all spring between Jerusalem and Washington.
The intended effect of all this is to present Netanyahuâan American-educated speaker of faultless Englishâand, by extension, Israel, as friendly, reasonable, and familiar. Which necessarily raises the question: What took so long?
Israeli Prime Minister Offers Palestinians Talks on Settlements [Reuters]
Related: Obama and Bibi Tag-Team for Friendship [Tablet]