1. Israel’s Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is scheduled to speak tonight. He will respond to President’s Obama Cairo speech – and to the administration’s pressure on the Israeli settlement issue. Israel’s two leading papers, Yediot and Maariv, carried almost identical headlines this morning. In Yediot it reads, “The speech of his life,” in Maariv it’s “The test of his life.” Hyperbolic journalism aside (in Israel newspapers are struggling too), there’s no sign at this point in time that Netanyahu is ready to do what Obama wants him to do. Obama’s Cairo speech hardly changed the region, and I don’t expect Netanyahu to change much no matter what he chooses to say. And as for leaks, assumptions, guesses, speculation – why not wait. It’s only hours away.
2. For some reason, pressuring Israel is now seen as a form of bravery on the part of the American President. Jacob Weisberg calls it “a gutsy step forward.” Peter Beinart says that “This crisis [with Israel] has already revealed something about Obama: he’s not timid.” Sorry – but I can’t see how pressuring Netanyahu gets counted as courageous. Whether one thinks Obama is right or wrong to demand an Israeli settlement freeze, there’s no price to pay here. Obama will not lose the political support of Jewish Americans because of it. He will not lose the support of Evangelical Christians over it (because he never had their support to begin with). In fact, as long as the President frames the issue as this dispute over settlements, he’s in no danger of losing the public-opinion battle.
3. Public opinion is tricky for Netanyahu within Israel, as a new survey published today by The Institute for National Security Studies demonstrates (not yet available in English, the Hebrew version is here): 57% support the dismantling of illegal outposts, 42% oppose settlement expansion, and 41% support settlement expansion, “but not if this leads to confrontation with the U.S. administration.” Only 17% of Israelis will support settlement expansion even if it leads to confrontation with Obama.
4. Assuming that Iran’s election results were forged – as most observers assume – an interesting trend emerges: while in most of the Arab world it is despotic secular regimes that are trying to hold reformers back because they claim to fear the emergence of democratic Islamic governments – in Iran what we see is the mirror image. A supposedly democratic Islamic regime is stopping more moderate reformers from gaining in the polls. Whether they want theocracy or democracy, in this region the people can never win over the desires of the ruling regime.