An Acknowledged Telephone Call

An Acknowledged Telephone Call

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

Washington Cabinet members and high government officials converse regularly with their foreign counterparts. Heads of Governments themselves speak directly from time to time and only when the Archives are opened years later do we learn the frequency as well as the substance of their conversations. On the other hand, when the White House announces and Jerusalem confirms that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke yesterday, bells ring all over as to the cause and the substance of their conversation.

The obvious is easy. They discussed the peace talks with the Palestinians; the Iranian boycott and the maneuvering in the Persian Gulf; and the assassination of the Iranian nuclear scientist. They probably also discussed a possible White House visit should Netanyahu come to D.C. for the AIPAC Policy Conference in March.

The political variable in the conversation is the unknown. Given their not too fuzzy relationship, what else precipitated this call? Does the Obama campaign want to squeeze in a visit to Israel during the lull in the presidential campaign season after the Republican nominee is selected and before their Convention? Will the advantages of the visit outweigh the attacks Obama will receive for pandering for Jewish votes?  Given the likely close electoral vote race in key swing states with Jewish populations—like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania—might it be worthwhile, even given the flack that the President will get from some Jewish circles? Can Netanyahu give the President a substantive reason to visit now to provide some cover against the political attack-dogs? Are there any moves that the Israelis are prepared to present to the Palestinians in their discussions to justify Obama convening a joint three-way meeting while he is visiting?

Time, plus the Iranian maneuvering, will tell us much more about what they spoke.

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