For the better part of a week, Netanyahu and President Barack Obama engaged in a fraught pas de deux, beginning with the president's speech on Middle East policy at the State Department the day before Netanyahu arrived and culminating in the prime minister's address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. It was indisputably a riveting encounter, but there was no consensus on what it meant.
By the time Netanyahu's visit ended, he was being variously blamed (by Eliot Spitzer in Slate) for having picked "a useless, counterproductive fight with the president" and hailed (by Edward Morrissey in The Week) for having established himself "as the real statesman in the conflict." No one could deny the rapturous enthusiasm with which Congress received Netanyahu -- senators and representatives gave him more than two dozen standing ovations -- but did such pro-Israel passion risk "undermining America's long-term interests in the region" (as Michael A. Cohenformer UN Ambassador John Bolton wrote for Fox News)?
But such analyses strain too hard to assign a consequence to Netanyahu's trip to Washington. The interplay among Obama, Netanyahu, and Congress made for an interesting show, but it changed nothing important on the ground. The US-Israeli relationship was and is strong. The Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" was and is fruitless. Those realities are no different today than they were last month.
If anything, Netanyahu's visit and its attendant fireworks served mostly as a reminder of two political axioms: (1) It takes more than Congress to change a president's foreign policy. But (2) it takes more than a president to change a fundamental US relationship.
For better or for worse, presidential attitudes shape US foreign policy, and it is clear that the current president, unlike his two predecessors, feels little instinctive warmth for Israel. In his