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Promises and the Promised Land

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

WASHINGTON -- On May 14, Israelis celebrated their 61st Independence Day. Less than 96 hours later, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, arrived at the White House in an effort to ensure that the Jewish state will survive to commemorate another anniversary.

In 1948, when Israel was founded by survivors of the Holocaust, they pledged, "Never again!" Then the tiny Jewish state, about the size of New Jersey, had a population of fewer than 850,000 and was surrounded by hostile neighbors intent on its destruction. Today 7.2 million people call Israel their home, and the country has the only functioning democratic government in the neighborhood. As it was in the beginning -- and is now -- powerful opponents in the region remain committed to annihilating what they describe as "the Zionist entity." Unfortunately, the theocracy in Iran is bent on acquiring the means of achieving that goal, a threat the Obama administration appears unwilling or unable to do anything but talk about.

This past week's Obama-Netanyahu "summit" at the White House had but two items on the agenda: the O-Team's quest for an Israeli-Palestinian "two-state solution" for "peace in the Middle East" and the Israelis' plea for U.S. help in stopping Tehran's race to acquire nuclear weapons. After a 90-minute one-on-one meeting, the two leaders sat for an Oval Office "press availability," during which they tried their best to make it appear that the U.S. and Israel are of one mind on these issues. It was a good try, complete with jocular exchanges and smiles, but it just isn't so.

Washington remains wedded to the naive hope that if Israel simply withdrew from all territory it captured during the 1967 Six-Day War, tranquility in the volatile Middle East would be assured. According to the O-Team, "a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side by side in peace and security" somehow will motivate the Iranian government to abandon its quest for a nuclear arsenal and oft-stated aim of "wiping Israel off the map."

Prime Minister Netanyahu apparently understood the role he was handed in this piece of political theater -- the warm-up act for next week's White House seances with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. All of this is but preamble to the much-anticipated June 4 address from Cairo, in which Mr. Obama is pledged to describe his "new approach to the Muslim world." Thankfully, for our own good and that of Israel, Netanyahu didn't stick entirely to the White House script.

The Israeli prime minister did agree to "start peace negotiations with the Palestinians immediately" and called for broadening "the circle of peace to include others in the Arab world." But he never deviated from his most serious concern, the paramount threat to the survival of Israel and peace of any kind: a nuclear-armed Iran. He carefully avoided endorsing a "two-state solution" and did not agree to withdraw from the Golan Heights or accede to shuttering Israeli settlements on the West Bank and Jerusalem. Nor did Netanyahu embrace the idea that the ayatollahs in Tehran will be dissuaded from acquiring nuclear arms -- and the means of delivering them -- just because Palestinians and Israelis somehow are living in comity.

Unfortunately, the O-Team offers little evidence that it shares Israeli anxieties about Iranian weapons of mass destruction or the imminent deployment of Russian S-300 surface-to-air missiles to protect nuclear sites in Persia. Mr. Obama did say that "Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon" would "be a threat to Israel and the United States" and that it would be "destabilizing" and "extraordinarily dangerous." But he then insisted, "We are engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they should change course." In short, nothing is going to be done to stop the Iranian nuclear program until after the June 12 Iranian elections and Mr. Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have a chance to stroke palms, sip tea and chat.

In subsequent discussions at the departments of State and Defense, Netanyahu was reminded that Washington could shut off the flow of financial aid and military hardware to Israel in an instant. It turns out this same message also was being delivered in Tel Aviv by CIA Director Leon Panetta. None of this is good news for Israel or the United States.

Asked by a reporter in the Oval Office whether he was concerned that his "outstretched hand has been interpreted by extremists, especially Ahmadinejad (and others), as a sign of weakness," Mr. Obama replied, "Well, it's not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness."

Just hours later, the Iranian regime successfully launched a 1,200-mile-range Sajjil-2 ballistic missile. So much for clarity, weakness and the wisdom of offering an outstretched hand to genocidal despots.

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