Two reports on Cantor-Netanyahu meeting - and some political irony from Sabato
11/11/2010 - 17:57
James Besser

 Laura Rozen of Politico broke the story and JTA's Ron Kampeas elaborated: last night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met privately with Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), almost certain to become the next House Majority Leader and, in doing so, become the highest ranking Jew in Congress – ever.

It was unusual because Israeli leaders rarely meet with lone American lawmakers, she reports.

Laura, citing a Cantor spokesman, said the high-flying lawmaker “'reiterated his belief that compromise between Israel and the Palestinians can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.' He urged the Obama administration to 'make it absolutely clear that the U.S. will veto any effort by the Palestinians' to seek recognition of their state by going to the United Nations.”

And the Cantor spokesman said that “Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington. He made clear that the Republican majority understands the special relationship between Israel and the United States, and that the security of each nation is reliant upon the other."

Then Ron interprets:

“I can't remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president. Certainly, in statements on one specific issue or another -- building in Jerusalem, or somesuch -- lawmakers have taken the sides of other nations. But to have a face to face and say, in general, we will take your side against the White House -- that sounds to me extraordinary.”

Yes, extraordinary - and a hint of how pro-Israel politics will play out in the next two years.

Ron also gets in a dig about Cantor's insistence that “Obama implement the full range of sanctions” on Iran, pointing out that the Republicans who controlled Congress between 2003 and 2007 were pretty much uninterested when one of their own tried to push through tougher sanctions – and were thwarted by former President George W. Bush, who, last I checked, was a Republican.

Netanyahu may be banking on the fact he's now dealing with a badly crippled president whose chances for reelection in two years seem to be evaporating into thin air.

If I were a betting man I wouldn't put much money on a second term for Mr. Obama, but University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato, in today's “Sabato's Crystal Ball,” has a cute story suggesting Obama isn't yet toast.

Sabato offers a whole laundry list of indications Obama is essentially un-reelectable after last week's thrashing by the GOP and cites numerous “expert” analysts – and then slyly “reveals” that “due to sloppy research by our interns, the authors would like to clarify a couple of points. It turns out that all news reports cited above were not published in the last ten days, but right after the 1994 Republican midterm landslide. Every time 'Barack Obama' appears in print, you should substitute 'Bill Clinton.'”

Cute.

But that probably doesn't change the political calculus for Netanyahu, who in his first term in office aggressively courted congressional Republicans eager to stick it to the very same Bill Clinton.  That effort didn't alter Clinton's Middle East policy; the question is, will it be more effective with a president who lacks Clinton's political skills?

All that said, I don't think Obama is doing himself much good in the intensifying battle with the Republicans over his Israel policy. Netanyahu is a man who I think knows exactly what he wants, though he plays it close to the vest; Obama gives the impression of someone who's just a few degrees off clueless when it comes to the Middle East.

Not hostile, mind you, just fairly clueless about how to get what he wants and how to sell it to a dubious public.

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