If U.S. backs off, Bibis wish could become his nightmare

­­Two cliches come to mind when listening to the talk about reviving Israeli-Palest-inian peace negotiations: Be careful what you wish for, and nature abhors a vacuum.

A reluctant Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the two-state concept in 2009 and was twice dragged to the peace table by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry for a series of failed negotiations doomed by the absence of a willing partner on either side of the table.

With their conflicting agendas, relations between Obama and Netanyahu steadily deteriorated. After setbacks in his first term, Obama began to feel Israeli-Palestinian peace was not possible under the present leadership but let Kerry give it a second-term try.

Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress trashing Obama’s efforts to negotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran was the prime minister’s message that he’s thrown in his lot with the Republicans in Congress and written off the lame-duck president.

In the final hours before the Israeli election, Netanyahu said two things that drove the relationship to rock bottom.

Obama didn’t buy Netanyahu’s attempt to walk back from his campaign vow of no Palestinian state by saying he only meant it for the foreseeable future. Making matters worse was Netanyahu’s warning to his Jewish supporters that Arabs were voting in “droves.”

Bibi’s wish is that Obama would forget about trying to make peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. Netanyahu — out of personal ideology or as a matter of pragmatic local politics — prefers the status quo and would like to prolong it indefinitely.

He may get that wish, or at least a retreat from active peacemaking by Obama, but the results may include a diplomatic vacuum that could be Netanyahu’s worst nightmare.

Since Netanyahu has resisted American efforts to revive peace talks, the Europeans want to step in and try their hand, and Obama may be willing to let them. That should worry the Israeli leader.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced last week that his government plans to introduce a U.N. Security Council resolution to revive the peace talks. It is expected to be similar to the one France circulated late last year setting a two-year deadline for concluding negotiations, but the United States blocked that and another by the Palestinians setting a three-year deadline for ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.

Sponsors of the French initiative claim signals from Washington indicate Obama may be ready to reconsider his opposition to U.N. intervention. White House officials say the president remains committed to direct negotiations for a two-state solution but left the door open.

Washington has historically insisted that Israeli-Arab peace negotiations are its turf and pushed the Europeans, the United Nations and the Russians to the sidelines. It made sense since the U.S. was the only one that had Israel’s confidence, and Israel wanted it that way, too, aware that it had great domestic political clout in America and none in Europe.

Now those powers want to play a bigger role, and they see Netanyahu’s obstinacy and his rift with the American president as their opening.

The EU is Israel’s leading trading partner (as well as the PA’s top financial backer), and there are movements in several countries to impose sanctions and trade restrictions on Israel, usually in response to its settlement policy, including banning or labeling products from West Bank settlements.

Obama has several options. He can veto a Palestinian or French resolution, as he did in December, or abstain or even vote yes. He also can publish an American peace plan, one reportedly prepared during last year’s failed round of talks led by Kerry. Another possibility is to publish a document detailing the positions of both sides in those and earlier talks, revealing what they agreed on but didn’t share with their own people.

Obama has said he is “re-evaluating” the political/diplomatic relationship, while insisting there will be no change in the strategic relationship, and he is noncommittal about how to respond to the U.N. initiatives. If Netanyahu hopes for more U.S. vetoes at the U.N., he’s got a lot of fence mending to do.

The White House has begun to tone down its rhetoric just as Netanyahu is ratcheting up his strident attacks on the administration in anticipation of a nuclear agreement with Iran, but don’t be fooled: We could be on the cusp of a major change in the Israeli-American alliance, triggered in large measure by a prime minister who mistakes local partisan politics for statesmanship and whose pre-election maneuvering has sunk his credibility here and around the world to record lows.

Douglas M. Bloomfield is the president of Bloomfield Associates Inc., a Washington, D.C., lobbying and consulting firm. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.

Douglas M. Bloomfield

Douglas M. Bloomfield is the president of Bloomfield Associates Inc., a Washington, D.C., lobbying and consulting firm. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.