Netanyahu, Obama and the masks of command

Dennis Ross

When leaders speak publically they often have to address more than one audience. This explains why they have to wear the mask of command. Even more complicated is when leaders meet to discuss the fate of nations

The meeting

The BBC reported the meeting this week [May 19th 2011] between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the USA.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected US President Barack Obama’s call for peace with the Palestinians based on pre-1967 borders. After tense talks at the White House, a defiant Mr Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to compromise but there could be no peace “based on illusions”.

The video clearly shows each leader wearing a (metaphoric) mask of command. Their words said one thing. The body language of each suggested something different.

Beyond the masks of command

Beyond the masks of command were two humans struggling to deal with dilemmas requiring superhuman efforts. The complexities are evident. The issues are simplified even if wrapped up in a label such as the Israeli/Palestinian peace process. Mr Obama speaks to those advocating a tougher line with Israel, and those opposing such a line. Mr Netanyahu could be seen as addressing somewhat different audiences, including those in and beyond Israel supporting a policy based on the pre-1967 borders, and those opposed to any such changes. Sometimes the simplification is made into hawks and doves, but who are the hawks and who are the doves?

Among the key players: enter King Abdullah and Denis Ross

Other key influences were revealed at a meeting this week addressed by King Addullah of Jordan. The New York Times reported that

King Abdullah II of Jordan gave his assessment of how Arabs view the debate within the Obama administration over how far to push Israel on concessions for peace with the Palestinians.
From the State Department, “we get good responses,” the Jordanian king said, according to several people who were in the room. And from the Pentagon, too. “But not from the White House, and we know the reason why is because of Dennis Ross” — President Obama’s chief Middle East adviser. Mr. Ross, King Abdullah concluded, “is giving wrong advice to the White House.” By almost all accounts, Dennis B. Ross — Middle East envoy to three presidents, well-known architect of incremental and painstaking diplomacy in the Middle East that eschews game-changing plays — is Israel’s friend in the Obama White House and one of the most influential behind-the-scenes figures in town. His strategy sometimes contrasts sharply with that of a president who has bold instincts and a willingness to elevate the plight of the Palestinians to a status equal to that of the Israelis.

Easy for journalists to campaign

The highly respected English journalist Robert Fisk writing in the Independent has dismissed Obama as duplicitous and weak for failing to act decisively over the fate of the Palestinians. But it is easy for journalists to campaign as if there were no dilemmas of leadership. They do not have to offer strategies within the complex and extended processes involved in diplomacy and military adventures.

A more balanced view of the complexities of the situation was provided by Al Jazeera, quoting Mr Fisk as providing one strand of the argument.

2 Responses to Netanyahu, Obama and the masks of command

  1. The subject of leadership become very interesting and conflicting at the same time when it comes to this “the issue between Arabs and Israelis” and as I read about the Israelis behavior in “management worldwide By Pugh” their way of leadership is very interesting

    And here I advise all Arabs to read about Israelis and how they behave and how they manage things before going to negotiate or even try to have an agreement with them

    Israelis are totally different from the Americans in their behavior and in their leadership style and Arabs are negotiating the matter with the Americans thinking that they will some way somehow convince or force the Israelis to accept that, I think the Americans should be aside from the negotiations and the Arabs should talk directly to the Israelis upon studying their behavior in style of leadership and understand their points of view

    the Israelis leadership style put the US president in a dilemma of which how to reach a conciliation between the 2 parties from one side the Israelis who are of a very great influence through their lobby and Mr. Ross and the Arabs who are very critical for the US politically against Iran and economically for their OIL supply.

    while for Israelis the matter is totally different they keep the Americans negotiate the way they like then by their style get things done the way they want either by their behind the scene influence or directly and what I respect here is the limits they put with no compromise , when any subject reach the limit they draw especially if it comes to their citizens and existence they announce their feelings and decisive decision loudly showing no care about any others which I think again a very interesting style of leadership that no one is showing these days – politically – except the Israelis

  2. Tudor says:

    As ever you have put together an interesting argument.

    I agree particularly about studying the negotating behaviours of all parties. The recent exchange between Obama and Netanyaho was quite clearly a ‘non-debate’. .

    Do you suppose that style is less important that power relationships.? That is to say, the leadership style indicates the power relationships.

    It’s probably more complex internal to Israel and the USA ,with opposition to the public position, maybe more on ‘mens’ rather than ‘ends’.

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