Netanyahu's Foreign Agenda

(AP Photo/Dan Balilty, File)
An Israeli pundit, former U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman, just said in a live TV interview that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's meeting with President Obama is the most significant session between leaders of the two countries in decades.

I remember interviewing Gillerman in 2007 at the Annapolis summit, where President Bush was promoting an overall Middle East peace agreement.

A representative of almost every Arab country was there and Gillerman told me how important it was to move ahead on a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

That was then, this is now.

Israel's government is now fronted by "Bibi" Netanyahu, whom Israelis turned to out of frustration with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu is in no rush to reach a peace treaty and, though he sees room for a "two-state solution," down the road, does not want to talk about Palestinian statehood now. He feels that would turn the West Bank and Gaza Strip into what Israelis like to call "Hamas-stan."

Netanyahu's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has managed to alienate many around the world in his dismissal of Palestinian rights. But Netanyahu needs Lieberman's party, as well as ones even further to the right, to continue governing. He can not take risks that would inevitably alienate Lieberman.

Israel's main concern at the moment is Iran. It believes the Iranian regime is on a timetable to develop nuclear weapons that could bear fruit soon.

Israeli officials say Netanyahu is willing to let Mr. Obama proceed in attempts to establish a dialogue with Iran, but for only a limited time. A report in the Ha'aretz newspaper says the time-frame for the talks is only "about three months."

After that "all options are on the table," Israeli officials say. That means a possible military solution, though destroying Iran's nuclear program is far more difficult than it was to disable Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in Baghdad in 1981.

Netanyahu got special attention at the White House from Mr. Obama, including a working lunch. The president wants ammunition to bring to Egypt early next month. His speech in Cairo is intended as a message to the Moslem world.

He is hoping today to send a message to Israel that progress on the Palestinian front will please its Arab neighbors, and help present a solid front against Iran.

From CBS News Radio's correspondent Howard Arenstein