Week In News: U.S.-Israeli Relations

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At the end of what could prove to be a momentous week in U.S.-Israeli relations, President Obama and Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spent an intense afternoon together Friday. James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic, joins host Guy Raz to discuss how that and the week's other top stories played out.

GUY RAZ, Host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

BARACK OBAMA: Obviously, there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that's going to happen between friends.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: While Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines, because these lines are indefensible.

RAZ: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking alongside President Obama in the Oval Office yesterday.

James Fallows of The Atlantic is here in the studio with me for more on that encounter and some of the other stories we're following.

Jim, nice to see you this Saturday.

JAMES FALLOWS: Nice to see you, Guy.

RAZ: Let's begin with that meeting, and with President Obama's overall vision for achieving a two-state solution. Obviously, the president's reference on Thursday to the 1967 lines as a starting point for negotiations did not please Prime Minister Netanyahu.

FALLOWS: Yes. And there was a lot of controversy for a few hours about whether or not this represented a big shift in U.S. policy, because it has not been included in some of the early previews of the speech.

But the reality is through all the presidencies since at least the time of Jimmy Carter, this has been essentially the U.S. position.

RAZ: Not always stated, but...

FALLOWS: Not always stated, but implicit in a negotiating logic that it would be essentially the 1967 borders with - as President Obama was careful to say - certain swaps in territory on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. So this is essentially a clearer statement of what the U.S. has stood for a long time.

RAZ: It seemed like for a while President Obama almost avoided - I mean, he took this conflict on at the beginning with a call for a freeze to settlements, but then he kind of dropped it for a while. He's now, I guess, made the calculation that he's just going to dive into it and let the chips fall where there may.

FALLOWS: This has been a fascinating cycle in almost every presidency since, again, the time of Jimmy Carter where - disclosure, I worked for Jimmy Carter back then - where the presidents first think with the ebullience of their early time in office, so they can solve this difficult problem. Then they get discouraged.

Then by the time they've been around for a couple of years, they think they have no alternative but to deal with it again, because so many other consequences flow from it's continuing lack of resolution.

RAZ: But it, of course, is a risk.

FALLOWS: Oh, of course. It's a political risk because there's a very, very careful path that American presidents have to take, being firm enough with Israel, but not seeming to be anti-Israel. And I think the president did a careful job of that in his speech.

RAZ: I should mention, Jim, that we'll be talking a lot more about this issue on the program tomorrow. But I want to move on to the drama unfolding in New York over what is likely to be a very embarrassing trial for the former IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Khan. The perception of his alleged crime and incarceration are viewed very differently here in the U.S. and in France.

FALLOWS: Oh, it's certainly the case that in the U.S. press, I think there's a general assumption that despite the legal presumption of innocence, you know, the board of the co-op where he is trying to move didn't want to have him, et cetera. And we're treating this mainly as a window onto the previously under-explored plight of the hotel chambermaids. We're talking about how often this sort of thing happens, whether or not it happened with Mr. Strauss-Kahn.

In France, this is being used as a sort of hideous spectacle of the perversion of American justice and its cruelty and the perp walk, and all the rest. So it's seen very, very differently in the two countries.

RAZ: Jim, let me ask you about Jon Huntsman, President Obama's former envoy to China, somebody you got to know when you were there. He is exploring the possibility of running for president. What kind of calculation is he making? Is he jumping in to what appears to be a vacuum?

FALLOWS: I think that Jon Huntsman is somebody who has had national ambitions, his friends say, for a long time. And you can imagine this going one way or the other as the field thins among the Republicans. Either he is the person for whom the timing turns out to be right - as it turned out to be right for Bill Clinton in 1992, despite what president...

RAZ: And President Obama.

FALLOWS: Yes, and President Obama, too. So that could happen. Or if it doesn't, it's usually the case - especially for Republicans - that a good loss, so to speak, sets you up well for the next round of the presidency, if you established your name, if you're seen as a good campaigner. And that could be his logic, too.

RAZ: Tease himself up for 2016.

That's James Fallows from The Atlantic. He's with us most Saturdays for a look behind the headlines.

Jim, thanks.

FALLOWS: Thank you, Guy.

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