Last year, shortly before Benjamin Netanyahu made one of his periodic visits to the White House, I interviewed Barack Obama about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president has been consistent on the subject: Time is running out for a two-state solution—the only viable, practical solution to the crisis—and he believes that it is up to Israel, as the stronger power, the one that controls the land on which a Palestinian state would be created, to take the lead in establishing conditions for this new state.
The president told me that his questions for the Israeli prime minister, when they meet, are simple and direct: “The essence of my conversation,” Obama said, is this: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who? How does this get resolved?”
People familiar with Jewish history know that the president was trolling Netanyahu a bit here by paraphrasing the sage Hillel, who asked, more than 2,000 years ago, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”
Obama has long understood Netanyahu to be the indispensable man of Middle East peacemaking. Obama believes that, alone among Israeli leaders, Netanyahu possesses the credibility to deliver as much as 70 percent of the Israeli public to a difficult compromise with the Palestinians. “[F]or Bibi to seize the moment in a way that perhaps only he can, precisely because of the political tradition that he comes out of and the credibility he has with the right inside of Israel, for him to seize this moment is perhaps the greatest gift he could give to future generations of Israelis,” the president said.