Israelis saw and heard the real Barack Obama last week, not the caricature displayed last fall on billboards along Interstate 95. The real Barack Obama told Israelis what they wanted to hear and what they needed to hear.
The president delivered his main address in Jerusalem not at the Knesset, as paralyzed by ideology as Congress, but at the International Convention Center before 2,000 students. How did he do? “Israel is in love” headlined a commentary in the newspaper Yedioth Aronoth. A columnist for Ha’aretz said, “This is not the same country after this speech.” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, wrote in Ma’ariv that Mr. Obama “left Israel a stronger nation than he found it.”
What the audience wanted to hear was in the first part of the speech. Mr. Obama spoke to Israel’s fears and emphasized the importance the United States places on the security of a country whose neighbors don’t recognize its right to exist. “Israel,” he said, “is not going anywhere. “Atem lo levad,” Mr. Obama said in Hebrew — “You are not alone.”
What the audience needed to hear came next. A two-state solution with the Palestinians, the president said, would make Israel more secure, not less. Security and peace are not mutually exclusive; they are linked. The president prodded the students to push their government on peace, because “political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks.”
Mr. Obama came to prepare the ground, not offer proposals. He left that work to Secretary of State John Kerry. He must contend with the attitude of Naftali Bennett, leader of a key coalition in the new government. Mr. Bennett said of Israeli settlements that “there is no occupation within one’s own land.” There will be no peace, and thus no security, if Israel’s position is that God gave Jews the occupied West Bank.
Pushed by the president, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took a calculated political risk of his own by apologizing to Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, despite Mr. Erdogan’s recent anti-Semitic remarks. In 2010, a Turkish ship tried to run Israel’s blockade of Gaza. During the confrontation with Israeli forces, nine Turks were killed.
Mr. Netanyahu cited the civil war in Syria as the reason for overcoming his reluctance to apologize. Whatever the reason, he’s right that restoring diplomatic ties will help Israel at a critical time. Saying no to an apology was what some Israelis wanted to hear. Saying yes was what the country needed to hear.
for The Post Editorial Board