This week at the White House, President "Yes, I can" will sit down with Prime Minister "No, you won't." The main agenda item will be the future of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, an enterprise that might be best described -- at least for now -- as the walking dead.
But no matter. When you're the change president, you must believe even when reality tells another tale. Energized by transformative changes in the Arab world and genuinely worried that no negotiations spells trouble for America, President Barack Obama wants to push for big things on the peace process.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is equally determined to push back against big ideas that cross his own ideology, gut instincts, and coalition constraints. The recent Palestinian unity accord and the Syrian-orchestrated Palestinian demonstrations along the Israel-Syria border will only help him parry any American pressure.
It would be nice to imagine that out of this American-Israeli yin and yang might come a common way forward. And if this were some more enlightened parallel universe, Bibi and Obama just might find it.
The prime minister would confide in the president that he was prepared to be bold on borders and Jerusalem; the president could then use that with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the next several months to set the stage for negotiations and an agreement. The coming train wreck at the United Nations this fall on Palestinian statehood could then be avoided.
Back on Earth, however, it's more likely that the meeting will produce neither breakthrough nor breakdown. Nobody wants a fight now simply because there's no peace process to fight about. Even the president understands how complex the Palestinian unity accord has made matters.
But neither the president nor the prime minister has a strategy, except to give speeches; and because the Palestinians do have one -- a U.N. initiative on statehood --we're likely to drift toward that default position unless something better turns up.
Mark Twain famously claimed that history doesn't repeat; it rhymes. And we've seen several versions of the Obama-Bibi meetings before.
There's not a great deal of personal chemistry or trust there. Bill Clinton didn't much care for Netanyahu, but understood the politician in him. Obama doesn't care for or understand the Israeli prime minister. He sees him as a con man and an obstacle -- a kind of big speed bump on his way to solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem.
As far as Netanyahu is concerned, the president is cold, with little empathy when it comes to understanding Israeli needs; he sees the president as situating Israel along the continuum of American interests, not its values. For Bibi, Obama falls somewhere between Jimmy Carter and Bush 41 on the Israeli sensitivity scale.
This interpersonal dynamic hasn't changed, but circumstances have made it worse. Two years in, Obama is even more frustrated with his failure to move the peace process forward. The Arab spring has roiled the region with big changes; somehow the president believes there should be a big peace-process transformation to accompany it. After all, Fatah and Hamas are moving toward unity; the Libyan and Syrian regimes are on the ropes. And if something isn't done on the peace process, the new Arab democrats may be thwarted by Islamic radicals.