Obama Gearing Up To Present Ultimatum To Israel, Detonate US-Israel Alliance
Ruth S. King - Jun 30, 2009
You don`t need to be all that smart to be an effective populist thug (Chavez, Ahmadinejad, etc). You really only need two instincts. You have to be able to smell weakness, just in general so you have a sense for what`s possible. And you have to be able to pick out internal and external scapegoats that other people are willing to sacrifice, either in the name of unity or in the hope of quiet.
Ahmadinejad has all but ensured that Iran will become a nuclear power. First he did it by exposing the West as a paper tiger. Along the way he put the destruction of Israel back on the spectrum of public debate. Every brazen call for genocide created a drip drip drip effect that eroded public discourse and shifted the center of debate. Open "anti-Zionism" - which is really the call to destroy a democratic nation-state - is now just one of the things that people say.
The ostensible "middle ground" that liberal foreign policy elites chose was to insist that pressuring Israel will somehow fix Iran, presumably because Ahmadinejad seems really sincere when he says that Israel is the source of regional instability. The Obama White House being what it is, that linkage fetish is now official policy.
Which brings us to this article by Rick Richman:
Asked if EU diplomat Javier Solana was correct about the U.S. "announc[ing] its vision for peace in the Middle East before the end of July," Mitchell responded as follows... The noteworthy part of the response is Mitchell did not deny that an American peace plan is coming - soon. Obama appears to be following the five-year old advice of Rob Malley (his erstwhile foreign policy adviser), who in 2004 dismissed reliance on a step-by-step process and argued for a plan defining upfront "the shape of a permanent peace" to be pushed on the parties. Malley proposed that: "[T]he process ought to be turned on its head, with the U.S. seeking to describe the endgame at the outset and with the parties agreeing on the means of getting there afterward..."
In his brief period in office, Obama has refused to answer whether the U.S. is bound by the April 14, 2004 letter given to induce Israel to turn over Gaza to the Palestinians, and has reneged on five years of understandings about "natural growth" of existing settlements. His response to Israeli objections has effectively been "sue me" -- the understandings are not "enforceable." It is not an approach inspiring confidence in him as a reliable or principled ally.
The thing I like about this is how it`s an elegant example of all the especially moronic parts of Obama`s policymaking:
(1) It`s based on faux sophistication and wishful thinking. Iran obviously has global aspirations. Iranian leaders have never been shy about exporting the Islamic Revolution, ergo their proxies throughout the Middle East trying to export the Islamic Revolution.
Very few people still pretend that Israel has a Palestinian peace partner. Palestinian leaders never gave up wanting to destroy the Jewish State, which is why they`re now a full generation into cradle-to-grave brainwashing. There are plenty of places in the Middle East where it might make sense to say "the public doesn`t really believe their leaders` anti-Israel conspiracy nonsense." Gaza and the West Bank, not so much.
But if we just based policy on what`s obvious, the academics and think tank experts who get commissioned to write State Department white papers wouldn`t have jobs. So liberal foreign policy elites have spent multiple decades and thousands of hours creating reasons why maybe possibly the opposite might be true. Shockingly that hasn`t worked out.
(2) It`s based on faux sophistication and wishful thinking that even if they made sense when they were spun no longer make any sense. Rick`s article points out that not even Malley thinks his "do it all at once" approach would work today. But why let trifling things like "argument" and "coherence" get in the way of policymaking?
Liberal elites insisted for decades that we needed universal health care. Sure, the basis for those recommendations included economic conditions that no longer exist and market assumptions that have been conclusively proven false. But whatever. Ditto for Iran, where engagement was always based on the idea that we could peel hardliners away from Khamenei. Sure the election proved that either Khamenei is an ideological messianic or that the Republican Guard is powerful enough to make him act like one. But whatever.
So there`s at least reason to doubt that this new plan to pressure Israel will work. What`s actually going to happen is that Netanyahu will call Obama`s bluff. Then Obama will reraise and detonate the US-Israeli relationship. But no worries. There are literally thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles and thinktank-vetted reports that say selling out Israel will be sweet for the US`s regional position.
* State Dept. Banning Pro-Israel Obama Officials From Speaking Out [MR]
* The Coming U.S. Peace Plan [Rick Richman]
* Liberal Foreign Policy Experts: This Ahmadinejad Reelection Was Just So Unpredictable! [MR]
* New Poll: Only 26% Consider Health Reform A Success In Massachusetts [MR]
* The WH`s Eight-Step Plan For Detonating The US-Israel Relationship [MR]
Cut Bibi Some Slack:
Why Obama's hard line on Israeli settlements is bad for the USA
by Steven J. Rosen
July 1, 2009
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Benjamin Netanyahu was sworn in as Israel's prime minister on March 31. Within weeks, the Obama administration launched a high-profile public campaign to confront Israel's new leader on the issue that most divides the two governments: Israel's settlements in the West Bank.
It was an unusual way to welcome the new leader of a close friend of the United States. Why did the Obama team veer so sharply off the normal course? Diplomacy toward an ally normally begins with building relations of trust on areas of agreement, and only later engaging discreetly on issues where there are sharp differences. Why instead did the administration team roll out a campaign of diktats, beginning May 28 in front of cameras at a press conference with the Egyptian foreign minister, virtually nailing a decree to Netanyahu's door announcing that President Obama "wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural-growth exceptions," as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it. Why so dismissively brush aside understandings crafted by the George W. Bush's administration, understandings that had achieved a significant reduction of settlement construction albeit not a total freeze? Why would an unnamed source in the administration boast to the Washington Post on June 30, "We have not changed our position at all, nor has the president authorized any negotiating room"?
One explanation for this bizarre behavior is "Yes, we can" syndrome -- the prevailing belief in Washington that this president holds 99 percent of the cards and can get people to do things beyond what normally can be achieved. Even some in Jerusalem believe that Netanyahu cannot say "no" to Barack Obama, especially on the settlement issue where there Israel has little support in Congress and even the American Jewish community is divided and paralyzed.
The theory that Obama holds the high cards rests on the results that George H.W. Bush got when he confronted a different Likud prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, over settlements in September 1991. Nine months after Bush threw down the settlements gauntlet, Israeli voters ejected Shamir and replaced him with Labor's Yitzhak Rabin, opening the way to the Oslo accords.
But this comparison is misleading. Obama's confrontation is taking place mere weeks after the formation of a new Israeli government, not months before an Israeli prime minister has to face his voters again. What's more, Israeli voters have elected the most conservative Knesset in Israel's history. The parties of the left -- Labor and Meretz -- had 56 seats in 1992, but they have shrunk to 16 seats today. The real pressure on Netanyahu in today's Israel is from the right. If Obama hopes to invigorate the country's moribund left, he's in for a rude shock: the gains it would need to force either new elections or a different coalition more compliant to U.S. demands are daunting.
Moreover, the hawks have many ways to constrain and compel the prime minister. In fact, Netanyahu is in the opposite position of Shamir. Succumbing to U.S. pressure is the one thing that might bring Bibi down, but keeping the conservatives in his coalition offers him every prospect of serving a full term until the next scheduled Israeli election in 2013. Netanyahu can, and will, say "no" if his only choice is the one the Obama team is now offering: total capitulation.
Netanyahu does have the political strength to reaffirm previous compromises made by Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert to limit natural growth. This includes the "construction line" principle that would restrict development to infill construction within already built-up areas while preventing further geographic expansion beyond the outer line of existing structures. But the Israeli prime minister does not have the legal authority, let alone the necessary political foundation, to impose an absolute and complete freeze on all construction in all settlements. Few in Israel are prepared to freeze construction in the "blocs," today primarily those on the Israeli side of the security fence, that the Clinton administration anticipated would be annexed to Israel as part of a land swap creating a Palestinian state. Nor does Netanyahu have either the legal authority or the support of the public to ban Jewish housing inside the juridical boundaries of Jerusalem, on land that might have been outside Israel's borders before 1967 but was formally annexed to Israel a quarter century ago by the Jerusalem law of 1980.
The Obama administration would be smarter to play a more nuanced game and make the distinctions it is avoiding. Only a minority of Israelis support construction of housing in outlying settlements beyond Israel's security fence, but construction in the blocs and especially in Jewish communities in Jerusalem is supported by the vast majority of the Israeli public and all the major political parties. Absolutist demands for a total freeze may win applause in the United States even from some in the U.S. Jewish community, but they go much too far to succeed in the real world.
If Obama's purpose in authorizing this confrontation was to provide an incentive to the Palestinians and the moderate states in the Arab League to take the steps they need to take for peace, his policy is likely to fail on this measure as well. Reinforcing the long-standing belief in the Arab world that the United States can "deliver" Israel if it only has the will reduces Arab incentives to make concessions in direct negotiations with Israel, rather than increasing them. It is only natural for Arab leaders to conclude, "Why negotiate with the difficult Israelis, when you can get your American friends to do the work for you?" The American message should be exactly the reverse: "You have to negotiate with the Israelis. We cannot do it for you."
Netanyahu knows he will need to compromise on settlements, but he can do this only if Obama compromises too. An impasse on this issue certainly does not serve Israel's interests, but it will not advance the goals of the Obama administration either. The U.S. president's advisers need to see that, on settlements, like so many issues, the perfect is the enemy of the good enough.
Steven J. Rosen served for 23 years as foreign policy director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and was a defendant in the recently dismissed AIPAC case. He is now director of the Washington Project at the Middle East Forum.
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