Monday, March 15, 2010

Axelrod calls Israeli settlement announcement an 'insult' to the US.

I know that so far this is simply a change in tone, and that the Obama administration haven't actually brought about any significant change in the way the US relates to Israel, but the difference between what we are currently hearing from the Obama team and what we were used to hearing from the Bush presidency is remarkable.

Obama set out this difference early on in his presidency when he stated that peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians was in "America's interest."

This was the first time that anyone, to my knowledge, had stopped pretending that the US was merely "an honest broker" and had implied that US and Israeli interests in this matter were not necessarily one and the same.

The never ending war between the Israelis and the Palestinians had consequences, and some of these consequences were for the United States, although Obama was careful never to specify what those consequences were.

Nevertheless, he was making it perfectly clear that the US would no longer approach this problem simply from the point of view of what was in Israel's interests; he was making it perfectly clear that his obligation was to the people of the United States and that the interests of the Israelis and the Americans might not always go hand in hand.

Surely that is what is behind the change of tone which greeted the Israeli announcement that 1600 new homes would be built in Jerusalem, an announcement made whilst Joe Biden was visiting Israel.

David Axelrod continued with this new tone yesterday, stating that what had occurred was "an affront" and that the behaviour of the Israelis was "very destructive".

Axelrod's comments came after Netanyahu had tried to play down the bust up with Washington.

"We opened the newspapers this morning and read all kinds of commentary and assumptions regarding the crisis with the US. I recommend not to get carried away and to calm down," Netanyahu told his cabinet today, Associated Press reported. "There was a regrettable incident that was done in all innocence and was hurtful, and which certainly should not have occurred."

In his remarks to the cabinet, Netanyahu said: "Israel and the US have mutual interests but we will act according to the vital interests of the state of Israel."

Netanyahu, with his promise of acting, "according to the vital interests of the state of Israel" is showing no sign of backing down and appears to want to play the whole thing down.

Axelrod, speaking after Netanyahu made those remarks, appears to be saying that this is not business as usual.

"This was an affront, it was an insult but most importantly it undermined this very fragile effort to bring peace to that region," he said on NBC's Meet the Press. "For this announcement to come at that time was very destructive."

Axelrod, one of the architects of Obama's election, is not the first US official to have criticised the decision but he is one of the president's closest advisers.

Asked about Netanyahu's remarks, Axelrod said he believed the strong rebuke from Washington had sunk in. "I think the message was received," he said.
And, for the first time I can recall, Axelrod intimated that Israel might have done this deliberately to undermine peace efforts.

"We've just gotten... so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis and this seemed calculated to undermine that," he told the ABC This Week talk show.

During the Bush presidency we would now be hearing speeches about how the US is Israel's greatest ally and that there had been a simple misunderstanding between great friends.

Bush always seemed to fall over himself to make excuses so that the Israeli leader didn't have to.

What's remarkable about the interventions of Biden, Clinton - and now Axelrod - is that none of that is happening.


The Guardian discuss the danger of Natanyahu's current posturing:

Like many in Israel, and on the political right in the US, Mr Netanyahu may be banking on Mr Obama turning out to be a one-term president; a leader to be endured until a more ardently pro-Israeli Republican takes back the White House. That offers one explanation for Israel's almost deliberate-looking humiliation of the President. But if this is the strategy – to appeal over Mr Obama's head to a right-wing audience in America – it is fraught with risk.

The strength of Israel's alliance with the US has depended on its bipartisan character, which meant Israel not taking sides between Democrats and Republicans. The danger of Mr Netanyahu's approach is that Democrats may start to see Israel not as the great friend of America but as the great friend of the Republicans, which will change the entire dynamics of the alliance. It may be that in a few years' time the US will have another Republican president, in which case Israel can presumably restart settlement activity without any apology. But it should not bank on such an outcome at this stage.


In an article in which Israel's ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, describes US/Israeli relations as being the worst they have been for thirty five years, Ha'aretz say they have come across four of the demands which Clinton set out during her conversation with Netanyahu.
1. Investigate the process that led to the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo construction plans in the middle of Biden's visit. The Americans seek an official response from Israel on whether this was a bureaucratic mistake or a deliberate act carried out for political reasons. Already on Saturday night, Netanyahu announced the convening of a committee to look into the issue.

2. Reverse the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.

3. Make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians enabling the renewal of peace talks. The Americans suggested that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners be released, that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and transfer them to Palestinian control, that the siege of the Gaza Strip be eased and further roadblocks in the West Bank be removed.

4. Issue an official declaration that the talks with the Palestinians, even indirect talks, will deal with all the conflict's core issues - borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water and settlements.
Netanyahu will meet with George Mitchell on Tuesday when he is expected to say whether or not he intends to take the proposed steps.

Click here for full article.

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