Monday, March 29, 2010

Fierce debate on Israel underway inside Obama administration.

It is being reported that "fierce debate" is taking place within the Obama administration about how to proceed with Israel, as unnamed sources within the Israeli cabinet are letting it be known that they regard Obama as pro-Palestinian and Israel's "greatest disaster".

White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross is apparently making the case that the US government needs to be sensitive to Netanyahu's political position, which really is the line of the Israeli government.

“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu's coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn't seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this Administration.”

Ross has been criticised before, especially by Aaron David Miller, a member of the Ross-led US negotiating team between the Israelis and the Palestinians in 1999-2000. Miller said that Ross had acted "as "Israel's lawyer", and their policy of "no surprises" (meaning all US proposals were first reviewed by Israel), led to a lack of negotiating flexibility and independence."

But, it is to be expected that there will be some in the US administration who want negotiations to proceed as they have always done before, but the intransigence of Netanyahu has surely meant that this is impossible if the Americans are serious about peace in the Middle East?

And the sheer ferocity of the Israeli leaks surely prove that Obama's stance is piling the pressure on Netanyahu.
"We're talking about something that is diseased and insane," the confidant told the paper. "The situation is catastrophic. We have a problem with a very, very hostile administration. There's never been anything like this before. This president wants to establish the Palestinian state and he wants to give them Jerusalem … You could say Obama is the greatest disaster for Israel, a strategic disaster."
Ross, apparently, has been arguing that there is only so far that Netanyahu can go and he has been pushing that same line which is pushed by the Israeli government, that the US must be careful not to do anything which will increase Palestinian demands.

Last week, during U.S.-Israeli negotiations during Netanyahu’s visit and subsequent internal U.S. government meetings, the first official said, Ross “was always saying about how far Bibi could go and not go. So by his logic, our objectives and interests were less important than pre-emptive capitulation to what he described as Bibi's coalition's red lines.”

When the U.S. and Israel are seen to publicly diverge on an issue such as East Jerusalem construction, the official characterized Ross's argument as: "the Arabs increase their demands ... therefore we must rush to close gaps ... no matter what the cost to our broader credibility.”

A second official confirmed the broad outlines of the current debate within the administration. Obviously at every stage of the process, the Obama Middle East team faces tactical decisions about what to push for, who to push, how hard to push, he described.

As to which argument best reflects the wishes of the President, the first official said, “As for POTUS, what happens in practice is that POTUS, rightly, gives broad direction. He doesn't, and shouldn't, get bogged down in minutiae. But Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”

The more Obama pressurises Netanyahu the more one can expect people who have a great fondness for Israel to argue that Obama should cut him some slack. Even to the point which Ross is demanding, which is that the US must do this "no matter what the cost to our broader credibility.” But the point which Petraeus made is that the US lack of credibility may actually cost the lives of American soldiers. At that point, Ross's argument collapses.

And surely "cutting Israel some slack" is what almost every previous US administration has ever done and the results have almost always been disastrous.

The ferocity of the leaks coming from Israel - and the fact that the leaker is claiming that Obama's policies are "a strategic disaster" for Israel - means that the pressure Obama is applying is being felt.

And, there are no signs that he plans to take Ross's advice; indeed, he appears willing to apply even more pressure. He is apparently now considering one of the things which I have always argued that Obama should do.
The US is considering abstaining from a possible UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, sources suggest to the BBC.

The possibility surfaced at talks in Paris last week between a senior US official and Qatar's foreign minister.

The official said the US would "seriously consider abstaining" if the issue of Israeli settlements was put to the vote, a diplomat told the BBC.
I have always argued that, if the US wanted to apply serious pressure to the Netanyahu government, then it should let the Israelis know that the automatic use of the American veto at the UN was going to be withdrawn.

The fact that the Obama team are even willing for it to be leaked that they are considering this, piles even more pressure on Netanyahu.

And the fact that some Americans are leaking stories of Ross's pro-Israeli negotiating stance, is itself proof that this administration is not willing to play this game the way in which it has always been played.


As always, it's fascinating to see how this plays in the Israeli press:
Obama's reaction is not a result of his victory in passing health care reform. The American president doesn't need to be strong to offend an Israeli prime minister over a matter such as settlements. And despite the hopes of some in Israel, it doesn't appear that the U.S. Jewish community will go out of its way to defend Israel on the settlement issue either.
Netanyahu is playing his cards terribly, assuming that the American Jewish community will argue for settlement building in Judea and Samaria. He's totally misjudging their mood.
"Netanyahu should have taken into account the change within the American Jewish community," Dov Weisglass, a senior adviser to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told the MESS Report. "Their support for Israel is decreasing and they will defend Israel in the face of the administration only on matters where there is a real threat to Israel. I have serious doubt that U.S. Jews see the Netanyahu government's territorial aspirations in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem as an existential matter."
It's really hard to hold the moral high ground whilst stealing someone else's land. Netanyahu doesn't seem to have grasped that yet.


Astonishingly, I find myself in agreement with the Moustache of Understanding when he detects "a tectonic shift that has taken place beneath the surface of Israel-U.S. relations."
Both Vice President Joe Biden and Gen. David Petraeus have been quoted recently as saying that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict foments anti-U.S. sentiments, because of the perception that America usually sides with Israel, and these sentiments are exploited by Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran to generate anti-Americanism that complicates life for our soldiers in the region. I wouldn’t exaggerate this, but I would not dismiss it either.
Petraeus's comments were the game changer for me. He is defining what Obama means when he states that peace between Israel and Palestine is in "America's interests".


And I'm not sure if Friedman is even aware of how he is highlighting a classic example of the way the Israelis manipulate each situation to ensure that peace talks are non-viable.
At the same time, Israel’s erecting of a wall around the West Bank to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Israel (there have been no successful attacks since 2006), along with the rise of the high-tech industry in Israel — which does a great deal of business digitally and over the Internet and is largely impervious to the day-to-day conflict — has meant that even without peace, Israel can enjoy a very peaceful existence and a rising standard of living.

Instead of pining for peace, they’re now asking: who needs it?...
See how it works? The argument used to be "we cannot negotiate because they are attacking us". Now the argument moves to, "Why should we negotiate, we are not being attacked?" There's always a case to be made for not negotiating.

Click here for full article.


Steel Phoenix said...

I'll be interested to see which side of this leash has the collar.

Kel said...

Amen, SP.