Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Israel lobby presses Congress to soften Obama's tough stance on Netanyahu.

As surely as night follows day, this was bound to happen:

Aipac has persuaded more than three-quarters of the members of the US House of Representatives to sign a letter calling for an end to public criticism of Israel and urging the US to "reinforce" its relationship with the Jewish state.

The open letter, which has been circulating among members of Congress for the last week, says that while it is recognised that there will be differences between the two countries, they should be kept behind closed doors. "Our view is that such differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence," it says.

The public differences, and revelations of Obama's private snubs of Netanyahu at the White House last week, have proved embarrassing to the Israeli leader at home, where he has been accused of undermining Israel's most important relationship.

And, of course, the effect that this dispute is having on Netanyahu at home is the very point of what Obama is doing. Bringing pressure to bear on Netanyahu to force him to become serious about negotiating with the Palestinians. Now, with the present coalition that Netanyahu has formed this will be impossible. But he could always form a new coalition with Kadima; but I suspect Netanyahu would rather attempt to see out the Obama presidency in the hope that he is a one term president like Jimmy Carter.

But the Aipac letter, signed by both Steny Hoyer, the Democrat majority leader, and Eric Cantor, the Republican whip, demands that Obama "take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish state".

It takes a particular kind of spinelessness to imply that it is for Obama to reduce the tensions, when it is Netanyahu who is behaving in clear violation of international law.

But I don't see Obama stepping back from this, nor do others.

Robert Malley, a former special assistant to President Bill Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs, said the administration's decision to take a once routine disagreement over settlement construction in East Jerusalem and turn it in to a confrontation is a reflection of the determination in the White House.

"This episode tells us more about the past and the future than the present. It's a reflection of the accumulated frustration and mistrust of the Netanyahu government by the White House. For the future, they're headed for a collision on the pace and nature of peace negotiations," he said. "We're seeing determination."

This has now become, according to some in the administration, about Obama's credibility.
A source, who is consulted by administration officials on Israel policy but did not wish to be named, said that having chosen to take Netanyahu on, Obama cannot afford to back away. "The administration's credibility is at stake – in Israel and the Arab world. Netanyahu thought he had the better of it last year after he humiliated the president by rejecting his demand for a settlement freeze. If the administration does not follow through on this, or reaches some compromise that takes the heat off the Israelis, I suspect it will be almost impossible for us to get anything off the ground," he said.
And this letter arrives at a moment when the administration of Netanyahu have suddenly realised that Obama is not the Bambi they had assumed he was. Roger Cohen describes how Obama's healthcare victory has been perceived in Israel.
The passage of the U.S. health care bill is a major foreign policy victory for President Barack Obama.

It empowers him by demonstrating his ability to deliver. Nowhere is that more important than in the Middle East.

All the global mutterings about the “Carterization” of Obama, and the talk (widespread in Israel) of kicking the can down the road and so getting through the “garbage time” of a one-term president — that is suddenly yesterday’s chatter.

The reminder was timely: This man is no softie.

And Cohen detects shifts in the Middle East:

Americans, prodded by a report from Gen. David Petraeus, are beginning to see the link between terror recruitment and a festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Planning in Washington on Iran has shown a “marked shift in thinking away from the war strategy,” as Nicholas Burns, a former top State Department official, put it to me.

These are real shifts. They are prerequisites for the rapprochement with the Muslim world Obama rightly seeks. Lo, even the Middle East moves.

Hoyer, Cantor and the others who signed this letter are insisting on a formula which has already failed, on a formula which says that the Israelis can do whatever they like and that the US will always back them. It is spineless and it is part of the reason that US popularity world wide under the presidency of George W. Bush ended up at such an all time low.

Obama was elected to change all that. He must stick to his guns, no matter how much shit they throw at him. For the world knows that he is in the right and Netanyahu is in the wrong. It would cripple his credibility were he to back down now.

And, despite the spineless behaviour of Hoyer, Cantor and others, there is actually a notable silence from Congressional leaders.

Netanyahu appears to have been caught off guard by Obama's stand, perhaps because he was overconfident of being able to bypass the administration by relying on strong support for Israel in Congress. But while Aipac has been able to mobilise support for its letter, Congressional leaders have remained largely silent on the substance of the dispute.

That is, in part, because there is little enthusiasm for Jewish settlements. In addition, the White House has played an unusual card in suggesting that Netanyahu's intransigence is endangering US interests in the Middle East, and the lives of US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"So far, I've been surprised by how muted congressional reaction has been," said Malley. "It may come, but if the administration manages to portray this as an issue of US national interest, it may be able to sustain a level of criticism."

Petraeus's link between Netanyahu's intransigence and the possible deaths of American soldiers, plus the fact that Obama is insisting on nothing more than Netanyahu obey international law and desist from building illegal settlements, places most of Israel's traditional defenders in a dreadful position.

There is nothing outrageous in Obama's request. Indeed, the arguments being prepared by The Israel Project (TIP) - to advise supporters on how best to counter criticism of the settlements - has more than a whiff of defending the indefensible:
TIP says the "best argument" for settlements is this: Since Arabs citizens of Israel "enjoy equal rights," telling Jews they can't live in the Palestinian state "is a racist idea."
They are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Because, of course, Jews can live in any future Palestinian state, they simply can't call it Israel.

So, Obama has all the moral ammunition he needs to see this argument through. The arguments against his position are incredibly weak. And Hoyer, Cantor and the others will find it very hard to maintain their position when it becomes a question of whether to protect the lives of American soldiers or Israel's desire for illegal settlements.

Obama has chosen his battleground well. Now, he must stiffen his resolve and see this through.

Click here for full article.


Anonymous said...

If Congress is so indebted to its 'masters' that it cannot act or vote in any unbiased manner, then it should step aside from the Israeli Palestinian conflict and allow the UN and the European Union to impose a settlement and a 2-state solution.

To enable this, of course, the US must abstain from voting against any UNSC resolution on the matter, in the future.

Then, and only then, will it be possible to end this 60 year old conflict.


Kel said...


Congress refuse to step aside for the very reason which you state. They know fine well that the rest of the planet could sort this out very quickly by simply demanding that Israel conform to UN Res 242.

But the Israelis want land, not peace; so Congress goes along with the farce that Israel is searching for "a partner in peace". And they do this even whilst Netanyahu takes every opportunity to make it impossible for Abbas - the most moderate Palestinian the Israelis could have ever wished for - to take part in peace talks.

It's shameless.

Anonymous said...


In that case, let the President make AIPAC a proscribed organization: deport all AIPAC members to Israel: then vote FOR a UNSC resolution to establish an independent Palestinian state on pre1967 borders with all illegal settlers removed from the West Bank back to Israel: the concrete barrier to be removed where on Palestinian land but otherwise left intact to enclose Israel. Then we maybe will have peace in the Middle East after 60 years.

Kel said...

I don't think anyone needs to be deported anywhere. The Palestinians have already said that the settlers can remain, as long as they are willing to live within the new Palestinian state. And some settlements will probably remain Israeli, as long as a land swap can be achieved which gives the Palestinians a commensurate amount of Israeli land.

Peace is possible. But not with Netanyahu leading the present coalition. Congress will continue to make the usual noises, but I think Obama has his eye on the big picture and will simply ignore them.