Sunday, March 14, 2010

Netanyahu must choose between ideology and U.S. support .

Since Netanyahu was elected we have been preparing for the inevitable fallout between him and the administration of Barack Obama. Now, with the humiliation of Joe Biden on a visit to Israel, it appears to have arrived.

U.S. President Barack Obama did not hold back in condemning the humiliation caused to Joe Biden with the Israeli announcement of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem during what was supposed to be the vice president's friendly visit to Israel. Instead of accepting Netanyahu's partial apology and letting bygones be bygones, Obama issued a stern warning to the Israeli prime minister and is now demanding that he take "specific actions" to show he is "committed" to the U.S.-Israel relationship and to the peace process itself.
Washington did not reveal the contents of the ultimatum or the list of demands reportedly presented to Netanyahu. Those conditions, however, could undermine the prime minister's coalition ties to hard-line right-wing parties like Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas, as well as provoke strong criticism from within his own Likud faction. In case Netanyahu still fails to understand the situation, a U.S. official told Reuters yesterday that the Israeli leader's rightist coalition leaves him in a "perilous" situation.
I am delighted that Obama is, finally, appearing to get serious about addressing this situation and is, at last, standing up to Netanyahu's intransigence.

For, as a new Channel 4 documentary reveals, time is not on our side.

Omsyatte adjusts her green school uniform and climbs gingerly on to a desk at the front of the classroom. The shy 12-year-old holds up a brightly coloured picture and begins to explain to her classmates what she has drawn. It is a scene played out in schools all over the world, but for one striking difference: Omsyatte's picture does not illustrate a recent family holiday, or jolly school outing, but the day an Israeli military offensive killed her nine-year-old brother and destroyed her home.

"Here is where they shot my brother Ibrahim, God bless his soul. And here is the F16 plane that threw rockets into the house and trees, and here is the tank that started to shoot," she says, to a round of applause from the other children. The exercise is designed to help the pupils at the school come to terms with the warfare that has dominated their short lives; particularly the horrors of the 2008 Israeli military offensive Operation Cast Lead, which killed 1,400 Palestinians, and destroyed one in eight homes.

It's so easy, sitting so many miles away, to concern ourselves with the politics of this conflict; and to forget that for the children, this is the only life they know, and that this experience will shape and influence the adults they become.

Small boys build toy rockets out of drinks bottles, and talk about the fake guns they are going to buy with their pocket money. While boys the world over are preoccupied with fighting and weapons, this takes on a more sinister significance when the game isn't Cowboys vs Indians, but Jews vs Arabs, and the children's make-believe warfare is chillingly realistic.

These games may reflect the children's desire for revenge against their neighbours, of which many speak openly. "I think we are seeing a growing desire for violence, and it saddens me," said Jezza Neumann, the Bafta-winning director of the programme. "If they could get revenge legally, or saw someone saying sorry, then perhaps they could come to terms with it, but there has been no recourse. What you're seeing now may only be the tip of the iceberg."

It's like a ticking time bomb. A society held under siege, dreaming of revenge.

Obama, who has until now backed off from confrontation with Netanyahu, appears to sense that this is his moment.

You can't treat a visiting American Vice President the way Biden was treated on his recent visit to Israel. It's simply not done.
His [Netanyahu's] adversaries in the Obama administration spotted a perfect opportunity to strike, to teach him a lesson in national honor - taking a leaf out of the diplomatic playbook of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy, Danny Ayalon. Biden was humiliated in Jerusalem, and America is now returning the favor.

Washington delivered its rebuke to Netanyahu through a number of channels. There was the extended censure by telephone from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a phone call from Biden, the summoning of Israel's ambassador to Washington to the office of Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, the condemnation from the Quartet and, perhaps most important, a media briefing Clinton delivered during a CNN interview which escalated private rebukes into a full-blown public reprimand.

The reproofs were reminiscent of the "low chair diplomacy" the Turkish ambassador to Jerusalem was subjected to by the Israeli Foreign Ministry at the beginning of the year. The media was informed that the conversation between Clinton and Netanyahu lasted 43 minutes, "rather than 10 minutes as usual," and that the prime minister barely uttered a word.

Obama himself reportedly worded the message to be delivered to Netanyahu during his weekly Thursday meeting with Clinton, lest the argument be made that it was merely the secretary of state scolding the Israeli leader, and not the U.S. president himself.

A State Department spokesman described the conversation using phrases which bring to mind a teacher castigating a student, not a working discussion with the leader of a friendly country and ally.

The substance was no less damning than the form - Clinton spoke of an "insult" to the United States and of "harming bilateral ties." She could not understand, she said, how such a thing could have been done in light of America's strong obligation to Israel's security. U.S. media interpreted these remarks as suggesting that Washington's military support for Israel is hardly unconditional.

Clinton dismissed Netanyahu's explanation that the decision to approve the housing plan was made without his knowledge, reminding him that as prime minister he is responsible for his government's actions.
Obama has Netanyahu on the ropes for the first time since he became president. Now, Netanyahu has a problem.

He is due to fly this week to the US to address the AIPAC Conference. Should he make the trip it is highly unlikely that any senior US figures will agree to meet with him, unless he agrees to some of Obama's conditions. Should he cancel, he will be admitting that there is a serious rift between his government and the government of Barack Obama.

Until now, I have always felt that Netanyahu has had the better of Obama, that the wily old fox always seemed to know how to put the young pretender into a box.

Now, with the humiliation of Biden, the game has changed. And Obama knows it.

For the first time Obama has room to maneuver. And he appears willing to push Netanyahu as firmly as he can to force him to compromise.

Now, for the first time, Netanyahu has to show whether he is serious about peace, or not. It will be fascinating to see what way Netanyahu decides to go.

Click here for full article.


Steel Phoenix said...

I think you're dreaming. First of all, I don't think Netanyahu is going to have an easy time convincing his opposition party to take back their recent settlement announcement. Second, even if they do, that isn't a victory, it's the standard Israeli tactic of escalating the problem beyond reason so they can compromise back down to a little ahead of where they started. Third, I don't see Obama actually doing anything tangible to them if they don't comply.

Israel will continue to escalate until they call our bluff and they get their way.

Kel said...

Maybe you are right, SP. I've been guilty before of falling for Obama's rhetoric.

I was just pleased that, after the Bush years, it looked as if Obama was, at last, standing up to them.