Tuesday, March 16, 2010

US-Israel relations: White House 'will not shy away' from pushing for talks.

There are further noises today to suggest that Obama is realising that the Teutonic plates are shifting regarding his ability to get Israel to come to the table and talk peace with the Palestinians.

An Obama administration source told the Guardian that the White House and US state department are intent on pushing Israel into substantive peace talks with the Palestinians and will not shy away this time as they did when the last effort ended in embarrassing failure in September.

"No one gets anywhere by accusing each other. We are hoping to lay the foundations for negotiations," the source said. In order to get negotiations under way, the US is demanding that Netanyahu cancel or freeze plans to build 1,600 planned Jewish homes in Palestinian East Jerusalem. But Netanyahu, speaking at a meeting of his own Likud party, showed no signs of backing down. "The building in Jerusalem, and in all other places, will continue in the same way as has been customary over the last 42 years," he said.

The Israeli ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, in a weekend telephone call to other Israeli diplomats, expressed alarm about the extent of the confrontation.

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth quoted the normally cool Oren, an academic-turned diplomat, as saying: "Israel's ties with the United States are in their worst crisis since 1975 … a crisis of historic proportions."

Netanyahu appears to think that he can simply brazen this one out, that the usual forces will come to his aid and rescue him, that people like Bill Kristol and Joe Lieberman will make enough noise to force Obama to back off.

I think Netanyahu is widely missing the point.

Petraeus has moved the goalposts in a dramatic fashion.
David Petraeus sent a briefing team to the Pentagon with a stark warning: America's relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America's soldiers.
It is in that context that the Israeli intransigence should now be viewed. It is, according to two of America's most respected military officials, "jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region".

The White House has steadily built up the heat on Israel over the last few days, with the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, berating Netanyahu in a 45-minute call on Friday and David Axelrod, the chief White House adviser, describing Israeli behaviour as an insult yesterday.

The US wants Israel not only to backtrack on the East Jerusalem building plans but to enter into talks with the Palestinians on substantive issues and not just talks about talks, as Israel wants. Washington also wants Israel to make gestures towards the Palestinians, such as releasing Palestinian prisoners and withdrawing more Israeli forces from Palestinian territory. The US special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the former senator George Mitchell, is to visit Israel this week in the hope of hearing that Israel will bow to at least some of the US demands.

Aipac have issued an almost boilerplate condemnation of Obama and an insistence that he backs down, but J Street - the new guys on the block - have urged Obama to use this as a way to push for peace talks.

I really don't think that this will play out the way these things usually play out. Petraeus, by making this about the lives of American soldiers, has changed the game.

Obama's decision to back down on his insistence that all illegal Israeli settlement building must stop was the greatest disappointment I have had in his presidency. Petraeus has just handed him a lifeline to stiffen his resolve.

It will, of course, be a fight to the death. And I suspect that the government of Netnanyahu might collapse rather than give Obama what he wants. But Obama, this time, needs to see this through and not back down.


Some of the comments in the Israeli press are sharply critical of Netanyahu.
If Bibi genuinely did not know, as he foolishly claims, that 1,600 more homes were being planned for East Jerusalem, he does not deserve to be prime minister. If he did know, and permitted Interior Minister Eli Yishai to announce the plan exactly during the visit of Joe Biden, who is both U.S. vice president and a friend to Israel, then there are two possibilities, each worse than the other: either stupidity or fear of the extremists in his cabinet. Either way, he is playing with fire.
And, in the American press, we can see Thomas Freedman - a man who I normally find myself on the opposite side of in every argument - coming out very strongly on the side of Obama and Biden.
So it pains me to say that on his recent trip to Israel, when Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s government rubbed his nose in some new housing plans for contested East Jerusalem, the vice president missed a chance to send a powerful public signal: He should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: “Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you’re serious. We need to focus on building our country.”
As I say, this is not going to play out in the usual way.


As if to ramp up the pressure on Netanyahu even further, now George Mitchell has cancelled his trip to Israel, implying that the Obama White House wants an answer to it's demands before it allows Mitchell to board a plane.
A visit to Israel by U.S. special peace envoy George Mitchell was on hold on Tuesday pending an Israeli response to a series of American demands.


Mitchell is thought to have delayed his travel plans until late Tuesday but may now cancel his visit to Israel altogether, instead flying straight to Moscow for talks with the 'Quartet' of Middle East peace mediators - the European Union, the United Nations, the United States and Russia.

"We want to make sure that we have the commitment from both sides that when he travels we can make progress," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.
I had thought that Mitchell was travelling to find out whether or not Netanyahu accepted what had been asked of him, but it appears as if Obama is demanding the answer before Mitchell can even meet with Netanyahu.


Where do you begin with this nonsense? Joel C. Rosenberg at the Corner races to Israel's defence spouting rubbish:
First things first: The Israeli government has every right to build homes for its own citizens in its own capital. Period.
Jerusalem is NOT Israel's capital, Tel Aviv is. There are several UN resolutions on this matter stating that Israel must negotiate with the Palestinians and that no measures are be taken to change the status of Jerusalem until a final settlement is reached.

On July 30, 1980, the Israeli parliament passed a law declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel in contravention of several UN security council resolutions. But no other nation recognises this. Indeed, not a single nation has its embassy in Jerusalem. Even George Bush, Israel's greatest defender, never got around to moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

So Rosenberg is talking nonsense. And lets face it, if you are going to get things that wrong on your very first point, why should anyone bother reading anything else you have to say on the subject?

Click here for full article.

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