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What Do the Obami Believe? What Should We?

Each day sees another member of the administration seeking to mollify critics of its Israel policy. The latest is Dan Shapiro. No, no, the Obama administration really doesn’t think Israel’s failure to reach a deal with the Palestinians causes the deaths of Americans. No, no, they really understand Iran is not going to care even if there is a peace deal. And sure, sure, the Obami won’t be imposing a peace deal. This report recounts the spin offensive:

“We do not believe that resolving this conflict will bring an end to all conflicts in the Middle East,” Dan Shapiro, the National Security Council’s senior director for the Middle East, told an Anti-Defamation League conference. “We do not believe it would cause Iran to end its unacceptable pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Shapiro also emphasized, to applause from the audience, that “we do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq.” …

Shapiro explained that the US thinks that “depriving Iran of a conflict it can exploit by arming their terrorist proxies is very much in our national interests,” and that images broadcasting Palestinian state-building rather than suffering “would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of an evocative propaganda tool.”

Shapiro is himself returning to the region this week as the sides are set to begin proximity talks.

He noted that the US sees direct talks as the only effective means of ultimately resolving the conflict.

“A solution cannot be imposed on the parties from the outside. Peace can only come from direct talks,” he said.

Do we believe him — or more precisely, believe he represents the president’s views? Shapiro’s spiel certainly is what the Jewish audiences want to hear, but it bears little resemblance to what the administration has been saying and doing (and leaking) since March. And in fact, Shapiro hints that there is a certain amount of wordplay at work when it comes to what it means to “impose” a deal: “There could be times and contexts in which US ideas can be useful, and when appropriate we are prepared to share them.”

Hmm. What does that mean? One supposes it means this:

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He  also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

In other words, it’s time to strong-arm the Jewish state with the threat of “blame” — and perhaps some abstentions at the UN — if the Obami’s latest threat is to be believed. The Palestinians need not come to the table, because Mitchell will do their work for them. It is noteworthy that even if done without the intention of exerting extreme pressure on the Jewish state, excessive American intervention in the talks is likely counterproductive. For this reason, the Bush administration eschewed bridging proposals. As a knowledgeable source says, “We truly believed they must negotiate themselves. All our presence did and does is slow things down because both sides play to us rather than seriously addressing each other.”

And if proximity talks fail to bring about a deal, we hear:

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

So what then to make of Shapiro’s fine words to the ADL? A healthy dose of skepticism is in order. And if we have learned anything, it is to ignore what the Obami say (a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable”) and watch what they do (delay and work for carve-outs for Russia and China in congressional petroleum sanctions).


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