He did, after all, thank Bibi Netanyahu, among others. So why the silence from Sebastian Pinera about Obama? Simple: the mining operation was a shovel-ready project, and Obama told Peter Baker of the New York Times those projects don’t exist.
Topic: Bibi Netanyahu
Ambassador Michael Oren gave a curious interview to the Jerusalem Post this week. In some respects, we got the unvarnished and deliciously candid analysis we have come to expect from him:
Asked about J Street’s influence on the White House or its sway in Congress, the ambassador said, “I don’t think that they have proven decisive on any major issue we’ve encountered.”
Oren said J Street was fundamentally different than the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
“AIPAC’s mandate is to support the decisions of the democratically elected government of Israel, be it left, right or center,” he said. “J Street makes its own policy and does not necessarily, to say the least, accept the decisions of the policies of the government of Israel.”
“Listen, I represent the democratically elected government, and that government reflects the will of the people of Israel, and what they perceive as the interests of Israel,” he said, adding that J Street was an organization “taking issue with that, and that in itself is a source of disagreement.”
But he is also a diplomat, one trying to hold the tenuous U.S.-Israel relationship together. So he feels compelled to say things such as “the tone changed within a week” after Obama’s display of rudeness toward Bibi Netanyahu. Listen, at that time James Jones was holding meetings on an imposed peace plan and leaking it to the media. Obama more recently has not exactly been the stalwart partner for Israel during the flotilla incident. And Oren unfortunately goes well beyond the needs of diplomatic niceties when he declares:
“Bi-partisan support for Israel is a national strategic interest for us, and I’m sometimes in the difficult position of having to tell some of Israel’s most outspoken supporters to be aware of this,” Oren said.
“I’m concerned about the drift toward partisanship, and while the American people remain overwhelmingly supportive of Israel, pro-Israel, when you break it down by party you get a more nuanced picture, and for me a more troubling picture,” he said.
Oren advised Israel supporters against “ad hominem attacks on the president as if he is anti- Israel. Barack Obama is not anti-Israel, he has different policies than some of his predecessors, but he is not anti-Israel. You can debate the relative value of his policies toward us, but let’s not couch it in saying someone is pro-Israel or anti- Israel.”
Wait. Shouldn’t he be concerned not about the vocal supporters of Israel, but about the significant drop-off in Democratic support for Israel? Israel has become a partisan issue because so many on the Democratic side — the president included – have junked the bipartisan tradition of support for the Jewish state. It doesn’t seem productive to chide those who are standing resolutely with the Jewish state (and pressuring those who aren’t) to take a swing at Israel’s friends for “partisanship.”
As for Obama’s anti-Israel sentiments, I sincerely doubt whether Oren and his government think Obama is pro-Israel. Oren and others in the Bibi government are all too well aware that Obama’s policies toward Israel are “different.” For example, we haven’t had a president who condemned Israel or questioned Israel’s ability to investigate its own national-security actions. This is the burden of diplomats — to pack away one’s candor and sincerity for post-governmental revelations. One cannot but despair that Obama forces Israel’s supporters and its representatives to be so disingenuous, to praise the un-praiseworthy, and to stifle their candid assessments so as to not arouse the angry president whom they fear will lash out again.
Truth is the first casualty in war, they say. Well, honesty is the first casualty in surviving Obama’s Israel policy.
The reaction to the report regarding an international investigation of the flotilla and then the confirmation from the administration that it is searching for some type of international element have indeed caused an immediate push-back. From Minority Whip Eric Cantor:
It would be naïve to assume that the United Nations intends to give a fair and balanced account of the flotilla incident. As we saw with the Goldstone Commission, these so-called investigations are designed to demonize Israel and strip it of its right to self defense. The Obama Administration should not lend America’s stamp of approval to a witch hunt against a democratic ally who stands on our side in the battle against terrorism – lest one day American troops become the target of a similar smear attack. I hope that these reports are untrue and that the Administration makes its position known by standing with our friend and ally Israel.
While it’s true there is no specific resolution expected, sources close to the issue say, what pro-Israel leaders like Kristol are worried about are continuing calls for tougher measures against Israel, such as the vote in the Human Rights Council, and whether or not the administration will really oppose them with vigor. That point is made clearly in the first line of a letter addressed to the president that is currently being finalized by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY. In a rare show of bipartisan comity, the two Senate leaders are calling on Obama not just to oppose new efforts to isolate Israel at the U.N., but to openly declare America’s support for the Jewish state. …
“Israel has announced its intention to promptly carry out a thorough investigation of this incident and has the right to determine how its investigation is conducted,” they wrote. “In the meantime, we ask you to stand firm in the future at the United Nations Security Council and to use your veto power, if necessary, to prevent any similar biased or one-sided resolutions from passing. . .
“We write to affirm our support for our strategic partnership with Israel, and encourage you to continue to do so before international organizations such as the United Nations,” the letter reads.
Why should this be such an ordeal for the administration? In any other administration, the Reid-McConnell letter would never have been necessary. Everyone — Democrats and Republicans, not to mention Jewish groups — would assume that the administration would never entertain a witch hunt of this type and that it would be pressing for an investigation of the terrorists instead. But this is an administration like no other, and Israel supporters must devise a new approach to it in these troubled times.
UPDATE: Perhaps this is the way to go. A letter signed by 78 Republican House members was sent to Bibi Netanyahu affirming American support for Israel and for the maritime blockade. It is what Obama should be saying, but won’t.
Bibi Netanyahu delivered a full-throated defense of Israel and an attack on her critics on Wednesday. (To our Israeli comrades, I can only offer one suggestion — do it in the first news cycle.)
He makes clear that the flotilla is not the beginning of the story:
Last year, Israel acted to stop Hamas from firing thousands of rockets into Israel’s towns and cities. Hamas was firing on our civilians while hiding behind civilians. And Israel went to unprecedented lengths to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet it was Israel, and not Hamas, that was accused by the UN of war crimes. Now regrettably, the same thing appears to be happening now. But here are the facts. Hamas is smuggling thousands of Iranian rockets, missiles and other weaponry – smuggling it into Gaza in order to fire on Israel’s cities. These missiles can reach Ashdod and Beer Sheva – these are major Israeli cities. And I regret to say that some of them can reach now Tel Aviv, and very soon, the outskirts of Jerusalem. From the information we have, the planned shipments include weapons that can reach farther, even farther and deeper into Israel.
He reiterates Israel’s right of self-defense and doesn’t buy into the critics who from a safe distance sniff and declare that this was some abstract or unimportant matter:
This is not a theoretical challenge or a theoretical threat. We have already interdicted vessels bound for Hezbollah, and for Hamas from Iran, containing hundreds of tons of weapons. In one ship, the Francop, we found hundreds of tons of war materiel and weapons destined for Hezbollah. In another celebrated case, the Karine A, dozens of tons of weapons were destined for Hamas by Iran via a shipment to Gaza. Israel simply cannot permit the free flow of weapons and war materials to Hamas from the sea.
I will go further than that. Israel cannot permit Iran to establish a Mediterranean port a few dozen kilometers from Tel Aviv and from Jerusalem. And I would go beyond that too. I say to the responsible leaders of all the nations: The international community cannot afford an Iranian port in the Mediterranean. Fifteen years ago I cautioned about an Iranian development that has come to pass – people now recognize that danger. Today I warn of this impending willingness to enable Iran to establish a naval port right next to Israel, right next to Europe. The same countries that are criticizing us today should know that they will be targeted tomorrow.
Then he takes on the notion that the flotilla was needed for humanitarian reasons: “Humanitarian and other goods can go in and weapons and war materiel cannot. And we do let civilian goods into Gaza. There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Each week, an average of ten thousand tons of goods enter Gaza. There’s no shortage of food. There’s no shortage of medicine. There’s no shortage of other goods. On this occasion too, we made several offers – offers to deliver the goods on board the flotilla to Gaza after a security inspection. Egypt made similar offers. And these offers were rejected time and again.”
Then the details of the battle:
Our naval personnel, just as they landed on the ship – you can see this in the videos – the first soldier – they were met with a vicious mob. They were stabbed, they were clubbed, they were fired upon. I talked to some of these soldiers. One was shot in the stomach, one was shot in the knee. They were going to be killed and they had to act in self-defense.
It is very clear to us that the attackers had prepared their violent action in advance. They were members of an extremist group that has supported international terrorist organizations and today support the terrorist organization called Hamas. They brought with them in advance knives, steel rods, other weapons. They chanted battle cries against the Jews. You can hear this on the tapes that have been released.
This was not a love boat. This was a hate boat. These weren’t pacifists. These weren’t peace activists. These were violent supporters of terrorism.
As for the second-guessers and those who want to set parameters — before any review is conducted and before the full facts are known — for what is and is not permitted in the name of Israeli self-defense:
Once again, Israel is told that it has a right to defend itself but is condemned every time it exercises that right. Now you know that a right that you cannot exercise is meaningless. And you know that the way we exercise it – under these conditions of duress, under the rocketing of our cities, under the impending killing of our soldiers – you know that we exercise it in a way that is commensurate with any international standard. I have spoken to leading leaders of the world, and I say the same thing today to the international community: What would you do? How would you stop thousands of rockets that are destined to attack your cities, your civilians, your children? How would your soldiers behave under similar circumstances? I think in your hearts, you all know the truth.
Israel regrets the loss of life. But we will never apologize for defending ourselves. Israel has every right to prevent deadly weapons from entering into hostile territory. And Israeli soldiers have every right to defend their lives and their country.
He makes a plea then for a cessation of double standards and for Israel to be treated “just like any other state.”
Other than being a bit quicker with the statement, I have only one quibble: he should not apologize for the loss of life. Did we apologize in WWII when we killed Nazis? Do we apologize when we kill Taliban fighters? The notion that these are innocent bystanders in the war to destroy the Jewish state is wrong — they were participants. Yes, yes, it’s a small tip of the hat to public opinion , but we could do without any concessions to the howling mob right now.
I have neither the intelligence data nor the expertise — who but the Israelis do at this point? — to claim that there were alternatives to the raid. (Each situation is unique, so other really smart operations don’t necessarily work in different situations.) In due time –after the situation has cooled — we will have an assessment from Israelis with complete data. And as soon as Israel starts getting praised by the UN for restraint, I’ll argue it should show more. But for now, I’ll offer a hearty “Right on!” and suggest that in a nation using drone weapons to kill terrorists that inevitably kill civilians, we should promote the idea, not undermine it, that the international community doesn’t get to set the rules of war for democratic nations that have internal checks and balances and that respect the rule of law. In sum, Israel, like the U.S., gets to decide for itself, subject to its own laws and its own free press and democratic system, what is “proportional” and what is essential to its own security.
I thought this piece might have been a clever parody of American Jewry. (Not as clever as this one, but it’s a hard standard to meet.) But it’s for real and appears in the lefty Tablet magazine, home to many a whimpering, indecisive, and guilt-ridden liberal Jew who can’t quite manage to defend the Jewish state. (I use that phrase intentionally since they no doubt bristle at it.)
One Marjorie Ingall writes:
I am deeply ambivalent about Israel. Modern-day Israel, as opposed to historical Israel, is a subject I avoid with my children. Yes, of course I believe the state should exist, but the word “Zionist” makes me skittish. (I understand that I may be the Jewish equivalent of all the twentysomething women I want to smack for saying, “I’m not a feminist, but I believe in equal rights.”) I shy away from conversations about Israeli politics. I feel no stirring in my heart when I see the Israeli flag. I would no sooner attend an Israel Day parade than a Justin Bieber concert. Neither Abe Foxman nor AIPAC speaks for me. I am a liberal, and I am deeply troubled by the Matzav, Israeli shorthand for tension with the Palestinians, and I do not have answers, and I do not know what to do about it, and I do not know what to tell my children.
From her stack of books, her eight-year-old daughter chose one and came to her mother for advice:
I stumbled desperately through an explanation of why two peoples feel they have a legitimate claim to the same land.
“But having land is like having a seat on a bus,” Josie replied. “You can’t just push someone out of their seat, and you can’t just leave your seat and then come back to it after a long time and just expect the person who is sitting there now to give it to you.” [Smart child!]
My panicked reaction to her words surprised me. I found myself trying to convince her that Israel did have that right. But that’s not what I believe. But I’m not sure what I believe. I want my children to love Israel, but I don’t want them to identify with bullies. I was spinning in my own head like the desperate, overwhelmed woman in the Calgon commercial: J Street, take me away! . . .
Baby-boomer Jews seem wedded to a sepia-toned image of Jews as victims—in the shtetl, in the Holocaust, in Israel’s early wars. But in real life, victims can turn into bullies. Perhaps being the parent to girls, rather than boys, helps me see this—in Mean Girl dynamics, the power shifts back and forth almost every day. We want a bright clear line, but heroes and villains in the real world are much fuzzier.
You get the picture. (And you wonder why American Jewry is in trouble?) But there is good news: she confesses, “I’ve taught my children about Jewish identity through ancient history, through food, through songs and prayers, through the story of American immigration. I’ve left any Israel talk to their teachers.” Still, it gives her angst to know her child might be a — you know (and lower your voice) — Zionist!
But the better news comes in the comments, where a few less-confused Jews try to set her straight:
You’re just confused. You can’t imagine that anyone would want to spend the past 110 years wanting you and your people dead. Once you wrap your mind around that idea, you’ll stop being confused. As far as two people wanting the same piece of land, I suggest you go live on an Indian reservation in Oklahoma if you feel so strongly about the dispossessed.
Another advises: “Please don’t talk to your kids about Israel. Hopefully they will find out the truth from other more knowledgeable, less neurotic people or perhaps go to Israel on a Birthright trip and see it for themselves.” These and others restore some confidence that the wider Jewish community (even liberals reading that publication) is not completely out to lunch.
Well, Ingall is certainly ready for J Street membership — maybe a board post. And it is a reminder, as Bibi Netanyahu said in a recent AIPAC speech, that the “future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.” He was referring to Churchill and FDR, but how much more true it is given the current White House occupant and the performance to date of mainstream Jewish organizations.
You can imagine Bibi Netanyahu’s frustration: a nuclear-armed Iran is perhaps only a year away and all Obama wants to talk about is Jerusalem housing and proximity talks with intransigent Palestinians who are utterly unprepared for a “peace” deal. As this report makes clear, Bibi is struggling to get the American president to focus on the real issue:
“If you stop Iran from importing refined petroleum — that’s a fancy word for gasoline — then Iran simply doesn’t have refining capacity and this regime comes to a halt,” Netanyahu said on the morning [ABC Good Morning] program.
The U.S. is leading a push in the United Nations to apply another round of sanctions against Iran in an effort to stop it from pursuing a nuclear program that Western nations believe is aimed at building atomic weapons.
Tehran says its program is designed to produce electricity for civilian use.
Calling the standoff with Iran “the biggest issue facing our times,” Netanyahu said the international community could deliver “crippling sanctions,” without the support of China and Russia, both permanent members of the UN Security Council.
“You’re left doing it outside the Security Council,” Netanyahu said. “There’s a coalition of the willing and you can have very powerful sanctions.”
Asked whether Obama had given assurances Washington would go along with refined oil sanctions and other restrictions, Netanyahu said: “What the United States has said is that they’re determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and I think that’s an important statement.”
Well, that’s a “no” on oil sanctions, obviously. Obama is getting little push-back domestically for his lackadaisical attitude, and Bibi is having little success redirecting the Obami, who don’t have a real answer to the dilemma of Iran. So naturally, they’d rather talk about virtually anything else and spend their time on eye-catching summits. What is missing is that sense of urgency one would expect from an administration facing the most perilous national security challenge in a generation. But I suppose they don’t see it that way.
Once again, the Obami’s bullying has come to naught. Bibi Netanyahu and his government are not amused nor persuaded by the Obami onslaught over Jerusalem housing permits or the suggestion that an imposed peace deal might be in the offing. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said it would reject any moves by the Obama administration to set its own timeline and benchmarks for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, potentially establishing a new fault line between the U.S. and Israel. … Senior White House officials, such as National Security Adviser James Jones, have also discussed recently the prospects of Washington proposing its own Mideast plan, though U.S. diplomats stressed this past week that such a move wasn’t imminent or agreed upon.
These developments have rankled Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which is already at odds with Mr. Obama over the issue of Jewish building in disputed East Jerusalem.
“I don’t believe this will be accepted by the administration because it will be a grave mistake. … The solution has to be homegrown,” Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal late Sunday. …
“The longstanding Israeli position, not of this government only, but of successive Israeli governments, is that the Israelis and the Palestinians have to live together in peace and that an agreement has to be negotiated between them directly,” said a senior Netanyahu administration official.
Of course this was entirely foreseeable. So once again one must ask of the Obami Israel policy: what is the point? Rather than absorb the lessons of 2009 — that the Israeli government cannot be strong-armed and that Bibi’s government can’t be toppled by the likes of Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, and Obama — the Obami have repeated and intensified their efforts to squeeze our ally. Yes, maybe this time we can use Jerusalem to pry them loose! Ah, the threat of an imposed peace — that’ll do it! But alas, all we’ve done, apparently is create a wedge between the U.S. and our ally, communicated to the Palestinians that they should just hold firm, and telegraphed to Israel’s neighbors that we are flaky friends.
The Obami now have two options. First, as they did with the settlement gambit, they can simply fold up their tents and go back to endless, fruitless rounds of shuttle diplomacy. Alternatively, they can try out their latest, already rejected brainstorm and see if maybe, just maybe, the Israelis will finally cave. In all of this, the Obami have set themselves apart from every prior administration, both in the degree to which they would willingly damage the U.S.-Israel relationship and in the inanity of their diplomatic efforts. It is proof positive that dramatic, even “historic” change can be a very dangerous thing.
On the eve of Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day, Bibi Netanyahu gave a moving and thoughtful speech. It should be read in full. His comments relating the Nazi horror to the current threat posed by Iran were especially noteworthy:
The historic failure of the free societies when faced with the Nazi animal was that they did not stand up against it in time, while there was still a chance to stop it.
And here we are today again witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the Jews, that is expressed by organizations and regimes associated with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies.
Iran’s leaders race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire to destroy Israel. But in the face of these repeated statements to wipe the Jewish state off the face of the Earth, in the best case we hear a weak protest which is also fading away.
The required firm protest is not heard – not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of warning.
The world continues on as usual and there are even those who direct their criticism at us, against Israel.
Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty that what is so upsetting is the lack of any kind of opposition. The world gradually accepts Iran’s statements of destruction against Israel and we still do not see the necessary international determination to stop Iran from arming itself.
But if we learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust it is that we must not remain silent and be deterred in the face of evil.
I call on all enlightened countries to rise up and forcefully and firmly condemn Iran’s destructive intentions and to act with genuine determination to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
His point is well taken. A serious plan by the U.S. administration to thwart the mullahs’ acquisition of nuclear weapons is not all that’s lacking — there is also a lack of moral outrage. I am hard-pressed to recall Obama or any senior official making the connection between Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its radical ideological fervor and desire for destruction of the Jewish state. This, of course, is the administration that doesn’t like to bring up such things. But in doing so, it also lessens the urgency and undercuts the moral imperative for preventing Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.
And frankly, there is a shocking lack of urgency within the American Jewish community, as well. When the president goes into his que sera, sera stance regarding the crisis in Iran, where is the outrage? Where are the statements and the protests? Entirely lacking. It is not hard to discern the administration’s abject lack of seriousness with regard to stopping the mullahs’ nuclear program, yet the leadership of the American Jewish community has play-acted along with the administration. Oh yes, sanctions are coming. We got very reassuring answers from Hillary. This is what you hear from supposedly serious-minded Jewish activists. Certainly they have read Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pooh-poohing of military action and the news reports of watered-down sanctions. So when do they plan on speaking up? Are we to see a repeat of the 1930s and 40s, when the American Jewish community remained largely mute, wary of raising a fuss as the Nazi menace ravaged European Jewry?
Netanyahu’s speech was a plea for moral seriousness in the West — and also among American Jewish leaders, who are curiously and tragically underwhelming in their advocacy for a more robust response from the administration to Israel’s existential threat. There is grave doubt whether American Jewish leaders will heed his call and do so in a timely and effective manner.
Disingenuous: David Axelrod claims no “snub” of Bibi Netanyahu was intended when the Obami disallowed any cameras, held no press conference, and leaked its continuing bullying of Israel.
Sadly accurate: Bill Kristol explains that the administration “is going out of its way to distance itself from the Israeli government” and that this represents ”a turn against Israel” by the Obami.
Unacceptable? Stephen Hayes argues that it is inevitable: “In private, the Obama administration has repeatedly warned Israel against a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Isolating Israel in this way sends the same message publicly; it says, in effect, ‘You think we overreacted to a housing spat in Jerusalem? Try bombing Iran.’ … They offer platitudes, and they focus obsessively on diplomacy that virtually no one thinks will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter whether China participates in a conference call about weak U.N. sanctions that will have a negligible effect on Iran’s behavior. And containment, the de facto policy on Iran today, will become the acknowledged Obama administration approach to Iran. Which means, of course, that Iran will have the bomb.”
Predictable (when you elect an ultra-liberal masquerading as a moderate): Matt Continetti explains that “gone is the charismatic young man who told the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston that there was no Blue America and no Red America, only the United States of America. All that remains is a partisan liberal Democrat whose health care policy bulldozed public opinion, enraged the electorate, poisoned the Congress, and set into motion a sequence of events the outcome of which cannot be foreseen.”
Silly: “No good options for President Obama in Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial, “blares the Politico headline. Of course, there is — send him back to a military tribunal. The fact that “there doesn’t seem to be even the dim possibility of a political upside for the White House” is frankly beside the point and a dilemma entirely of its own ideological extremism and ineptitude.
Dangerously deluded (if she believes what she is saying): Valerie Jarrett argues that “we’re seeing steady progress in terms of a world coalition that will put that pressure on Iran … I think we have a strong force in the making and Iran will back down.”
Surprising (only to the media elites and those who’ve never been to a Tea Party): “When the tea party movement burst onto the scene last year to oppose President Barack Obama, the Democratic Congress, and the health care legislation they wanted to enact, some liberal critics were quick to label its activists as angry white men. As the populist conservative movement has gained a foothold over the past year, it’s become increasingly clear that the dismissive characterization was at least half wrong. Many of the tea party’s most influential grass-roots and national leaders are women, and a new poll released this week by Quinnipiac University suggests that women might make up a majority of the movement as well. As the populist conservative movement has gained a foothold over the past year, it’s become increasingly clear that the dismissive characterization was at least half wrong.”
After failing to extract a written promise of concessions on Jewish settlements, Mr Obama walked out of his meeting with Mr Netanyahu but invited him to stay at the White House, consult with advisors and “let me know if there is anything new”, a US congressman who spoke to the Prime Minister said today.
“It was awful,” the congressman said. One Israeli newspaper called the meeting “a hazing in stages”, poisoned by such mistrust that the Israeli delegation eventually left rather than risk being eavesdropped on a White House phone line. Another said that the Prime Minister had received “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea”.
But even if lacking the abject rudeness, both the projected air of chilliness and the ensuing deadlines that we have learned have been imposed on the Israeli government are enough to confirm that the relationship between the two countries is anything but “rock solid,” as Hillary Clinton claimed during her AIPAC speech. This report suggests, at the very least, that the Obami are sticking with their modus operandi — preconditions and ultimatums for the Israelis, and water-carrying for the Palestinians:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will convene his senior ministers on Friday to discuss the demands made by US President Barack Obama and his overall trip to Washington – a trip that, because of negative atmospherics and amid a paucity of hard information, has been widely characterized as among the most difficult in recent memory.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office continued to throw a blackout on the Netanyahu-Obama meeting, as well as give only very sketchy information about the commitments that the US is demanding of Israel as a precursor to starting the proximity talks with the Palestinians. The US, according to officials, wants these commitments by Saturday so it can take them to the Arab League meeting in Libya and receive that organization’s backing for starting proximity talks. …
According to various Israeli sources, the Obama administration is asking for Israel to commit to some type of limitation on building in east Jerusalem; to show a willingness to deal with the so-called core issues of borders, refugee and Jerusalem already in the indirect talks; and to agree to a number of confidence building measures, including the release of hundreds of Fatah prisoners.
There were also reports, not confirmed, that the administration had asked for a commitment to extend the moratorium on housing starts in the West Bank settlements beyond the 10-months originally declared.
Netanyahu reportedly wanted to know where the “reciprocity” was and why he was the one making all the concessions. (“Netanyahu, according to senior officials, said that while the US held him responsible for the timing of the announcement to build 1,600 units in Ramat Shlomo, rather than holding Interior Minister Eli Yishai responsible, Abbas was not held responsible when it came to the PA — which recently presided over the naming of a square in Ramallah for the terrorist responsible for the Coastal Road massacre.”) Well, had the Obami been honest, they would have said that they can’t get the Palestinians to agree to anything, so they’ve decided to squeeze the Israelis — even though this seems only to increase the Palestinians’ demands for even more concessions. But, no, I don’t suppose the White House bullies were that candid.
All this makes clear just how disingenuous was Clinton’s entire appeal to AIPAC this week. She protested that it was Israel creating the daylight by announcing a routine housing permit. She pleaded that the fuss was needed to restore the administration’s credibility as an honest broker in the peace process. (Or was it to enhance its credibility to Iran? It’s hard to keep the excuses straight.) She assured the crowd that Israel’s security was paramount to the U.S. Then she declared that of course, of course an Iranian nuclear-weapons program was “unacceptable.” It all seems patently absurd as events continue to unfold.
It is not that the Obami fear daylight between the U.S. and Israel; it is that they flaunt it. It is not credibility as an honest broker that the Obami are establishing but rather fidelity to the Palestinian negotiating stance. And after all this, and the revelation that the proposed sanctions will be pinpricks at best, would any reasonable Israeli leader believe this administration will do everything (or even anything too strenuous) to remove the existential threat to the Jewish state?
The low point in the history of U.S.-Israel relations has come about not because of a housing permit but because we have a president fundamentally uninterested in retaining the robust, close relationship between the two countries that other administrations of both parties have cultivated. The Obami set out to separate the U.S. from Israel, to pressure and cajole the Jewish state, and to remake the U.S. into an eager suitor to the Muslim World. In the process, anti-Israel delegitimizing efforts have been unleashed as Israel’s enemies (and our own allies) sense that we have downgraded the relationship with the Jewish state, the Israeli public has come to distrust the administration, the American Jewish electorate is somewhere between stunned and horrified, and Israel is less secure and more isolated than ever before.
If mainstream Jewish organizations are serious about their stated mission, it is incumbent upon them to protest this state of affairs clearly and loudly and make their support for this president and his congressional enablers conditional, based on a change of policy in regard to Israel. Otherwise, they are enabling a potentially fatal assault on the security of the Jewish state. Silence is acquiescence; meekness is shameful. A generation from now, Jews will be asking those who led key American Jewish organizations, what did you do to protect Israel? What did you do to protest the creep toward a “containment” policy for a nuclear-armed Iran? They better have a good answer.
The National Journal‘s insiders’ poll, which surveys a list of senators and congressmen, asked about Obama’s treatment of Israel. The partisan divide was startling: among 39 Democrats, 82 percent thought Obama was “about right,” while only 8 percent said he was “too tough”; among 35 Republicans, 80 percent said “too tough,” while only 11 percent said “about right.” Now, some of the Democrats’ comments in the “about right” column reveal some implicit criticism (“Except that some issues should not be discussed in public. Israel is a true ally and should be treated that way,” “Let’s not forget who are the only true friends we have in the region”), but it is hard to miss the stark divergence. Republicans surveyed are clearly in line with the sentiments voiced this week by AIPAC leaders and participants (“The Obama administration seems to be tough on our most reliable and trusted allies and very lenient with our most distrusted and dangerous enemies. This foreign policy is a disaster”), as well as with Bibi Netanyahu (“Isn’t Jerusalem the capital of Israel?”).
It’s curious that many Democrats listed in the survey, but whose individual responses aren’t identified by name, also signed on to AIPAC letters calling on the administration to cool the public conflict with the Jewish state and to get serious with Iran sanctions. So there’s a bit of misdirection going on. The AIPAC letter on the blow-up with Israel over housing — no doubt to get everyone on board — did not criticize the administration as “too tough” or “too rude” or “too foolish,” but merely urged that the fight over the housing announcement not be allowed to “derail” peace negotiations or harm the U.S.-Israel relationship. And it called on conflicts to be resolved “amicably and in a manner that befits longtime allies.”
So what’s going on with elected Democrats? It may be that some are quietly cheerleading for the administration’s bully-boy routine while tut-tutting it when it comes to putting their names on a letter. The administration’s treatment of Bibi this week and it’s apparent aversion to petroleum sanctions on Iran is going to, I think, force some Democrats to make a choice: do they support crippling Iran sanctions and the pending legislation or not? We’ll see which if there’s any push for unilateral petroleum sanctions by the U.S. against Iran. And do they really object to the Obama offensive against Israel? Again, we’ll see who, if any, voices dismay on the shoddy treatment of Bibi and the continual insistence on extracting unilateral concessions from Israel. It seems that, of those insiders polled, there is no mistaking which party is pushing back strenuously against the administration and which is going through the motions but may be unwilling to cross the White House.
Some polling information suggests that Obama is not endearing himself to the Israeli public, nor making any headway with his housing announcement eruption, if the goal was to undermine Bibi Netanyahu’s government:
A lopsided plurality of 42 percent of Israelis view U.S. President Barack Obama as pro-Arab, and only seven percent see him as pro-Israel, according to a new Brain Base (Maagar Mochot) poll released on Monday. Thirty-four percent of the respondents are reserving judgment, with a neutral view. . . .
Nearly two-thirds said they support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to continue to build in all of the capital city, while only 26 percent oppose it even though the majority also expressed the opinion that it will lead to more pressure from the United States.
A similar percentage of respondents believe that the Obama administration over-reacted to the announcement of progress in plans to build 1,600 new housing units in the Jewish neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo. Only five percent of the respondents said that the American criticism of the project would help the diplomatic process, while 59 percent said the criticism will hurt the peace initiative. . .
A plurality of one-third expressed dissatisfaction with the American efforts to deal with the nuclear threat, and only 26 percent were satisfied.
It would seem that Obama’s cozying up to the Palestinians has given the Israelis the idea that, well, Obama is cozying up to the Palestinians — at their expense. The result, I think, is that Israelis will find it difficult to trust this American president to look after their security, whether it comes to the Palestinians or to the Iranian nuclear threat.
Jane Hamsher or Bill Kristol? “This bill will mandate that millions of people who are currently uninsured purchase insurance from private companies, or the IRS will collect up to 2% of their annual income in penalties. … The bill was written so that most Wal-Mart employees will qualify for subsidies, and taxpayers will pick up a large portion of the cost of their coverage. … In 2009, health care costs were 17.3% of GDP [but] in 2019 [under the] Senate bill [they'll be] 20.9% of GDP. … This bill does not bring down costs.”
The end of the Blue Dogs: “The party made a concerted effort in 2006 and 2008 to recruit candidates that could win moderate or GOP-leaning districts. That’s a key reason why Democrats won such big congressional majorities. But after forging a big-tent caucus, Speaker Pelosi has not governed that way. Instead, she pushed Blue Dog and other moderate Democrats to vote as if they represented her San Francisco district.” When the Republicans did this, I think the media narrative was that the party was risking majority support for ideological extremism.
Quin Hillyer channels the anti–Bart Stupak anger: “And if he thinks he will be ever live it down or be allowed to forget it, well, maybe he doesn’t think very well.”
How incompetent is NPR to get duped by a fake AIPAC release saying the group favors a settlement freeze? Doesn’t public radio know anything about AIPAC? Your tax dollars at work.
Marco Rubio is crushing potential opponents: “Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio for now runs well ahead in a three-way race for the U.S. Senate in Florida, should Governor Charlie Crist decide to run as an independent. The first Rasmussen Repots telephone survey of a potential three-candidate Senate race finds Rubio earning 42% support from likely voters in the state. Democrat Kendrick Meek picks up 25%, and Crist runs third with 22%. Eleven percent (11%) are undecided.”
Gov. Bob McDonnell on ObamaCare: “[T]his massive and complex piece of legislation allows the federal government to exercise control over one-sixth of the United States economy. … Most disconcerting is the provision mandating that every American must purchase health insurance or face a monetary penalty. … Just a few days ago I approved a bill, passed on a bipartisan basis, which prohibits mandatory insurance purchases for Virginians. Virginia’s Attorney General has rightly chosen to challenge the constitutionality of the federal mandate. I anticipate that he will be joined by a number of other states.” It now becomes an issue in every state race.
Yuval Levin on the latest regarding the Cornhusker Kickback: “That kickback was of course offered as an enticement to win the vote of Senator Ben Nelson, and to help him forget about his pro-life principles. Well lo and behold, Nelson has now announced that he opposes the reconciliation bill and will vote against it. Apparently it taxes and spends too much. It really renews your faith in politicians, doesn’t it?”
Not just a headache or fodder but potential grounds for prosecution: “The formidable Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a probe of Guantanamo Bay defense lawyers whom the CIA accused of giving detainees photos of CIA agents in an attempt to identify interrogators. … The investigation could be a headache for the Justice Department, and fodder for the attacks from Liz Cheney and others on the Guantanamo Bay lawyers.”
Perhaps Obama picked a fight on the wrong issue. Most Israelis think Bibi Netanyahu was aware of the decision to approve additional housing units in Jerusalem, but “most of those asked by the survey supported the view that construction in east Jerusalem should be treated like construction in Tel Aviv, despite the harsh criticism launched at the government over the recent diplomatic dispute with the US. Only a quarter of those polled believe the construction project should not have been approved, with 41% saying that only the timing was wrong. The number of people supportive of the construction in Ramat Shlomo neighborhood is twice that of its objectors.”
ABC staffers are grumbling over the hiring of Christiane Amanpour for This Week. Well, if it’s any consolation to the eminently qualified Jake Tapper, the criterion used was apparently “celebrity.” It certainly wasn’t objectivity. Or accuracy. Remember this one.
It is hard to imagine that U.S.-Israeli relations could have reached this point. But they have. The Washington Post aptly described where we stand: “Ties Plunge To A New Low.” In short, “relations with Israel have been strained almost since the start of the Obama administration. Now they have plunged to their lowest ebb since the administration of George H.W. Bush.” And there is no improvement in sight. After the public and private scolding by the vice president over the building of housing units in Jerusalem, Hillary Clinton continued the hollering, this time in a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu that was eagerly relayed to the media:
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades after the embarrassment suffered by Vice President Biden this week when Israel announced during his visit that it plans to build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem.
Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.”
As the Post points out, the relationship has been rocky from the get-go. (“From the start of his tenure, President Obama identified a Middle East peace deal as critical to U.S. national security, but his efforts have been hampered by the administration’s missteps and the deep mistrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”) Actually, it is the mistrust between Israel and the U.S. that is at the nub of the problem. We hear that the Obami intend to use this incident to pressure Israel to “something that could restore confidence in the process and to restore confidence in the relationship with the United States.” And it is hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami are escalating the fight — making relations more tense and strained — to achieve their misguided objective, namely to extract some sort of unilateral concessions they imagine would pick the lock on the moribund “peace process.”
It’s mind boggling, really, that after this public bullying, the Obami expect the Israelis to cough up more concessions and show their faith in the American negotiators. And if by some miracle they did, what would that change? Where is the Palestinian willingness or ability to make a meaningful peace agreement?
In the midst of the administration’s temper tantrum, we find yet another reason for George W. Bush nostalgia: we used to get along so much better with Israel. Bush’s deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams (who had the curious notion that a relationship of mutual respect and affection could encourage Israel to take risks for peace) writes:
The current friction in U.S.-Israel relations has one source: the mishandling of those relations by the Obama administration. Poll data show that Israel is as popular as ever among Americans. Strategically we face the same enemies — such as terrorism and the Iranian regime — a fact that is not lost on Americans who know we have one single reliable, democratic ally in the Middle East. … the Obama administration continues to drift away from traditional U.S. support for Israel. But time and elections will correct that problem; Israel has a higher approval rating these days than does President Obama.
Very true, but alas, both American voters and the Israelis must endure at least another few years of this. When the Obami talked of restoring our standing in the world and repairing frayed relations with allies, they plainly didn’t have Israel in mind. They have, through petulance and complete misunderstanding of the real barrier to peace, made hash out of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Those who imagined we’d be getting smart diplomacy must now be chagrined to know how ham-handedly one can conduct foreign policy.
Friday’s State Department news conference lasted only 10 minutes and was devoted primarily to another harsh public condemnation of Israel:
Secretary Clinton also spoke this morning with Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to reiterate the United States’ strong objections to Tuesday’s announcement, not just in terms of timing, but also in its substance; to make clear that the United States considers the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship – and counter to the spirit of the Vice President’s trip; and to reinforce that this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process, and in America’s interests. The Secretary said she could not understand how this happened, particularly in light of the United States’ strong commitment to Israel’s security. And she made clear that the Israeli Government needed to demonstrate not just through words but through specific actions that they are committed to this relationship and to the peace process.
Netanyahu and his Interior minister had apologized after both said they had been unaware of the announcement beforehand, pledged there would be no actual building during the “proximity talks” or the anticipated period of any direct talks thereafter, and promised such an incident would not happen again. Only three days after, Clinton issued a statement as harsh as any from the Obama administration — on any issue, foreign or domestic. In it, she voiced “strong objections” to the “substance,” an accusation of a “deeply negative signal” about the “bilateral relationship,” an assertion that it undermined “trust and confidence” in “America’s interests,” an implicit rejection of Netanyahu’s explanation, and a demand for “specific actions” to show Israel is “committed” to its relationship with the U.S.
The harshness is an indication that the administration believes its only Middle East accomplishment in the last 14 months – an agreement to begin “proximity talks” – is in jeopardy. The U.S. demand for “specific actions” arises in the context of the Palestinians demanding, yet again, a Jerusalem building freeze as the price of their participation in discussions about giving them a state.
Since Secretary Clinton raised the “substance” of the issue, not simply the timing, it is worth noting several points. First, even actual building by Israel (much less the mere announcement of building in the future) would not have violated Israel’s commitment to a 10-month moratorium, which excluded Jerusalem. Second, the area in question is one that will not be yielded to the Palestinians in any conceivable peace agreement (even one that would divide sovereignty between Jewish and Arab areas) because it is a longstanding Jewish community, not an Arab one. Third, the area has military significance, for reasons explained (and illustrated with pictures) by Israel Matzav:
What … is obvious … is how important the ridge on which Ramat Shlomo sits would be in the case of any military conflict. That’s because it overlooks – and has a clean shot – at every major highway in the city. To give one example, there’s a road … known as “Road 9.” Road 9 … has three exits: Ramat Shlomo, the ‘Cedar Tunnel’ road that connects with the Jerusalem – Tel Aviv highway, and the road that is Menachem Begin Boulevard criss-crossing the city to the south and Route 443 to the north. Those roads are critical for city traffic. … an army unit stationed atop Ramat Shlomo would have a clear shot at every one of those roads (and more).
The Palestinians can be expected to seek advantage from any Israeli diplomatic blunder, asserting that their confidence needs to be built, their trust fortified, and their preconditions met before they will continue with a process they know the U.S. is more enthusiastic about than they. But it is unfortunate and counterproductive for the U.S. to lend itself to that tactic, both in general and specifically.
The New York Times reports:
Brushing aside international calls for stricter sanctions against it, Iran said Tuesday it had begun enriching uranium for use in a medical reactor to a higher level of purity, raising the stakes again in its dispute with the United States and other countries over its nuclear program. The United States responded by saying it would seek United Nations backing for new sanctions within weeks.
Doesn’t sound like a very swift process, does it? Especially since the Chinese remain vocally opposed to sanctions. (“But news reports on Tuesday quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman , Ma Zhaoxu, as urging continued ‘dialogue and negotiations,’ refusing to be drawn on the question of sanctions.”) Bibi Netanyahu responded with a statement that seems as much aimed at the Obami as at the Iranians: “I believe that what is required right now is tough action from the international community. … This means not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions. This means crippling sanctions, and these sanctions must be applied right now.”
What Bibi is referring to is no secret. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both been downplaying the “crippling” part of the “crippling sanctions” that the Obama team has been promising for months. They insist the sanctions must be focused so as not to impact the Iranian people. What those might look like and how we could possibly impact the regime by such narrowly focused measures have been left vague. Meanwhile, there are very serious sanctions that in slightly different forms have passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, but the Obama team has been noticeably cool to those. Too crippling, I suppose.
So let’s see if, in the face of the abject failure of its engagement strategy, and with bipartisan support in Congress for very tough sanctions — “not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions” — the Obami can make a final stab at preventing the revolutionary Islamic state from going nuclear. I suppose we’ll know “within weeks” — but then the Obama team was supposed to get serious in September, and again at the close of 2009. We’ve seen this routine before. Bibi is right to be nervous.
Well, after having a “total freeze” dangled before their eyes, of course the PA is not satisfied, hollering about Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s “political maneuvering” and “deception” is announcing a halt to new West Bank settlements for 10 months (but no restrictions on ongoing projects or housing within Jerusalem). ”The PA is also furious with the US administration for hailing the decision as a step forward toward resuming the peace process in the Middle East.” Well, that’s what comes from the Obami’s incompetent gambit. How is it that George Mitchell still has a job?
Copenhagen round two: “Obama has come home from Copenhagen empty-handed once before — when he flew in to lobby for Chicago’s pitch for the 2016 Olympics, only to watch the International Olympic Committee reject his hometown’s bid in the first round of its voting.”
A very unpopular decision: “By 59% to 36%, more Americans believe accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed should be tried in a military court, rather than in a civilian criminal court.” Among independents, 63 percent favor a military tribunal.
Karl Rove reminds us that “since taking office Mr. Obama pushed through a $787 billion stimulus, a $33 billion expansion of the child health program known as S-chip, a $410 billion omnibus appropriations spending bill, and an $80 billion car company bailout. He also pushed a $821 billion cap-and-trade bill through the House and is now urging Congress to pass a nearly $1 trillion health-care bill.” But no worries — Obama would like a commission to address our fiscal mess.
Charles Krauthammer writes on ObamaCare: “The bill is irredeemable. It should not only be defeated. It should be immolated, its ashes scattered over the Senate swimming pool. … The better choice is targeted measures that attack the inefficiencies of the current system one by one — tort reform, interstate purchasing and taxing employee benefits. It would take 20 pages to write such a bill, not 2,000 — and provide the funds to cover the uninsured without wrecking both U.S. health care and the U.S. Treasury.” And it might even be politically popular.
Iran has managed to do the impossible: draw the ire of the IAEA and make Mohamed ElBaradei sound realistically pessimistic: “We have effectively reached a dead end, unless Iran engages fully with us.” The White House pipes up with a perfectly meaningless comment: “If Iran refuses to meet its obligations, then it will be responsible for its own growing isolation and the consequences.” Which are what exactly?
Marc Ambinder spins it as “circumspect”: “The upshot from the administration: now is the time to get serious. The world is united in favor of tougher, non-diplomatic means to pressure Iran. But no word on when or how — just yet.” But let’s get real – it’s more of the same irresoluteness and stalling we’ve heard all year from the Obami.
If you might lose something, you begin to appreciate what you have: “Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters nationwide now rate the U.S. health care system as good or excellent. That marks a steady increase from 44% at the beginning of October, 35% in May and 29% a year-and-a-half ago. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 27% now say the U.S. health care system is poor. It is interesting to note that confidence in the system has improved as the debate over health care reform has moved to center stage.”
Kim Strassel thinks the Copenhagen confab will be a bust in the wake of the scandal about the Climate Research Unit’s e-mails: ”Instead of producing legally binding agreements, it will be dogged by queries about the legitimacy of the scientists who wrote the reports that form its basis.” And meanwhile “Republicans are launching investigations, and the pressure is building on Democrats to hold hearings, since climate scientists were funded with U.S. taxpayer dollars.”