Commentary Magazine


Topic: Biden

The Military vs. Obama

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

The news of the day is certainly Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s interview with Rolling Stone magazine and the potential fallout. Fox News reports:

The article says that although McChrystal voted for Obama, the two failed to connect from the start. Obama called McChrystal on the carpet last fall for speaking too bluntly about his desire for more troops. “I found that time painful,” McChrystal said in the article, on newsstands Friday. “I was selling an unsellable position.” It quoted an adviser to McChrystal dismissing the early meeting with Obama as a “10-minute photo op.” “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him, who he was. The boss was pretty disappointed,” the adviser told the magazine.

The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war “by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House.”

Asked by the Rolling Stone reporter about what he now feels of the war strategy advocated by Biden last fall – fewer troops, more drone attacks – McChrystal and his aides reportedly attempted to come up with a good one-liner to dismiss the question. “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal reportedly joked. “Who’s that?”

Biden initially opposed McChrystal’s proposal for additional forces last year. He favored a narrower focus on hunting terrorists.

“Biden?” one aide was quoted as saying. “Did you say: Bite me?”

Another aide reportedly called White House National Security Adviser Jim Jones, a retired four star general, a “clown” who was “stuck in 1985.”

Some of the strongest criticism, however, was reserved for Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“The boss says he’s like a wounded animal,” one of the general’s aides was quoted as saying. “Holbrooke keeps hearing rumors that he’s going to get fired, so that makes him dangerous.”

If [Karl] Eikenberry had doubts about the troop buildup, McChrystal said he never expressed them until a leaked internal document threw a wild card into the debate over whether to add more troops last November. In the document, Eikenberry said Afghan President Hamid Karzai was not a reliable partner for the counterinsurgency strategy McChrystal was hired to execute.

McChrystal said he felt “betrayed” and accused the ambassador of giving himself cover.

“Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books,” McChrystal told the magazine. “Now, if we fail, they can say ‘I told you so.”‘

Yeah, wow. There are two issues here — McChrystal’s behavior and the president’s management of the war.

As to the first, Dana Perino wisely advises, “Unless you’re Al Gore or Robert F. Kennedy Jr., if Rolling Stone calls, it’s not because they want to do a positive profile about you.” It was, as McChrystal concedes, a lapse in judgment and a very bad idea to spill his guts to any reporter. He’s been called to Washington to “explain” himself to Obama. Should he be fired? If he is doing his job and is essential to the war effort, then no. But Obama could well decide otherwise. The president is a notoriously thin-skinned man and may also see this as a strategic opportunity to show how tough he is. (Yes, he has the annoying habit of demonstrating how tough he is to someone/some country other than an enemy — Israel, not Iran, for example.)

The substance of what McChrystal is saying is obscured somewhat by the personalized tone (no doubt encouraged by the Rolling Stone reporter to whom the general should not have spoken). But the gravamen of what he is saying is serious and deeply troubling. He is giving voice to what many have been fretting about and what critics outside the administration have been harping on for some time: the White House and the civilian leadership are hampering our war effort. This is not a question of “civilian control”; the president has already declared, albeit with caveats and reservations, that he considers it vital to prevail in Afghanistan. The issue is whether the White House is competent enough and its advisers grown-up enough to support and not hinder the military.

At the very least, this demonstrates Obama’s complete failure to manage the war and to gain the confidence of the military. When this occurs, you can blame the general (again, he’s not disobeying operational orders but merely speaking out of school), but the fault lies with the commander in chief. McChrystal may resign or be fired, but his successor will have the same problems unless the White House gets it act together.

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Do They Want to Win?

At times you wonder if Obama and his minions want to win the war in Afghanistan. Oh, horror — can you say such things? Accuse them of less-than-steely determination to pursue victory? Well, to be blunt, it’s becoming hard to think of explanations for the Obama team’s insistence, childlike and illogical as it is, for defending what even sympathetic observers regard as the heart of our difficulty in our Afghanistan effort – the president’s timeline for a troop pullout. There was this exchange yesterday on This Week between Jake Tapper and Rahm Emanuel:

TAPPER: So what exactly does the July 2011 deadline mean? Is it going to be a whole lot of people moving out, definitely, as Vice President Biden says? Or could it be more nuanced, as General Petraeus says, maybe just a couple of people leaving one province?

EMANUEL: Well, no, everybody knows there’s a firm date. And that firm date is a date — deals with the troops that are part of the surge, the additional 30,000. What will be determined at that date or going into that date will be the scale and scope of that reduction.

But there will be no doubt that that’s going to happen. And I know actually — I look at both of those, and they’re not inconsistent. But remember where we were on Afghanistan policy, that war had waxed and waned. And there really hadn’t been a focus on how to bring that war to — and the effort (INAUDIBLE), even with al Qaeda and Taliban, to a point given what was going on in Iraq.

When pressed further, Emanuel praised the utility of the timeline:

TAPPER: But it could be any number of people.

EMANUEL: That’s what you’ll evaluate based on the conditions on the ground. That is — but what had to happen prior to that was having a date that gave everybody, the NATO, international forces, as well as Afghanistan, that sense of urgency to move.

We can speculate that Obama doesn’t want to admit his error. Or we can assume that Emanuel is panicked about the turnout of the administration’s liberal base in November. (The DNC is apparently so desperate that they are spending millions to get college kids and other first-time 2008 voters to turn out in a midterm election.) But whatever the explanation, they are doing the opposite of what the military and bipartisan supporters of the war tell us must be done: dispel the image that we are getting ready to cut and run.

Some still insist that Obama fully understands the responsibilities of commander in chief and is dedicated to avoiding a hugely damaging defeat in a war he deemed critical. At this point, those people have the burden of proof. By Obama’s actions and words, the evidence is mounting that neither is true.

At times you wonder if Obama and his minions want to win the war in Afghanistan. Oh, horror — can you say such things? Accuse them of less-than-steely determination to pursue victory? Well, to be blunt, it’s becoming hard to think of explanations for the Obama team’s insistence, childlike and illogical as it is, for defending what even sympathetic observers regard as the heart of our difficulty in our Afghanistan effort – the president’s timeline for a troop pullout. There was this exchange yesterday on This Week between Jake Tapper and Rahm Emanuel:

TAPPER: So what exactly does the July 2011 deadline mean? Is it going to be a whole lot of people moving out, definitely, as Vice President Biden says? Or could it be more nuanced, as General Petraeus says, maybe just a couple of people leaving one province?

EMANUEL: Well, no, everybody knows there’s a firm date. And that firm date is a date — deals with the troops that are part of the surge, the additional 30,000. What will be determined at that date or going into that date will be the scale and scope of that reduction.

But there will be no doubt that that’s going to happen. And I know actually — I look at both of those, and they’re not inconsistent. But remember where we were on Afghanistan policy, that war had waxed and waned. And there really hadn’t been a focus on how to bring that war to — and the effort (INAUDIBLE), even with al Qaeda and Taliban, to a point given what was going on in Iraq.

When pressed further, Emanuel praised the utility of the timeline:

TAPPER: But it could be any number of people.

EMANUEL: That’s what you’ll evaluate based on the conditions on the ground. That is — but what had to happen prior to that was having a date that gave everybody, the NATO, international forces, as well as Afghanistan, that sense of urgency to move.

We can speculate that Obama doesn’t want to admit his error. Or we can assume that Emanuel is panicked about the turnout of the administration’s liberal base in November. (The DNC is apparently so desperate that they are spending millions to get college kids and other first-time 2008 voters to turn out in a midterm election.) But whatever the explanation, they are doing the opposite of what the military and bipartisan supporters of the war tell us must be done: dispel the image that we are getting ready to cut and run.

Some still insist that Obama fully understands the responsibilities of commander in chief and is dedicated to avoiding a hugely damaging defeat in a war he deemed critical. At this point, those people have the burden of proof. By Obama’s actions and words, the evidence is mounting that neither is true.

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The Nasty Presidential Comic

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama's] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

Pete and I recently commented on Obama’s unfortunately snippy tone and nasty approach to his political adversaries. The evidence continues to mount that this president is lacking in basic graciousness and possesses, even for a politician, an overabundance of arrogance. The Washington Post reports on his comedy routine at the Correspondents’ Association Dinner over the weekend:

Breaking with presidential punch line tradition for the second consecutive year, Obama dropped zinger after zinger on his opponents and allies alike at the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. Obama went all Don Rickles on a broad range of topics and individuals: Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, presidential advisers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel, the news media, Jay Leno, and Republicans Michael Steele, Scott Brown, John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Except for a mild joke pegged to his falling approval ratings, Obama mostly spared Obama during his 14-minute stand-up routine.

It did not go unnoticed by those who expect the president to be self-deprecating and ingratiating at these events:

Obama’s derisive tone surprises and dismays some of the people who’ve written jokes for presidents past.

“With these dinners you want the audience to like you more when you sit down than when you stood up,” says Landon Parvin, an author and speechwriter for politicians in both parties, and a gag writer for three Republican presidents (Reagan and Bushes I and II). “Something in [Obama's] humor didn’t do that,” he said Sunday.

Parvin advises his political clients to practice a little partisan self-deprecation when they make lighthearted remarks: “If you’re a Democrat, you make fun of Democrats and go easy on the Republicans; if you’re a Republican, you do the opposite,” he says.

Presidents past have generally hewed to that tradition, even when they were under intense criticism or were deeply unpopular.

In isolation, one night of barbed humor doesn’t amount to much. But when seen in conjunction with his general lack of respect for adversaries and his nonstop attacks on everyone from Sarah Palin to Fox News to his predecessor, one comes away with a picture of a thin-skinned and rather nasty character. It’s not an attractive personality in a president, and he may regret having failed to extend a measure of kindness and magnanimity that we have come to expect from presidents.

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What Makes This President Different from All Other Presidents?

As the dispute between the Israel and the United States enters its third week, President Obama’s anger at Israel and his determination to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give in on the question of building in the eastern sector of Israel’s capital is apparently unabated.

Yet this is hardly the first dispute between the two countries. Every administration since 1967 has proposed peace plans and negotiating strategies that Israel disliked or actively resisted. Genuine friends such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as less friendly presidents such as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, all pushed hard at times for Israeli acceptance of unpalatable concessions. But in spite of these precedents, Barack Obama has managed to go where no American president has gone before. For all the problems created by all his predecessors about settlements in the West Bank, no previous American leader has ever chosen to draw a line in the sand about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

It is true that the United States never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern sector of the city after Jerusalem’s unification in 1967. In fact, it has never even recognized western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But the new Jewish neighborhoods that sprang up along the northern, eastern, and southern outskirts of the city, as well as the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, were never a source of contention even during the presidencies of Carter and the elder Bush. Indeed, the notion that places such as Ramat Eshkol, Pisgat Zeev, Gilo, and even Ramat Shlomo (the site of the “insult” to Vice President Biden) are considered “settlements” by the United States and thus no different from the most remote hilltop outpost deep in the West Bank is something that has come as a complete surprise to most Israelis, let alone American supporters of Israel.

During the course of his first go at Netanyahu, Obama made it clear that, contrary to a promise given by George W. Bush in 2004, he considered the bulk of settlements situated close to the 1967 borders, which Israelis believe they will keep even in the event of a peace deal, to be just as illegitimate as more controversial communities. In the hope of defusing the argument, Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to a freeze in these towns and villages while still maintaining that Jerusalem could not be treated in the same way. But Washington’s demand that the freeze be extended to eastern Jerusalem signals that Obama clearly believes that, like the big settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim, the homes of the approximately 200,000 Jews who live in eastern Jerusalem are also on the table.

But despite the fact that Palestinian intransigence (strengthened by the belief that it is futile to talk, since the refusal to negotiate with Israel will only motivate Obama to press Israel harder) means his diplomatic offensive has virtually no chance of success, Obama has still done something that will permanently alter Middle Eastern diplomacy. By treating the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem as a vast, illegal settlement, the continued growth of which is an alleged impediment to peace, Obama has made it impossible for any Arab leader to ever accept Israel’s possession of this part of the city. This not only makes the already near-impossible task of forging peace that much harder, it is also a crushing blow to decades of Israeli and American Jewish efforts to foster international recognition of a unified Jerusalem.

This year, along with the conventional four questions of the Passover Seder, some Americans are starting ask themselves: “Why is this president different from all other presidents?” The answer is that Barack Obama has now established opposition to Israel’s hold on its capital as a cornerstone of American Middle East policy in a way that is completely new as well as dangerous. Those wondering whether this development ought to cause them to re-evaluate their political loyalties might want to remember the closing refrain of Passover Seders down through the centuries: “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

As the dispute between the Israel and the United States enters its third week, President Obama’s anger at Israel and his determination to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to give in on the question of building in the eastern sector of Israel’s capital is apparently unabated.

Yet this is hardly the first dispute between the two countries. Every administration since 1967 has proposed peace plans and negotiating strategies that Israel disliked or actively resisted. Genuine friends such as Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush, as well as less friendly presidents such as Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush, all pushed hard at times for Israeli acceptance of unpalatable concessions. But in spite of these precedents, Barack Obama has managed to go where no American president has gone before. For all the problems created by all his predecessors about settlements in the West Bank, no previous American leader has ever chosen to draw a line in the sand about the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

It is true that the United States never recognized Israel’s annexation of the eastern sector of the city after Jerusalem’s unification in 1967. In fact, it has never even recognized western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But the new Jewish neighborhoods that sprang up along the northern, eastern, and southern outskirts of the city, as well as the Jewish Quarter in the Old City, were never a source of contention even during the presidencies of Carter and the elder Bush. Indeed, the notion that places such as Ramat Eshkol, Pisgat Zeev, Gilo, and even Ramat Shlomo (the site of the “insult” to Vice President Biden) are considered “settlements” by the United States and thus no different from the most remote hilltop outpost deep in the West Bank is something that has come as a complete surprise to most Israelis, let alone American supporters of Israel.

During the course of his first go at Netanyahu, Obama made it clear that, contrary to a promise given by George W. Bush in 2004, he considered the bulk of settlements situated close to the 1967 borders, which Israelis believe they will keep even in the event of a peace deal, to be just as illegitimate as more controversial communities. In the hope of defusing the argument, Netanyahu reluctantly agreed to a freeze in these towns and villages while still maintaining that Jerusalem could not be treated in the same way. But Washington’s demand that the freeze be extended to eastern Jerusalem signals that Obama clearly believes that, like the big settlements of Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim, the homes of the approximately 200,000 Jews who live in eastern Jerusalem are also on the table.

But despite the fact that Palestinian intransigence (strengthened by the belief that it is futile to talk, since the refusal to negotiate with Israel will only motivate Obama to press Israel harder) means his diplomatic offensive has virtually no chance of success, Obama has still done something that will permanently alter Middle Eastern diplomacy. By treating the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem as a vast, illegal settlement, the continued growth of which is an alleged impediment to peace, Obama has made it impossible for any Arab leader to ever accept Israel’s possession of this part of the city. This not only makes the already near-impossible task of forging peace that much harder, it is also a crushing blow to decades of Israeli and American Jewish efforts to foster international recognition of a unified Jerusalem.

This year, along with the conventional four questions of the Passover Seder, some Americans are starting ask themselves: “Why is this president different from all other presidents?” The answer is that Barack Obama has now established opposition to Israel’s hold on its capital as a cornerstone of American Middle East policy in a way that is completely new as well as dangerous. Those wondering whether this development ought to cause them to re-evaluate their political loyalties might want to remember the closing refrain of Passover Seders down through the centuries: “Next Year in Jerusalem!”

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From Screaming to Silence

The Obama administration, acting like a wounded spouse, has now migrated from screaming at Israel to the silent treatment. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton had meetings with Bibi Netanyahu. But if the relationship was as “rock solid” as Hillary disingenuously proclaimed in her AIPAC speech, you’d never know it :

No reporters, or even photographers, were invited when Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden on Monday or when he met with Obama on Tuesday night. There was no grand Rose Garden ceremony. Official spokesmen issued only the blandest of statements.

This is petulance, if not rudeness. Can one imagine any other “ally” receiving such dismissive treatment? The Obami are, I suppose, technically abiding by the advice to move their disputes with Bibi behind closed doors. But the snippy reception that telegraphs their anger with Bibi over his continuing to allow Jews to live anywhere in Israel’s eternal capital is just more of the same Obama gambit in another guise. The message to Israel, to the Muslim World, and to the Palestinians is the same: the U.S. is in a snit over Israel’s housing policy, and a significant gap between the two countries has not been healed. The contrast between the warm greeting from members of Congress and the stony silence from the White House only highlighted the point.

The result is real and troubling: when the U.S. backs away from Israel, we send a signal to our allies that Israel deserves the cold shoulder:

The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel’s suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.

As the Washington Post notes, the Obami have made hash out of the Middle East from the get-go:

The Obama administration has struggled from the start to find its footing with Israel and the Palestinians. Obama took office soon after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which had ruptured peace talks nurtured by the George W. Bush administration. Obama appointed a special envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, on his second day in office. But then the administration tried to pressure Israel to freeze all settlement expansion — and failed. The United States further lost credibility when Clinton embraced Netanyahu’s compromise proposal, which fell short of Palestinian expectations, as “unprecedented.”

U.S. pressure at the time also backfired because it appeared to let the Palestinians off the hook. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into direct talks before a settlement freeze, even though he had done so before. The administration had to settle for indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth. The recent disagreement has set back that effort.

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (“Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

The Obama administration, acting like a wounded spouse, has now migrated from screaming at Israel to the silent treatment. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton had meetings with Bibi Netanyahu. But if the relationship was as “rock solid” as Hillary disingenuously proclaimed in her AIPAC speech, you’d never know it :

No reporters, or even photographers, were invited when Netanyahu met with Secretary of State Clinton Hillary Rodham Clinton and Vice President Biden on Monday or when he met with Obama on Tuesday night. There was no grand Rose Garden ceremony. Official spokesmen issued only the blandest of statements.

This is petulance, if not rudeness. Can one imagine any other “ally” receiving such dismissive treatment? The Obami are, I suppose, technically abiding by the advice to move their disputes with Bibi behind closed doors. But the snippy reception that telegraphs their anger with Bibi over his continuing to allow Jews to live anywhere in Israel’s eternal capital is just more of the same Obama gambit in another guise. The message to Israel, to the Muslim World, and to the Palestinians is the same: the U.S. is in a snit over Israel’s housing policy, and a significant gap between the two countries has not been healed. The contrast between the warm greeting from members of Congress and the stony silence from the White House only highlighted the point.

The result is real and troubling: when the U.S. backs away from Israel, we send a signal to our allies that Israel deserves the cold shoulder:

The cooling in the U.S.-Israel relationship coincides with an apparent deepening of Israel’s diplomatic isolation. Anger has grown in Europe in the wake of Israel’s suspected misuse of European passports to kill a Palestinian militant in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the expulsion of a senior diplomat over the incident, an unusually drastic step for an ally. Relations with Turkey, a rare Muslim friend of Israel for decades, have hit a new low.

As the Washington Post notes, the Obami have made hash out of the Middle East from the get-go:

The Obama administration has struggled from the start to find its footing with Israel and the Palestinians. Obama took office soon after Israel’s three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, which had ruptured peace talks nurtured by the George W. Bush administration. Obama appointed a special envoy, former senator George J. Mitchell, on his second day in office. But then the administration tried to pressure Israel to freeze all settlement expansion — and failed. The United States further lost credibility when Clinton embraced Netanyahu’s compromise proposal, which fell short of Palestinian expectations, as “unprecedented.”

U.S. pressure at the time also backfired because it appeared to let the Palestinians off the hook. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter into direct talks before a settlement freeze, even though he had done so before. The administration had to settle for indirect talks, with Mitchell shuttling back and forth. The recent disagreement has set back that effort.

Quite obviously the relationship is anything but “rock solid,” after 14 months of Obami Middle East policy. Having picked a losing fight over the issue nearest and dearest to Israelis and American Jews and provoking a retort that may now become a slogan of defiance (“Jerusalem is not a settlement — it’s our capital!”), the Obami have no where to go. More stony silence? More condemnation statements with each new housing announcement? The proximity talks, yet another accommodation to Palestinian intransigence, are a dead end. And meanwhile, the mullahs proceed with their nuclear program. A nuclear-armed Iran may be “unacceptable” to the Obami, but in all this brouhaha it should not go unnoticed that they are making no progress in thwarting the Iranians’ nuclear ambitions.

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The Wages of Moral Equivalence

In her remarks today Hillary Clinton said this:

When a Hamas-controlled municipality glorifies violence and renames a square after a terrorist who murdered innocent Israelis, it insults the families on both sides who have lost loves ones in this conflict. And when instigators deliberately mischaracterize the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s old city and call upon their brethren to “defend” nearby Muslim holy sites from so-called “attacks,” it is purely and simply an act of incitement. These provocations are wrong and must be condemned for needlessly inflaming tensions and imperiling prospects for a comprehensive peace.

Notice how differently Israel and the Palestinians were treated in this regard. The Israeli prime minister was presumed to be responsible for an intentional slight to the Obama administration when a housing permit was issued. An immediate condemnation — we condemn — was issued. A 43-minute chewing out of the prime minister was conducted and then proudly described to the waiting media. By contrast, days after the event, in a rather roundabout formulation (“must be condemned” – but is she doing so?) to a Jewish audience, Clinton ekes out her statement. You can be sure that a speech to AIPAC days after the event won’t send the Quartet rushing forward to join in this oblique condemnation when the party on the receiving end is not Israel.

And her invocation of Hamas is interesting as well. It is not as if there were no trace of Fatah in all this. From the New York Times:

Dozens of Palestinian students from the youth division of Fatah, the mainstream party led by President Mahmoud Abbas, gathered here on Thursday to dedicate a public square to the memory of a woman who in 1978 helped carry out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history. . .

To Israelis, hailing Ms. Mughrabi as a heroine and a martyr is an act that glorifies terrorism.

But, underscoring the chasm between Israeli and Palestinian perceptions, the Fatah representatives described Ms. Mughrabi as a courageous fighter who held a proud place in Palestinian history. Defiant, they insisted that they would not let Israel dictate the names of Palestinian streets and squares.

“We are all Dalal Mughrabi,” declared Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, the party’s main decision-making body, who came to join the students. “For us she is not a terrorist,” he said, but rather “a fighter who fought for the liberation of her own land.”

So Hillary is perhaps giving every benefit of the doubt to Mahmoud Abbas, just at the moment in which she is holding Netanyahu responsible for the housing permit granted by a low-level bureaucrat.

Then there is the additional question, of course, as to whether the U.S. should be engaging in such moral (sort of) equivalence, when the issue is violence, on one hand, and a housing permit in Israel’s eternal capital, on the other. The Obami seem determined to treat friend and foe alike  — or in Israel’s case, the friend gets the less magnanimous treatment. In doing so, Obama and the rest of his administration, including the ever-so-earnest Hillary, communicate to both that we are a feckless ally, willing to trade away principle for the sake of a “deal.” The Palestinians and the Arab states sense that the U.S. and Israel can be squeezed, that we are willing to spin half-truths for the sake of keeping the “process” going. Today Hillary pronounced:

As Vice President Biden said in Israel, we know that to make progress in this region, there must be no gap between the United States and Israel on security. And there will not be. For President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid.

But is that the impression the Muslim World and Iran, specifically, receive, when they see the U.S. lashing out at Israel? It seems in fact that the purpose of the lashing out was to show that we are not so closely aligned with Israel. Indeed, Clinton declared that, “Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.”

But our credibility demands that we stick by deals (including those on settlements agreed under the Bush administration) and back our friends, regardless of the audience. In that regard, Hillary only seemed to emphasize the chasm between AIPAC-friendly rhetoric and administration policy.

In her remarks today Hillary Clinton said this:

When a Hamas-controlled municipality glorifies violence and renames a square after a terrorist who murdered innocent Israelis, it insults the families on both sides who have lost loves ones in this conflict. And when instigators deliberately mischaracterize the rededication of a synagogue in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s old city and call upon their brethren to “defend” nearby Muslim holy sites from so-called “attacks,” it is purely and simply an act of incitement. These provocations are wrong and must be condemned for needlessly inflaming tensions and imperiling prospects for a comprehensive peace.

Notice how differently Israel and the Palestinians were treated in this regard. The Israeli prime minister was presumed to be responsible for an intentional slight to the Obama administration when a housing permit was issued. An immediate condemnation — we condemn — was issued. A 43-minute chewing out of the prime minister was conducted and then proudly described to the waiting media. By contrast, days after the event, in a rather roundabout formulation (“must be condemned” – but is she doing so?) to a Jewish audience, Clinton ekes out her statement. You can be sure that a speech to AIPAC days after the event won’t send the Quartet rushing forward to join in this oblique condemnation when the party on the receiving end is not Israel.

And her invocation of Hamas is interesting as well. It is not as if there were no trace of Fatah in all this. From the New York Times:

Dozens of Palestinian students from the youth division of Fatah, the mainstream party led by President Mahmoud Abbas, gathered here on Thursday to dedicate a public square to the memory of a woman who in 1978 helped carry out the deadliest terrorist attack in Israel’s history. . .

To Israelis, hailing Ms. Mughrabi as a heroine and a martyr is an act that glorifies terrorism.

But, underscoring the chasm between Israeli and Palestinian perceptions, the Fatah representatives described Ms. Mughrabi as a courageous fighter who held a proud place in Palestinian history. Defiant, they insisted that they would not let Israel dictate the names of Palestinian streets and squares.

“We are all Dalal Mughrabi,” declared Tawfiq Tirawi, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, the party’s main decision-making body, who came to join the students. “For us she is not a terrorist,” he said, but rather “a fighter who fought for the liberation of her own land.”

So Hillary is perhaps giving every benefit of the doubt to Mahmoud Abbas, just at the moment in which she is holding Netanyahu responsible for the housing permit granted by a low-level bureaucrat.

Then there is the additional question, of course, as to whether the U.S. should be engaging in such moral (sort of) equivalence, when the issue is violence, on one hand, and a housing permit in Israel’s eternal capital, on the other. The Obami seem determined to treat friend and foe alike  — or in Israel’s case, the friend gets the less magnanimous treatment. In doing so, Obama and the rest of his administration, including the ever-so-earnest Hillary, communicate to both that we are a feckless ally, willing to trade away principle for the sake of a “deal.” The Palestinians and the Arab states sense that the U.S. and Israel can be squeezed, that we are willing to spin half-truths for the sake of keeping the “process” going. Today Hillary pronounced:

As Vice President Biden said in Israel, we know that to make progress in this region, there must be no gap between the United States and Israel on security. And there will not be. For President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid.

But is that the impression the Muslim World and Iran, specifically, receive, when they see the U.S. lashing out at Israel? It seems in fact that the purpose of the lashing out was to show that we are not so closely aligned with Israel. Indeed, Clinton declared that, “Our credibility in this process depends in part on our willingness to praise both sides when they are courageous, and when we don’t agree, to say so, and say so unequivocally.”

But our credibility demands that we stick by deals (including those on settlements agreed under the Bush administration) and back our friends, regardless of the audience. In that regard, Hillary only seemed to emphasize the chasm between AIPAC-friendly rhetoric and administration policy.

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The Palestinian “Condemnation”

Yesterday afternoon, Jake Tapper interviewed Vice President Biden, who recalled a condemnation that did not actually occur:

TAPPER: … Some supporters of Israel say the same week that you were there, on Thursday I believe, a square in the Palestinian territories was named after a woman who led a terrorist [attack] against Israeli civilians that killed civilians, children, and one American photojournalist. Where was the condemnation of that?

BIDEN: Well, they did not name square when I was there.  So that didn’t happen –

TAPPER: They waited until you left.

BIDEN: They waited till I left.  But — and one of the things I said while I was there to the Palestinians, Abbas and Fayyed, I would condemn that, they should not do that. Subsequently, since I got home and they did that, not only did we condemn that, we also condemned the violence used by the Palestinians that recently occurred in Jerusalem. …

When, exactly, did we “condemn” that? We didn’t. We didn’t even use the word, much less accompany it with what went with a condemnation of Israel for approving housing units in a Jewish area of its capital.

Did the secretary of state personally call Abbas and Fayyed and tell them the issue wasn’t the timing but the substance? Did she tell them that it would destroy the confidence of Israelis in their “peace partner”? Did she demand they take “specific actions” to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and “American interests”? Did she require they establish a process to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again? Did she demand a public apology? Did she call the establishment of a public square to honor a terrorist who murdered an American an “insult” and an “affront” to the United States? Did she direct her press spokesman to call a press conference to announce her call and relay to the world what she had said? Did she send anyone out to the Sunday talk shows to repeat the condemnation? Did she demand a prompt call-back to inform her of what they had decided to do in response to her condemnation?

Did she insist on a condemnation of the Palestinian action in the “Joint Statement by the Quartet” issued late last night — in which she joined in still another condemnation of Israel? No, she did not.

Yesterday afternoon, Jake Tapper interviewed Vice President Biden, who recalled a condemnation that did not actually occur:

TAPPER: … Some supporters of Israel say the same week that you were there, on Thursday I believe, a square in the Palestinian territories was named after a woman who led a terrorist [attack] against Israeli civilians that killed civilians, children, and one American photojournalist. Where was the condemnation of that?

BIDEN: Well, they did not name square when I was there.  So that didn’t happen –

TAPPER: They waited until you left.

BIDEN: They waited till I left.  But — and one of the things I said while I was there to the Palestinians, Abbas and Fayyed, I would condemn that, they should not do that. Subsequently, since I got home and they did that, not only did we condemn that, we also condemned the violence used by the Palestinians that recently occurred in Jerusalem. …

When, exactly, did we “condemn” that? We didn’t. We didn’t even use the word, much less accompany it with what went with a condemnation of Israel for approving housing units in a Jewish area of its capital.

Did the secretary of state personally call Abbas and Fayyed and tell them the issue wasn’t the timing but the substance? Did she tell them that it would destroy the confidence of Israelis in their “peace partner”? Did she demand they take “specific actions” to demonstrate their commitment to the peace process and “American interests”? Did she require they establish a process to ensure that nothing like this ever happens again? Did she demand a public apology? Did she call the establishment of a public square to honor a terrorist who murdered an American an “insult” and an “affront” to the United States? Did she direct her press spokesman to call a press conference to announce her call and relay to the world what she had said? Did she send anyone out to the Sunday talk shows to repeat the condemnation? Did she demand a prompt call-back to inform her of what they had decided to do in response to her condemnation?

Did she insist on a condemnation of the Palestinian action in the “Joint Statement by the Quartet” issued late last night — in which she joined in still another condemnation of Israel? No, she did not.

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Weathering the Storm

As we dig deeper into the flap over Jerusalem housing activity, it is worth revisiting a central question: who blindsided whom here?

Hillel Halkin argues that four months ago, the U.S. and Israel had a deal: “Israel reluctantly agreed to suspend all new construction in the West Bank for nearly a year, and the U.S. reluctantly accepted Israel’s refusal to do the same in Jerusalem. … On that basis, the Netanyahu government declared a West Bank freeze and began to enforce it, despite the anger this caused on the pro-settlement Israeli Right from which many of Mr. Netanyahu’s voters come. Now, America has reneged on its word. Using the Ramat Shlomo incident as a pretext, it is demanding once again, as if an agreement had never been reached, that Israel cease all construction in ‘Arab’ Jerusalem.”

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, concurs:

The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration–and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. … To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it–using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction–was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.

And Dan Senor adds this:

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to “condemn” this mistake was a much larger blunder. The problem is not this particular flap, which will pass, but the underlying misunderstanding that our government’s outburst reflects. Vice President Biden himself said in Israel that the peace process is best served when there is no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. He was right, but he broke his own rule. The word “condemn”–which has only been used by the United States against Iran, North Korea, and egregious human rights violations–created precisely such daylight. The result was predictable: The Arab League immediately announced that it was reconsidering its support for Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

So to return to the query: was it the administration that was blindsided — insulted, even! — by a midlevel bureaucratic snafu, or was the Israeli government blindsided by the screeching from the administration, which had no basis to believe there had been any commitment to halt housing development in Jerusalem?  It seems the latter is more likely.

And then there remains the issue of “perspective” — which the nervy Obami implored us all to find as their handiwork was met with a firestorm of protest. We should consider perspective in two ways: how big a deal the housing announcement is and what the incident tells us about the Obami’s own perspective on the Middle East. As for the former, the Obami’s indignation was grossly disproportionate to the matter at hand and was trumpeted most likely for the express purpose of ingratiating Obama with the Palestinians and “preserving” the “peace process.” (Didn’t work out that way, as Senor pointed out.) But the Obami’s perspective — and lack of foresight — is the more troubling of the two sorts of perspective. It should tell Israel and its supporters precisely the challenge they face: how can the U.S.-Israeli relationship weather the Obama administration? We can only hope that the justified outrage that members of Congress and the American Jewish community demonstrated — waking from its slumber — will serve to temper the Obami’s conduct, and in turn help preserve the U.S.-Israeli relationship until cooler heads and warmer hearts occupy the White House.

As we dig deeper into the flap over Jerusalem housing activity, it is worth revisiting a central question: who blindsided whom here?

Hillel Halkin argues that four months ago, the U.S. and Israel had a deal: “Israel reluctantly agreed to suspend all new construction in the West Bank for nearly a year, and the U.S. reluctantly accepted Israel’s refusal to do the same in Jerusalem. … On that basis, the Netanyahu government declared a West Bank freeze and began to enforce it, despite the anger this caused on the pro-settlement Israeli Right from which many of Mr. Netanyahu’s voters come. Now, America has reneged on its word. Using the Ramat Shlomo incident as a pretext, it is demanding once again, as if an agreement had never been reached, that Israel cease all construction in ‘Arab’ Jerusalem.”

Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser under George W. Bush, concurs:

The United States and Israel have long had different views of the settlements, but the issue has been managed without a crisis for decades. In the Bush administration, a deal was struck whereby the United States would not protest construction inside existing settlements so long as they did not expand outward. The current crisis, ostensibly about construction in Jerusalem, was manufactured by the Obama administration–and as it is about Jerusalem, isn’t even about activity in the settlements.

Every Israeli government since 1967, of left or right, has asserted that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital and has allowed Israeli Jews to build there. … To escalate that announcement into a crisis in bilateral relations and “condemn” it–using a verb we apply to acts of murder and terror, not acts of housing construction–was a decision by the U.S. government, not a natural or inevitable occurrence.

And Dan Senor adds this:

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to “condemn” this mistake was a much larger blunder. The problem is not this particular flap, which will pass, but the underlying misunderstanding that our government’s outburst reflects. Vice President Biden himself said in Israel that the peace process is best served when there is no “daylight” between the United States and Israel. He was right, but he broke his own rule. The word “condemn”–which has only been used by the United States against Iran, North Korea, and egregious human rights violations–created precisely such daylight. The result was predictable: The Arab League immediately announced that it was reconsidering its support for Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks.

So to return to the query: was it the administration that was blindsided — insulted, even! — by a midlevel bureaucratic snafu, or was the Israeli government blindsided by the screeching from the administration, which had no basis to believe there had been any commitment to halt housing development in Jerusalem?  It seems the latter is more likely.

And then there remains the issue of “perspective” — which the nervy Obami implored us all to find as their handiwork was met with a firestorm of protest. We should consider perspective in two ways: how big a deal the housing announcement is and what the incident tells us about the Obami’s own perspective on the Middle East. As for the former, the Obami’s indignation was grossly disproportionate to the matter at hand and was trumpeted most likely for the express purpose of ingratiating Obama with the Palestinians and “preserving” the “peace process.” (Didn’t work out that way, as Senor pointed out.) But the Obami’s perspective — and lack of foresight — is the more troubling of the two sorts of perspective. It should tell Israel and its supporters precisely the challenge they face: how can the U.S.-Israeli relationship weather the Obama administration? We can only hope that the justified outrage that members of Congress and the American Jewish community demonstrated — waking from its slumber — will serve to temper the Obami’s conduct, and in turn help preserve the U.S.-Israeli relationship until cooler heads and warmer hearts occupy the White House.

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Fomenting a Crisis Was Obama’s Choice, Not Israel’s

You can’t get any more establishment than Leslie Gelb. The former New York Times columnist worked in the Johnson and Carter administrations and is now the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet having a lifetime of heavy-duty policy experience is not the same thing as actually understanding what’s going on. The reaction of this quintessential foreign-policy “wise man” to the current dustup between Israel and the United States betrays his confusion.

In his Daily Beast column, Gelb bemoans the loss of American prestige because of the perceived insult to Vice President Biden via an ill-timed announcement of a Jerusalem housing project. In doing so, he foolishly buys into the notion that the publicity given the incident will undermine the ability of the United States to exercise influence over other potential crises.

But the world is not going berserk over this confrontation because of its intrinsic importance. The administration had already accepted, albeit reluctantly, the fact that no building freeze would be accepted by Israel inside its own capital. Indeed, no previous American administration has ever made an issue about building in the existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This dispute was not the result of worry about the loss of U.S. influence but a conscious decision by the Obama administration to pick a fight with the Israeli government.

Moreover, Gelb’s assertion that these Jerusalem apartments are a deliberate attempt by Israeli right-wingers to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians is a joke. Those talks, in which the Palestinians wouldn’t even deign to sit next to their Israeli counterparts, never had a chance of success. Having rejected Israel’s offer of an independent state in the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem in 2008 (as they had previously rejected one in 2000), the Palestinian Authority is no more likely to sign on to any deal today, no matter where Israel’s borders are placed or how many concessions are forced upon the Israelis by Obama.

Even more delusional is Gelb’s idea that Israel’s actions, and its rightful refusal to rescind the housing project and thus accept the principle that Jews may not build in Jerusalem, will harm America’s efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The truth is quite the opposite. The Obama administration’s decision to blow a minor event into a major international incident is evidence of their desire to shift the world’s focus away from Iran and onto the Netanyahu government. As his year of failed engagement showed, Obama never had any real interest in taking action on Iran, and there is little chance that Washington’s lukewarm push for sanctions on Tehran will ever succeed. Hyping Israel’s insult into a watershed moment not only shifted the conversation from Iran’s Islamist regime onto Netanyahu, it gives Obama a ready excuse for his failure to make good on a promise to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status.

Contrary to Gelb, the dangerous decisions that may well determine the course of American foreign policy in the coming decade are not being made by obstreperous Israelis, who are, he claims, blind to their country’s best interest. Instead, the great foreign-policy blunder of 2010 — the decision to employ American pressure against Israel instead of Iran  — is the result of a deliberate choice by the Obama administration. It’s too bad that a “wise man” like Gelb is encouraging the fools in Washington rather than alerting them to their folly.

You can’t get any more establishment than Leslie Gelb. The former New York Times columnist worked in the Johnson and Carter administrations and is now the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations. Yet having a lifetime of heavy-duty policy experience is not the same thing as actually understanding what’s going on. The reaction of this quintessential foreign-policy “wise man” to the current dustup between Israel and the United States betrays his confusion.

In his Daily Beast column, Gelb bemoans the loss of American prestige because of the perceived insult to Vice President Biden via an ill-timed announcement of a Jerusalem housing project. In doing so, he foolishly buys into the notion that the publicity given the incident will undermine the ability of the United States to exercise influence over other potential crises.

But the world is not going berserk over this confrontation because of its intrinsic importance. The administration had already accepted, albeit reluctantly, the fact that no building freeze would be accepted by Israel inside its own capital. Indeed, no previous American administration has ever made an issue about building in the existing Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. This dispute was not the result of worry about the loss of U.S. influence but a conscious decision by the Obama administration to pick a fight with the Israeli government.

Moreover, Gelb’s assertion that these Jerusalem apartments are a deliberate attempt by Israeli right-wingers to sabotage peace talks with the Palestinians is a joke. Those talks, in which the Palestinians wouldn’t even deign to sit next to their Israeli counterparts, never had a chance of success. Having rejected Israel’s offer of an independent state in the West Bank, as well as a share of Jerusalem in 2008 (as they had previously rejected one in 2000), the Palestinian Authority is no more likely to sign on to any deal today, no matter where Israel’s borders are placed or how many concessions are forced upon the Israelis by Obama.

Even more delusional is Gelb’s idea that Israel’s actions, and its rightful refusal to rescind the housing project and thus accept the principle that Jews may not build in Jerusalem, will harm America’s efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The truth is quite the opposite. The Obama administration’s decision to blow a minor event into a major international incident is evidence of their desire to shift the world’s focus away from Iran and onto the Netanyahu government. As his year of failed engagement showed, Obama never had any real interest in taking action on Iran, and there is little chance that Washington’s lukewarm push for sanctions on Tehran will ever succeed. Hyping Israel’s insult into a watershed moment not only shifted the conversation from Iran’s Islamist regime onto Netanyahu, it gives Obama a ready excuse for his failure to make good on a promise to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear status.

Contrary to Gelb, the dangerous decisions that may well determine the course of American foreign policy in the coming decade are not being made by obstreperous Israelis, who are, he claims, blind to their country’s best interest. Instead, the great foreign-policy blunder of 2010 — the decision to employ American pressure against Israel instead of Iran  — is the result of a deliberate choice by the Obama administration. It’s too bad that a “wise man” like Gelb is encouraging the fools in Washington rather than alerting them to their folly.

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Not Getting Anywhere

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations joins other prominent Jewish organizations in blasting the administration, declaring in a lengthy statement that, “the unusually harsh comments made since then by members of the Administration have resulted in increased tensions. The interests of all concerned would best be served by a prompt commencement of the proximity talks that had been previously agreed to by all parties, and all parties should act in a manner that does not undercut such talks.” But it is the Presidents’ remarks on the Obami’s cough-up-more-concessions gambit that are most noteworthy in that they directly confront the premise of the Obami’s tactics:

Israel has consistently stated that it is prepared to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions, and recently has agreed to enter into proximity talks that would lead to face-to-face discussions. The Palestinians also had agreed to such proximity talks. Notwithstanding that apparent sign of progress, the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab League have repeatedly looked for ways to avoid discussions that might lead to a peace agreement and have imposed conditions never demanded of previous Israeli governments. Despite this, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have declared an unprecedented settlement freeze in the West Bank and have taken important steps to remove roadblocks and to otherwise promote conditions to improve life in the Palestinian territories. This conduct by Israel, supported by the United States, together with action undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, has resulted in tangible improvement for those living under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The United States of America should capitalize on these improved conditions and insist that the Palestinians operate in good faith and live up to their commitment to begin new talks.

The recent disclosure by Israel of its intention to build additional housing units in eastern Jerusalem at a future date does not contradict its announced commitment to freeze settlement building for a limited period, and a cessation to building in Jerusalem was never a condition of the proximity talks. Israel has always claimed a right to build in its capital city. The apparent refusal by the Palestinian Authority to avoid discussions now until the plans regarding the 1600 future units are withdrawn is yet another instance of the Palestinians missing an opportunity to move toward a resolution of the conflict. The true test of peaceful intentions is the willingness to engage in negotiations.

Israel’s commitment to participate in proximity talks is in sharp distinction to the continued incitement by the Palestinian Authority and its public relations organs which have consistently acted in violation of its agreements with Israel. Only last week, coincident with the visit of Vice President Biden to the region, the Palestinians went ahead with the dedication of a public square in honor of  Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who was responsible for the massacre of 37 Israelis and American photographer Gail Rubin in 1978. It is such conduct which merits the attention and condemnation of those who seek to achieve peace.

It took a while, but Jewish organizations — the ADL, AIPAC, AJC, and now the Conference — have recoiled against Obama’s notion that the problem in the “peace process” is Israel and that the solution is to extract more concessions to toss to the Palestinians. The Obami’s take on the situation is not grounded in fact. (Which party has been making steps toward peace and which has been naming squares after terrorists?) As we’ve seen for over a year, it is also bad bargaining. Now we see it’s bad politics.

And the Israeli government? For now, Bibi Netanyahu is thanking Hillary Clinton for her last round of platitudinous comments. (“The State of Israel appreciates and respects the warm words said by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the deep bond between the U.S. and Israel, and on the U.S.’ commitment to Israel’s security.” But how bonded and  committed is the administration to pick a fight, risk emboldening Palestinians bent on terror, and signal to the region that Obama is not on the same page with the Israeli government?) However, on the substance of the Obami’s demands, Netanyahu isn’t buying the Obama narrative either:

“With regard to commitments to peace, the government of Israel has proven over the last year that it is commitment to peace, both in words and actions,” said the statement. …

The statement cited as examples Netanyahu’s inaugural foreign policy speech made at Bar Ilan University, the removal of hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank, and its decision to freeze temporarily construction in West Bank settlements. The latter, said the statement, was even called by Clinton an “unprecedented” move.

The Israeli government reiterated its call for the Palestinians “to enter the tent of peace without preconditions, because that is the only way to reach a settlement that will ensure peace, security and prosperity for both nations.”

So let’s take stock: no mainstream Jewish organization supports the Obami’s gambit, neither does any elected official who has publicly spoken up. The Israeli government is not persuaded to make any more moves. The Palestinians are calling for “rage” over the restoration of a synagogue in Jerusalem. In short, Obama’s Middle East policy is a complete flop, both domestically and internationally. Whoever thought up this latest move — Axelrod? Emanuel? — might want to consider going back to making hash out of health care.

The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations joins other prominent Jewish organizations in blasting the administration, declaring in a lengthy statement that, “the unusually harsh comments made since then by members of the Administration have resulted in increased tensions. The interests of all concerned would best be served by a prompt commencement of the proximity talks that had been previously agreed to by all parties, and all parties should act in a manner that does not undercut such talks.” But it is the Presidents’ remarks on the Obami’s cough-up-more-concessions gambit that are most noteworthy in that they directly confront the premise of the Obami’s tactics:

Israel has consistently stated that it is prepared to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions, and recently has agreed to enter into proximity talks that would lead to face-to-face discussions. The Palestinians also had agreed to such proximity talks. Notwithstanding that apparent sign of progress, the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab League have repeatedly looked for ways to avoid discussions that might lead to a peace agreement and have imposed conditions never demanded of previous Israeli governments. Despite this, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have declared an unprecedented settlement freeze in the West Bank and have taken important steps to remove roadblocks and to otherwise promote conditions to improve life in the Palestinian territories. This conduct by Israel, supported by the United States, together with action undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, has resulted in tangible improvement for those living under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The United States of America should capitalize on these improved conditions and insist that the Palestinians operate in good faith and live up to their commitment to begin new talks.

The recent disclosure by Israel of its intention to build additional housing units in eastern Jerusalem at a future date does not contradict its announced commitment to freeze settlement building for a limited period, and a cessation to building in Jerusalem was never a condition of the proximity talks. Israel has always claimed a right to build in its capital city. The apparent refusal by the Palestinian Authority to avoid discussions now until the plans regarding the 1600 future units are withdrawn is yet another instance of the Palestinians missing an opportunity to move toward a resolution of the conflict. The true test of peaceful intentions is the willingness to engage in negotiations.

Israel’s commitment to participate in proximity talks is in sharp distinction to the continued incitement by the Palestinian Authority and its public relations organs which have consistently acted in violation of its agreements with Israel. Only last week, coincident with the visit of Vice President Biden to the region, the Palestinians went ahead with the dedication of a public square in honor of  Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who was responsible for the massacre of 37 Israelis and American photographer Gail Rubin in 1978. It is such conduct which merits the attention and condemnation of those who seek to achieve peace.

It took a while, but Jewish organizations — the ADL, AIPAC, AJC, and now the Conference — have recoiled against Obama’s notion that the problem in the “peace process” is Israel and that the solution is to extract more concessions to toss to the Palestinians. The Obami’s take on the situation is not grounded in fact. (Which party has been making steps toward peace and which has been naming squares after terrorists?) As we’ve seen for over a year, it is also bad bargaining. Now we see it’s bad politics.

And the Israeli government? For now, Bibi Netanyahu is thanking Hillary Clinton for her last round of platitudinous comments. (“The State of Israel appreciates and respects the warm words said by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the deep bond between the U.S. and Israel, and on the U.S.’ commitment to Israel’s security.” But how bonded and  committed is the administration to pick a fight, risk emboldening Palestinians bent on terror, and signal to the region that Obama is not on the same page with the Israeli government?) However, on the substance of the Obami’s demands, Netanyahu isn’t buying the Obama narrative either:

“With regard to commitments to peace, the government of Israel has proven over the last year that it is commitment to peace, both in words and actions,” said the statement. …

The statement cited as examples Netanyahu’s inaugural foreign policy speech made at Bar Ilan University, the removal of hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank, and its decision to freeze temporarily construction in West Bank settlements. The latter, said the statement, was even called by Clinton an “unprecedented” move.

The Israeli government reiterated its call for the Palestinians “to enter the tent of peace without preconditions, because that is the only way to reach a settlement that will ensure peace, security and prosperity for both nations.”

So let’s take stock: no mainstream Jewish organization supports the Obami’s gambit, neither does any elected official who has publicly spoken up. The Israeli government is not persuaded to make any more moves. The Palestinians are calling for “rage” over the restoration of a synagogue in Jerusalem. In short, Obama’s Middle East policy is a complete flop, both domestically and internationally. Whoever thought up this latest move — Axelrod? Emanuel? — might want to consider going back to making hash out of health care.

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A 2012 Preview

Obama’s assault on Israel is drawing fire from potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Sarah Palin (who, as I’ve written quite a bit about, had a rocky start with American Jews) is out with a lengthly statement, pointing out the contrast between Obama’s outreach to despotic regimes and our treatment of Israel, which reads, in part:

Last October, Secretary of State Clinton recognized Israel’s desire for peace in the Middle East and praised Israel’s “unprecedented” concessions for agreeing to halt settlement construction in the West Bank, a concession that did NOT include halting construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem. Even last week after planned construction was announced, Vice President Biden still expressed “appreciation” for the “significant” steps taken by the Israeli government to address this minor issue. Now, however, we see the Obama Administration has decided to escalate, make unilateral demands of Israel, and threaten the very foundation of the US-Israel relationship. This is quickly leading to the worst crisis in US-Israel relations in decades, and yet this did not have to happen. More importantly, it needs to stop before it spirals out of control. Vice President Biden should rein in the overheated Obama Administration rhetoric and chill the political spin masters’ fire as they visit the Sunday media shows to criticize Israel.

Mitt Romney’s spokesman e-mails me: “Governor Romney believes that President Obama spends way too much time placating our enemies while undermining our friends. Israel is one of our greatest allies, and has made many concessions for peace over the years, yet the Obama administration exerts pressure on Israel to stop its settlements while putting almost no pressure on the Palestinians.”

It is, as the two Republicans point out, all of a piece. The Obami have, as Palin puts it, reached out “to some of the world’s worst regimes in the name of their engagement policy,” and averted their eyes to violations of UN agreements and to gross human-rights abuses. It took days for Obama to speak out in the wake of the June 12 Iranian election, and even then only in tepid terms. Yet, with the announcement of a housing complex in Jerusalem, all guns are blazing from the West Wing. We can expect to hear more from those Republicans eyeing 2012 on this subject. It is frankly both good policy and good politics to take on the Obama foreign-policy trainwreck.

Obama’s assault on Israel is drawing fire from potential 2012 Republican presidential candidates. Sarah Palin (who, as I’ve written quite a bit about, had a rocky start with American Jews) is out with a lengthly statement, pointing out the contrast between Obama’s outreach to despotic regimes and our treatment of Israel, which reads, in part:

Last October, Secretary of State Clinton recognized Israel’s desire for peace in the Middle East and praised Israel’s “unprecedented” concessions for agreeing to halt settlement construction in the West Bank, a concession that did NOT include halting construction of apartments for Jews in Jerusalem. Even last week after planned construction was announced, Vice President Biden still expressed “appreciation” for the “significant” steps taken by the Israeli government to address this minor issue. Now, however, we see the Obama Administration has decided to escalate, make unilateral demands of Israel, and threaten the very foundation of the US-Israel relationship. This is quickly leading to the worst crisis in US-Israel relations in decades, and yet this did not have to happen. More importantly, it needs to stop before it spirals out of control. Vice President Biden should rein in the overheated Obama Administration rhetoric and chill the political spin masters’ fire as they visit the Sunday media shows to criticize Israel.

Mitt Romney’s spokesman e-mails me: “Governor Romney believes that President Obama spends way too much time placating our enemies while undermining our friends. Israel is one of our greatest allies, and has made many concessions for peace over the years, yet the Obama administration exerts pressure on Israel to stop its settlements while putting almost no pressure on the Palestinians.”

It is, as the two Republicans point out, all of a piece. The Obami have, as Palin puts it, reached out “to some of the world’s worst regimes in the name of their engagement policy,” and averted their eyes to violations of UN agreements and to gross human-rights abuses. It took days for Obama to speak out in the wake of the June 12 Iranian election, and even then only in tepid terms. Yet, with the announcement of a housing complex in Jerusalem, all guns are blazing from the West Wing. We can expect to hear more from those Republicans eyeing 2012 on this subject. It is frankly both good policy and good politics to take on the Obama foreign-policy trainwreck.

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The Climb-Down?

Perhaps a mini climb-down has begun by the Obami. After all, they encountered a “firestorm” of criticism from Jewish groups and a bipartisan selection (although many more Republicans) of elected officials and candidates. Rep. Steve Israel is the latest Democrat to weigh in, declaring: “Israel is a close friend and ally and our relationship is based on mutual interests and benefits. We need to reaffirm the American-Israeli relationship as Vice President Biden did at Tel Aviv University last week. The Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand issued a more mild statement, but one expressing concern nevertheless: “The close bond between the United States and Israel remains unbreakable, and America will continue to show unyielding support for Israel’s security. While the timing of the East Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties — Iran’s nuclear threat. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am focused on strengthening international pressure on Iran’s regime to derail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Republican Tom Price also issued a stern statement imploring Obama to stop “condemning our allies and started aggressively cracking down on those who sponsor terrorist groups and are ruthlessly pursuing nuclear weapons.”

So maybe someone in the administration took all that in and decided that allowing David Axelrod to play Chicago bully on the Sunday talk shows was not a good idea. As this report explains:

The Obama administration pledged Monday that Israel remained a US ally as congressional rivals rallied behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a feud over the construction of settlements. …

“Israel is a strategic ally of the US and will continue to be so,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters. “Our commitment to Israel’s security remains unshakeable.”

He also declined to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks to his Likud Party that construction would go ahead, saying that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was waiting for a “formal” reply to a tense telephone call on Friday.

“When she outlined what she thought appropriate actions would be to the prime minister, she asked for a response by the Israeli government. We wait for the response,” Crowley said.

Without prompting from reporters, Crowley criticized unnamed Palestinians for their remarks on Israel’s reopening of a landmark synagogue in Jerusalem’s walled Old City that had been destroyed in fighting 62 years ago.

Message received? Well, if so, then who’s running our Middle East policy and how did things escalate to this level? Certainly, a climb-down is preferable to continued escalation, but after a week of this, the Obami amateur hour leaves Israel, the Palestinians, Obama’s domestic supporters, the American Jewish community, and every nation looking on (some with horror, others with delight) baffled. If there is a game plan here or a set of permanent concerns and interests at play, it’s hard to discern. In the feckless and reckless Obama foreign policy, uncertainty is the order of the day. Allies should be forewarned: they may be on thin ice at any time. And our foes? Well, they must marvel that the U.S. is so cavalier with its friends and so willing to adopt the rhetoric and positions of its enemies. And for those nations on the fence, why would they have confidence in the U.S. administration? Being a “friend” of the U.S. is a dicey business these days.

Perhaps a mini climb-down has begun by the Obami. After all, they encountered a “firestorm” of criticism from Jewish groups and a bipartisan selection (although many more Republicans) of elected officials and candidates. Rep. Steve Israel is the latest Democrat to weigh in, declaring: “Israel is a close friend and ally and our relationship is based on mutual interests and benefits. We need to reaffirm the American-Israeli relationship as Vice President Biden did at Tel Aviv University last week. The Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand issued a more mild statement, but one expressing concern nevertheless: “The close bond between the United States and Israel remains unbreakable, and America will continue to show unyielding support for Israel’s security. While the timing of the East Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties — Iran’s nuclear threat. As a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I am focused on strengthening international pressure on Iran’s regime to derail its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Republican Tom Price also issued a stern statement imploring Obama to stop “condemning our allies and started aggressively cracking down on those who sponsor terrorist groups and are ruthlessly pursuing nuclear weapons.”

So maybe someone in the administration took all that in and decided that allowing David Axelrod to play Chicago bully on the Sunday talk shows was not a good idea. As this report explains:

The Obama administration pledged Monday that Israel remained a US ally as congressional rivals rallied behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a feud over the construction of settlements. …

“Israel is a strategic ally of the US and will continue to be so,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters. “Our commitment to Israel’s security remains unshakeable.”

He also declined to comment on Netanyahu’s remarks to his Likud Party that construction would go ahead, saying that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was waiting for a “formal” reply to a tense telephone call on Friday.

“When she outlined what she thought appropriate actions would be to the prime minister, she asked for a response by the Israeli government. We wait for the response,” Crowley said.

Without prompting from reporters, Crowley criticized unnamed Palestinians for their remarks on Israel’s reopening of a landmark synagogue in Jerusalem’s walled Old City that had been destroyed in fighting 62 years ago.

Message received? Well, if so, then who’s running our Middle East policy and how did things escalate to this level? Certainly, a climb-down is preferable to continued escalation, but after a week of this, the Obami amateur hour leaves Israel, the Palestinians, Obama’s domestic supporters, the American Jewish community, and every nation looking on (some with horror, others with delight) baffled. If there is a game plan here or a set of permanent concerns and interests at play, it’s hard to discern. In the feckless and reckless Obama foreign policy, uncertainty is the order of the day. Allies should be forewarned: they may be on thin ice at any time. And our foes? Well, they must marvel that the U.S. is so cavalier with its friends and so willing to adopt the rhetoric and positions of its enemies. And for those nations on the fence, why would they have confidence in the U.S. administration? Being a “friend” of the U.S. is a dicey business these days.

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RE: The Fallout

Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has released a blistering critique of the Obama anti-Israel gambit:

To say that I am deeply concerned with the irresponsible comments that the White House, Vice President, and the Secretary of State have made against Israel is an understatement. In an effort to ingratiate our country with the Arab world, this Administration has shown a troubling eagerness to undercut our allies and friends. Israel has always been committed to the peace process, including advocating for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, in effort to bring this conflict to an end. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Government continues to insist on indirect talks and slowing down the process. …

While it condemns Israel, the Administration continues to ignore a host of Palestinian provocations that undermine prospects for peace in the region. Where is the outrage when top Fatah officials call for riots on the Temple Mount? Why does the Palestinian Authority get a pass when it holds a ceremony glorifying the woman responsible for one of the deadliest terror attack in Israel’s history? Surely, the Administration’s double standard has set back the peace process. …

Israel continues to be a world leader in the fight against terrorism and speak out against the prospects of a nuclear Iran. For this Administration to treat our special relationship with Israel, one of our closest and most strategic Democratic allies, in this fashion is beyond irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s national security.

Minority Leader John Boehner, embellishing on a brief response over the weekend has weighed in as well:

The Administration’s decision to escalate its rhetoric following Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel is not merely irresponsible, it is an affront to the values and foundation of our long-term relationship with a close friend and ally. The Administration has demonstrated a repeated pattern since it took office:  while it makes concessions to countries acting contrary to U.S. national interests, it ignores or snubs the commitments, shared values and sacrifices of many of our country’s best allies. If the Administration wants to work toward resolving the conflict in the Middle East, it should focus its efforts on Iran’s behavior, including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its state-sponsorship of terrorism, its crushing of domestic democratic forces, and the impact its behavior is having, not just on Israel, but also on the calculations of other countries in the region as well as on the credibility of international nonproliferation efforts.  House Republicans remain committed to our long-standing bilateral friendship with Israel, as well as to the commitments this country has made.

These statements are significant in that they put the Republican Congressional leadership squarely on the side of Israel supporters, including AIPAC and the ADL, which have objected strenuously to the misplaced priorities and bizarrely hostile treatment shown to our ally Israel. The focus will now be on the Democrats: do they defend the adminsitration or challenge it to clean up the mess made over the last few days?

It is not a good thing for support for Israel to break down on party lines. That has not been the case historically. As noted earlier, in 1991, three founders of the Republican Jewish Coalition — Max Fisher, George Klein, and Dick Fox — penned a letter to then President George H.W. Bush strongly protesting the cutoff of loan guarantees as a lever to get (yes, nearly two decades and not much has changed) Israel to knuckle under at the bargaining table (then it was Madrid). It is the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and in the United States at large which has been critical to the maintainence of a robust and warm alliance between the two countries. That it is fraying now, when the most critical national-security threat to both (Iran’s nuclear ambitions) looms large, is especially troubling. And that, in the statements from pro-Israel Republicans, AIPAC, the ADL, and others, is what the administration is being asked to focus on. But then, they have no solution or game plan — it seems — on Iran. So beating up on Israel passes the time and excuses, in their own mind, the inactivity on that most critical issue.

A bipartisan coalition in support of Israel, in which stated principles trump partisan loyalty and political convenience, has been the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We are reminded now that for a president to enthusiastically lead, rather than decimate, that coalition is essential. What’s indispensible is a U.S.president who does more than mouth platitudes about our enduring relationship with the Jewish state. What is needed is a president who does not adopt the rhetoric and the bargaining posture of  intransigent Palestinians waiting for the U.S. to deliver Israel on a platter. Can our relationship survive without such a president? We are regrettably going to find out.

Republican House Minority Whip Eric Cantor has released a blistering critique of the Obama anti-Israel gambit:

To say that I am deeply concerned with the irresponsible comments that the White House, Vice President, and the Secretary of State have made against Israel is an understatement. In an effort to ingratiate our country with the Arab world, this Administration has shown a troubling eagerness to undercut our allies and friends. Israel has always been committed to the peace process, including advocating for direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians, in effort to bring this conflict to an end. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Government continues to insist on indirect talks and slowing down the process. …

While it condemns Israel, the Administration continues to ignore a host of Palestinian provocations that undermine prospects for peace in the region. Where is the outrage when top Fatah officials call for riots on the Temple Mount? Why does the Palestinian Authority get a pass when it holds a ceremony glorifying the woman responsible for one of the deadliest terror attack in Israel’s history? Surely, the Administration’s double standard has set back the peace process. …

Israel continues to be a world leader in the fight against terrorism and speak out against the prospects of a nuclear Iran. For this Administration to treat our special relationship with Israel, one of our closest and most strategic Democratic allies, in this fashion is beyond irresponsible and jeopardizes America’s national security.

Minority Leader John Boehner, embellishing on a brief response over the weekend has weighed in as well:

The Administration’s decision to escalate its rhetoric following Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel is not merely irresponsible, it is an affront to the values and foundation of our long-term relationship with a close friend and ally. The Administration has demonstrated a repeated pattern since it took office:  while it makes concessions to countries acting contrary to U.S. national interests, it ignores or snubs the commitments, shared values and sacrifices of many of our country’s best allies. If the Administration wants to work toward resolving the conflict in the Middle East, it should focus its efforts on Iran’s behavior, including its pursuit of nuclear weapons, its state-sponsorship of terrorism, its crushing of domestic democratic forces, and the impact its behavior is having, not just on Israel, but also on the calculations of other countries in the region as well as on the credibility of international nonproliferation efforts.  House Republicans remain committed to our long-standing bilateral friendship with Israel, as well as to the commitments this country has made.

These statements are significant in that they put the Republican Congressional leadership squarely on the side of Israel supporters, including AIPAC and the ADL, which have objected strenuously to the misplaced priorities and bizarrely hostile treatment shown to our ally Israel. The focus will now be on the Democrats: do they defend the adminsitration or challenge it to clean up the mess made over the last few days?

It is not a good thing for support for Israel to break down on party lines. That has not been the case historically. As noted earlier, in 1991, three founders of the Republican Jewish Coalition — Max Fisher, George Klein, and Dick Fox — penned a letter to then President George H.W. Bush strongly protesting the cutoff of loan guarantees as a lever to get (yes, nearly two decades and not much has changed) Israel to knuckle under at the bargaining table (then it was Madrid). It is the bipartisan support for Israel in Congress and in the United States at large which has been critical to the maintainence of a robust and warm alliance between the two countries. That it is fraying now, when the most critical national-security threat to both (Iran’s nuclear ambitions) looms large, is especially troubling. And that, in the statements from pro-Israel Republicans, AIPAC, the ADL, and others, is what the administration is being asked to focus on. But then, they have no solution or game plan — it seems — on Iran. So beating up on Israel passes the time and excuses, in their own mind, the inactivity on that most critical issue.

A bipartisan coalition in support of Israel, in which stated principles trump partisan loyalty and political convenience, has been the cornerstone of the U.S.-Israel relationship. We are reminded now that for a president to enthusiastically lead, rather than decimate, that coalition is essential. What’s indispensible is a U.S.president who does more than mouth platitudes about our enduring relationship with the Jewish state. What is needed is a president who does not adopt the rhetoric and the bargaining posture of  intransigent Palestinians waiting for the U.S. to deliver Israel on a platter. Can our relationship survive without such a president? We are regrettably going to find out.

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The Fallout

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, not unexpectedly, issued a lengthy statement blasting  the administration’s handling of the Jerusalem housing situation. It takes the Obami to task for “harsh and intentionally undiplomatic language to exacerbate tensions with our ally Israel in the wake of Vice President Biden’s visit there. The strident and unwarranted escalation of tension, which has turned a minor diplomatic embarrassment into a major international incident, has raised serious concerns about the administration’s Israel policy from a variety of mainstream voices.”

The more interesting question is where the president’s political allies will be on this. The National Democratic Jewish Council has been mute. (Recall that in the 1991, when George H.W. Bush cut off loan guarantees, prominent Republicans voiced opposition and introduced legislation to continue the guarantees.) Rep. Shelley Berkley has issued a robust condemnation. And over the weekend, independent Sen. Joe Lieberman had this to say at an appearance in Palm Beach:

“In every administration,” said Lieberman, “there are times when the US-Israeli relationship is not what it should be. But the guarantor of that relationship is the bipartisan, pro-Israel majority in Congress.

“It was a dust-up, a misunderstanding. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu has apologized, and the timing was unfortunate. But the second round of criticism is unproductive. I make one appeal – sometimes silence really is golden.

“Our enemies are common; let’s not let a mistake grow into a divisive dispute between members of the same family.”

In a brief private interview earlier, Lieberman expanded on his let-bygones-be-bygones point of view, saying, “Nothing good is going to happen in the Mideast without both the United States and Israel working together. That’s what we need to do, and the sooner the better.”

It will be interesting to see which, if any, Democrats put principle above party loyalty on this one. It would be better for all concerned if the administration retreated from its frenzied offensive, resumed the normal dialogue one has with a valued ally, and did not put further strain on its Democratic allies here at home, who, as John pointed out, have enough troubles this election year. That might be further evidence of just how harebrained was the gambit to begin with. But the first rule of politics is that when you’ve dug a hole, stop digging. The administration would be wise to listen to AIPAC, Lieberman, and Berkley, not to mention Republican critics, and figure out how to repair the damage wrought over the last few days.

UPDATE: Two other prominent Republicans have weighed in, both emphasizing the administration’s skewed priorities. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released a statement:

Israel is an indispensable ally and friend of the United States. U.S. condemnations of Israel and threats regarding our bilateral relationship undermine both our allies and the peace process, while encouraging the enemies of America and Israel alike. I am also deeply concerned about the Administration’s softer approaches towards the Palestinian Authority, Syria, and Iran, which are being carried out in conjunction with hard-line tactics against our key democratic ally, Israel. Our nation’s security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies and moves towards appeasing enemies of the U.S.

Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., added this:

It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace. Rather than launching verbal attacks on our staunch ally and friend, it would be far more worthwhile for this Administration to expend the effort planning for the transfer of our embassy to Jerusalem and tackling the growing Iranian nuclear threat.

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WEB EXCLUSIVE: Obama and Israel: Not Smart

In both politics and diplomacy, actors must think at least one move ahead. They need to be reasonably sure that when they say or do A, then the other party will say or do B. And they should want the other party to say or do B, otherwise it makes no sense to say A in the first place. The purpose of action isn’t just to act, in other words, but to make sure that the reaction you get advances your purposes and your interests.

Which is why the administration’s behavior in deepening and perpetuating its latest confrontation with Israel is actually rather bewildering. Let’s start out by acknowledging that what happened during Vice President Biden’s trip last week — the announcement of new housing starts in East Jerusalem — was an affront to the United States. I believe Israel has every right to do what it is doing, but the view of the visiting representative of the administration is that what it is doing is wrong and injurious to future prospects for peace, and this conflict of visions is not going to be resolved. Biden was embarrassed, his visit overshadowed, and expressions of diplomatic dismay appropriate as a result. The Israeli prime minister, who did not know about the announcement, apologized to the visitor, and was embarrassed as well by the way in which the dysfunctional Israeli political system was exposed to international view.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

In both politics and diplomacy, actors must think at least one move ahead. They need to be reasonably sure that when they say or do A, then the other party will say or do B. And they should want the other party to say or do B, otherwise it makes no sense to say A in the first place. The purpose of action isn’t just to act, in other words, but to make sure that the reaction you get advances your purposes and your interests.

Which is why the administration’s behavior in deepening and perpetuating its latest confrontation with Israel is actually rather bewildering. Let’s start out by acknowledging that what happened during Vice President Biden’s trip last week — the announcement of new housing starts in East Jerusalem — was an affront to the United States. I believe Israel has every right to do what it is doing, but the view of the visiting representative of the administration is that what it is doing is wrong and injurious to future prospects for peace, and this conflict of visions is not going to be resolved. Biden was embarrassed, his visit overshadowed, and expressions of diplomatic dismay appropriate as a result. The Israeli prime minister, who did not know about the announcement, apologized to the visitor, and was embarrassed as well by the way in which the dysfunctional Israeli political system was exposed to international view.

To finish reading this COMMENTARY Web Exclusive, click here.

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No Way to Run a Foreign Policy

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors share many observers’ consternation over the Obami’s latest war of words with Israel. The editors note that engagement is all the rage when it comes to Syria but not when it comes to the Jewish state. On the flap over building in Jerusalem, they write:

In a speech at Tel Aviv University two days after the Israeli announcement, Mr. Biden publicly thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence” of similar incidents.

The subsequent escalation by Mrs. Clinton was clearly intended as a highly public rebuke to the Israelis, but its political and strategic logic is puzzling. The U.S. needs Israel’s acquiescence in the Obama Administration’s increasingly drawn-out efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear bid through diplomacy or sanctions. But Israel’s restraint is measured in direct proportion to its sense that U.S. security guarantees are good. If Israel senses that the Administration is looking for any pretext to blow up relations, it will care much less how the U.S. might react to a military strike on Iran.

As we’ve noted here before, the Obami’s temper tantrum looks especially unwarranted given the particulars of this situation. (“Israeli anxieties about America’s role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won’t be assuaged by the Administration’s neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and can only be described as a ‘settlement’ in the maximalist terms defined by the Palestinians.”) Perhaps this is a pretext for regime change (i.e., to go after Bibi). Maybe this is the undisciplined and very thin-skinned Obami demonstrating their lack of professionalism. Or maybe this is par for the course — courting our enemies while squeezing our friends.

Whatever it is, it’s counterproductive. The Obami have made hash out of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.” Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.

And this certainly isn’t going to move the ball ahead on the “peace process.” As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News Sunday:

Why are there proximity talks instead of direct peace talks? Whose insistence is that? Netanyahu wants to have direct peace talks. That’s the Palestinians who already are saying we can’t have direct talks, we have to have only proximity talks. Then the U.S. wildly overreacts and now, of course, there are not even going to be proximity talks. So, fine. If that’s what the Obama administration wants, there won’t be these talks, which weren’t going anywhere anyway.

It’s difficult to see who could possibly be pleased with this performance — not skeptics of the peace process, not boosters of it, and certainly not the Israelis. For those enamored of processing peace, this must surely come as unwelcome news, for why would the Palestinians make any move at the bargaining table “when the international community continues to press for maximum concrete concessions from the Israelis in exchange for words more worthless than the air upon which they float away as soon as they’re uttered.” And as for the Palestinians, well they’re delighted to have a president so infatuated with their grievances. They’re once again learning the wrong lesson: fixation on settlements and obstruction gets them American support. What it won’t get them, of course, is their own state.

If they’re honest, those who vouched for Obama’s superior temperament and his pro-Israel bona fides must be embarrassed. For those of us who suspected that this president lacked a fundamental attachment to Israel, critical national-security experience, and a full appreciation for why we don’t have “peace” in the Middle East (it’s not housing sites, especially ones clearly within the Jewish state in any future two-state deal), there’s little comfort in saying, “We told you so.”

The Wall Street Journal‘s editors share many observers’ consternation over the Obami’s latest war of words with Israel. The editors note that engagement is all the rage when it comes to Syria but not when it comes to the Jewish state. On the flap over building in Jerusalem, they write:

In a speech at Tel Aviv University two days after the Israeli announcement, Mr. Biden publicly thanked Mr. Netanyahu for “putting in place a process to prevent the recurrence” of similar incidents.

The subsequent escalation by Mrs. Clinton was clearly intended as a highly public rebuke to the Israelis, but its political and strategic logic is puzzling. The U.S. needs Israel’s acquiescence in the Obama Administration’s increasingly drawn-out efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear bid through diplomacy or sanctions. But Israel’s restraint is measured in direct proportion to its sense that U.S. security guarantees are good. If Israel senses that the Administration is looking for any pretext to blow up relations, it will care much less how the U.S. might react to a military strike on Iran.

As we’ve noted here before, the Obami’s temper tantrum looks especially unwarranted given the particulars of this situation. (“Israeli anxieties about America’s role as an honest broker in any diplomacy won’t be assuaged by the Administration’s neuralgia over this particular housing project, which falls within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and can only be described as a ‘settlement’ in the maximalist terms defined by the Palestinians.”) Perhaps this is a pretext for regime change (i.e., to go after Bibi). Maybe this is the undisciplined and very thin-skinned Obami demonstrating their lack of professionalism. Or maybe this is par for the course — courting our enemies while squeezing our friends.

Whatever it is, it’s counterproductive. The Obami have made hash out of the U.S.-Israel relationship:

Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, has told the country’s diplomats there that U.S.-Israeli relations face their worst crisis in 35 years, despite attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to project a sense of “business as usual.” Oren was speaking to the Israeli consuls general in a conference call on Saturday night.

And this certainly isn’t going to move the ball ahead on the “peace process.” As Bill Kristol put it on Fox News Sunday:

Why are there proximity talks instead of direct peace talks? Whose insistence is that? Netanyahu wants to have direct peace talks. That’s the Palestinians who already are saying we can’t have direct talks, we have to have only proximity talks. Then the U.S. wildly overreacts and now, of course, there are not even going to be proximity talks. So, fine. If that’s what the Obama administration wants, there won’t be these talks, which weren’t going anywhere anyway.

It’s difficult to see who could possibly be pleased with this performance — not skeptics of the peace process, not boosters of it, and certainly not the Israelis. For those enamored of processing peace, this must surely come as unwelcome news, for why would the Palestinians make any move at the bargaining table “when the international community continues to press for maximum concrete concessions from the Israelis in exchange for words more worthless than the air upon which they float away as soon as they’re uttered.” And as for the Palestinians, well they’re delighted to have a president so infatuated with their grievances. They’re once again learning the wrong lesson: fixation on settlements and obstruction gets them American support. What it won’t get them, of course, is their own state.

If they’re honest, those who vouched for Obama’s superior temperament and his pro-Israel bona fides must be embarrassed. For those of us who suspected that this president lacked a fundamental attachment to Israel, critical national-security experience, and a full appreciation for why we don’t have “peace” in the Middle East (it’s not housing sites, especially ones clearly within the Jewish state in any future two-state deal), there’s little comfort in saying, “We told you so.”

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AIPAC Blasts Obama Administration

As unusual as it is for the ADL to weigh in on a controversial foreign-policy matter and blast an American administration, it is nearly unprecedented for AIPAC to do so. (Well, come to think of it, AIPAC blasted the Obami when they bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Mary Robinson, so perhaps we’ve reached a watershed with this administration, which seems bent on thumbing its nose at allies both domestic and international.) In a remarkable statement, AIPAC declared:

The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State. Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East. The foundation of the U.S-Israel relationship is rooted in America’s fundamental strategic interest, shared democratic values, and a long-time commitment to peace in the region. Those strategic interests, which we share with Israel, extend to every facet of American life and our relationship with the Jewish State, which enjoys vast bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people.

The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests. The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done with regard to the urgent issue of Iran’s rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.

We strongly urge the Administration to work closely and privately with our partner Israel, in a manner befitting strategic allies, to address any issues between the two governments.

As Vice President Biden said last week in Israel, “Progress in the Middle East occurs when there is no daylight between the United States and Israel.”

(A subsequent version of the statement, emphasizing that the Obami’s current temper tantrum is not consistent with the administration’s stated objectives, recited back Biden’s words, including his admonition during his visit: ”Bibi, you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel. There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”)

Translation: What are you people up to? To its credit, AIPAC took this unusual step because the administration seems blinded by its own peevishness and is no longer, frankly, acting in a rational matter. (To have remained silent would have signaled agreement by American pro-Israel voices with the administration’s gambit.) What is to be gained by the anti-Israel hectoring? Do the Obami think there’s domestic support for its war of words against Israel? The administration seems indifferent to these concerns and oblivious to the real damage it’s doing to both its relationship with Israel and with the American Jewish community, which seems finally to have reached its tolerance limit with the Obami. The latter largely have gotten a free pass from the American Jewish community for over a year and despite the administration’s unseriousness with regard to the looming Iranian nuclear threat and its declared effort to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel, in no small part because Jews have been the most loyal Obama supporters (and can therefore be taken for granted, one supposes). Let’s hope that this is a reminder that relationships cannot be taken for granted — either here or abroad.

As unusual as it is for the ADL to weigh in on a controversial foreign-policy matter and blast an American administration, it is nearly unprecedented for AIPAC to do so. (Well, come to think of it, AIPAC blasted the Obami when they bestowed the Medal of Freedom on Mary Robinson, so perhaps we’ve reached a watershed with this administration, which seems bent on thumbing its nose at allies both domestic and international.) In a remarkable statement, AIPAC declared:

The Obama Administration’s recent statements regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern. AIPAC calls on the Administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State. Israel is America’s closest ally in the Middle East. The foundation of the U.S-Israel relationship is rooted in America’s fundamental strategic interest, shared democratic values, and a long-time commitment to peace in the region. Those strategic interests, which we share with Israel, extend to every facet of American life and our relationship with the Jewish State, which enjoys vast bipartisan support in Congress and among the American people.

The Administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests. The escalated rhetoric of recent days only serves as a distraction from the substantive work that needs to be done with regard to the urgent issue of Iran’s rapid pursuit of nuclear weapons, and the pursuit of peace between Israel and all her Arab neighbors.

We strongly urge the Administration to work closely and privately with our partner Israel, in a manner befitting strategic allies, to address any issues between the two governments.

As Vice President Biden said last week in Israel, “Progress in the Middle East occurs when there is no daylight between the United States and Israel.”

(A subsequent version of the statement, emphasizing that the Obami’s current temper tantrum is not consistent with the administration’s stated objectives, recited back Biden’s words, including his admonition during his visit: ”Bibi, you heard me say before, progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel. There is no space between the United States and Israel when it comes to Israel’s security.”)

Translation: What are you people up to? To its credit, AIPAC took this unusual step because the administration seems blinded by its own peevishness and is no longer, frankly, acting in a rational matter. (To have remained silent would have signaled agreement by American pro-Israel voices with the administration’s gambit.) What is to be gained by the anti-Israel hectoring? Do the Obami think there’s domestic support for its war of words against Israel? The administration seems indifferent to these concerns and oblivious to the real damage it’s doing to both its relationship with Israel and with the American Jewish community, which seems finally to have reached its tolerance limit with the Obami. The latter largely have gotten a free pass from the American Jewish community for over a year and despite the administration’s unseriousness with regard to the looming Iranian nuclear threat and its declared effort to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel, in no small part because Jews have been the most loyal Obama supporters (and can therefore be taken for granted, one supposes). Let’s hope that this is a reminder that relationships cannot be taken for granted — either here or abroad.

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It Gets Worse

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them. And what is the affront? Well, for some context, this report is enlightening:

The Likud Party’s Danny Dadon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called Clinton’s “meddling in internal Israeli decisions regarding the development” of Jerusalem “uninvited and unhelpful. In fact it is sheer chutzpah.”

“I cannot remember another time that a senior American official deemed it ‘insulting’ when a sovereign nation announced urban zoning decisions regarding its primary city,” Dadon said.

In the past, U.S. administrations have tended to more gently chide Israel on construction in Jerusalem that is over the “Green Line” boundary from the 1967 war, in areas where the Palestinians hope to build a capital as part of a future peace deal. More often, U.S. officials would call such construction “unhelpful,” and note that the future of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in final status negotiations between the parties.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ – ”personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, now a Senate candidate, issued this statement as the mess unfolded last week:

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said.  “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement.  History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths.  I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.  As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

And that really sums it up: what end is served by this conflagration with an ally, and what does it say about the administration’s priorities? The Obami seem to have a strange notion about what motivates our foes and what the key threats to American security are. This exchange with Jake Tapper is telling — both for how extraordinarily irrational and how ill-formulated the administration’s rhetoric has become:

TAPPER:  All right, last question.  Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem.  President Obama was said to be very upset about it.  Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it.  Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk?  And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD:  Well, look, what happened there was an affront.  It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing.  What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process.  We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally.  The bonds run deep.  But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.  That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president.  I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER:  I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD:  I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.  But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

A squirrely response at the end, revealing that much of what the administration says is irrational and, upon any reflection, ridiculous. It is disturbing indeed to hear an American administration adopt the Arab rhetorical line — Israel’s settlements endanger Americans. Which president has ever given voice to such rubbish? There is, regrettably, a first for everything.

The White House is, as this report suggests, upping the ante with continued criticism of Israel. Taking to the morning talk shows, David Axelrod — a political operative who now seems at the center of foreign-policy formulation (more on this later) — went on the Fox, ABC, and NBC Sunday talk shows to repeat how insulted the Obami were over Israeli building in Jerusalem and what an affront this was to them. And what is the affront? Well, for some context, this report is enlightening:

The Likud Party’s Danny Dadon, deputy speaker of the Knesset, called Clinton’s “meddling in internal Israeli decisions regarding the development” of Jerusalem “uninvited and unhelpful. In fact it is sheer chutzpah.”

“I cannot remember another time that a senior American official deemed it ‘insulting’ when a sovereign nation announced urban zoning decisions regarding its primary city,” Dadon said.

In the past, U.S. administrations have tended to more gently chide Israel on construction in Jerusalem that is over the “Green Line” boundary from the 1967 war, in areas where the Palestinians hope to build a capital as part of a future peace deal. More often, U.S. officials would call such construction “unhelpful,” and note that the future of Jerusalem is an issue to be decided in final status negotiations between the parties.

The reaction of the Obami is even more startling considering the location and strategic importance of Ramat Shlomo. But this administration doesn’t make such fine distinctions and is not like past ones, we are learning. It might have something to do with the fact that Axelrod and the Chicago pols are running foreign policy. It’s attack, attack, attack — just as they do any domestic critic (even the Supreme Court Chief Justice). It’s about bullying and discrediting, trying to force the opponent into a corner. And in this case, their opponent is plainly the Israeli government. For that is the party the Obami is now demanding make further concessions to… well, to what end is not clear. Perhaps we are back to regime change — an effort to topple the duly elected government of Israel to obtain a negotiating partner more willing to yield to American bullying.

The language the Obami employ – ”personal,” “insulting,” and “affront” – suggests an unusual degree of personal peevishness and hostility toward an ally. That, I suppose, is the mentality of Chicago pols and of those who regard Israel not as a valued friend but as an irritant. And it is the language not of negotiators but of intimidators.

Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, now a Senate candidate, issued this statement as the mess unfolded last week:

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the Jerusalem Embassy Act, making it official United States policy that Jerusalem should remain the undivided capital of Israel,” Congressman Kirk said.  “As a staff member, I helped draft this historic legislation; as a Congressman I continue to urge its enforcement.  History teaches us that a divided Jerusalem leads to conflict while a unified Jerusalem protects the rights of all faiths.  I urge the Administration to spend more time working to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs and less time concerned with zoning issues in Jerusalem.  As Iran accelerates its uranium enrichment, we should not be condemning one of America’s strongest democratic allies in the Middle East.

And that really sums it up: what end is served by this conflagration with an ally, and what does it say about the administration’s priorities? The Obami seem to have a strange notion about what motivates our foes and what the key threats to American security are. This exchange with Jake Tapper is telling — both for how extraordinarily irrational and how ill-formulated the administration’s rhetoric has become:

TAPPER:  All right, last question.  Vice President Biden went to Israel this week and he was greeted by a slap in the face, the announcement by the Israeli government of the approval of new housing units in an Arab section of Jerusalem.  President Obama was said to be very upset about it.  Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Clinton made very strong comments about it.  Will there be any consequences, tangible consequences beyond the tough talk?  And does Israel’s intransigence on the housing issue put the lives of U.S. troops at risk?

AXELROD:  Well, look, what happened there was an affront.  It was an insult, but that’s not the most important thing.  What it did was it made more difficult a very difficult process.  We’ve just gotten proximity, so-called proximity talks going between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and this seemed calculated to undermine that, and that was — that was distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of peace — and security in the region.

Israel is a strong and special ally.  The bonds run deep.  But for just that very reason, this was not the right way to behave.  That was expressed by the secretary of state, as well as the vice president.  I am not going to discuss what diplomatic talks we’ve had underneath that, but I think the Israelis understand clearly why we were upset and what, you know, what we want moving forward.

TAPPER:  I hate to say this, but yes or no, David, does the intransigence of the Israeli government on the housing issue, yes or no, does it put U.S. troops lives at risk?

AXELROD:  I believe that that region and that issue is a flare point throughout the region, and so I’m not going to put it in those terms.  But I do believe that it is absolutely imperative, not just for the security of Israel and the Palestinian people, who were, remember, at war just a year ago, but it is important for our own security that we move forward and resolve this very difficult issue.

A squirrely response at the end, revealing that much of what the administration says is irrational and, upon any reflection, ridiculous. It is disturbing indeed to hear an American administration adopt the Arab rhetorical line — Israel’s settlements endanger Americans. Which president has ever given voice to such rubbish? There is, regrettably, a first for everything.

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RE: A New Low

Reaction to the administration’s war of words against the Israeli government is starting to come in. The ADL, which rarely weighs in publicly on such matters and even more rarely chastises an American president, blasted the Obama administration with a statement declaring:

We are shocked and stunned at the Administration’s tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Jerusalem.   We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States.  One can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians in the hope they see it is in their interest to return to the negotiating table.

It is especially troubling that this harsh statement came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly and privately explained to Vice President Biden the bureaucratic nature in making the announcement of proposed new building in Jerusalem, and Biden accepted the prime minister’s apology for it.  Therefore, to raise the issue again in this way is a gross overreaction to a point of policy difference among friends.

The Administration should have confidence and trust in Israel whose tireless pursuit for peace is repeatedly rebuffed by the Palestinians and whose interests remain in line with the United States.

Other Jewish organizations have yet to weigh in, although it is Shabbat, and in any event, many will want to take the temperature of their members. Nevertheless, it seems inconceivable that Jewish organizations can remain silent in the face of this unprecedented offensive by the administration. Silence on this one is complicity.

One Congressman has already weighed in. Congressman Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) today issued the following statement:

“I call on President Obama to censure Secretary Clinton’s rebuke of Prime Minister Netanyahu and reaffirm our longstanding friendship with Israel. Past U.S. administrations have recognized the unique relationship between Israel and the United States and made support for Israel a cornerstone of our foreign policy. The United States has a moral and strategic obligation to support this beacon of democracy in the Middle East. For the Obama administration to question the internal decisions of one of our closest allies is both disrespectful and unhelpful. Prime Minister Netanyahu has the authority and responsibility to care for the people of Israel, and it is inappropriate for Secretary Clinton to openly question these decisions. I hope her statements do not weaken the vital U.S.-Israel relationship. Any attempt to cut or restrict military aid to Israel by the administration would severely damage both U.S. and Israeli security. And any effort to cut aid would lead to fierce resistance in Congress.”

Well, let’s be clear — this comes straight from the White House. As the media reported, a special point was made to convey the president’s anger over the situation. Things have certainly gotten out of hand. Let’s see how long it takes the White House to begin to walk this back. After all, to what end are all the angry words and attacks? Certainly no proximity talks are imaginable under such circumstances, at least not ones in which there is any plausible purpose.  There is nothing to be gained by the administration and much to be lost by keeping this up.

Reaction to the administration’s war of words against the Israeli government is starting to come in. The ADL, which rarely weighs in publicly on such matters and even more rarely chastises an American president, blasted the Obama administration with a statement declaring:

We are shocked and stunned at the Administration’s tone and public dressing down of Israel on the issue of future building in Jerusalem.   We cannot remember an instance when such harsh language was directed at a friend and ally of the United States.  One can only wonder how far the U.S. is prepared to go in distancing itself from Israel in order to placate the Palestinians in the hope they see it is in their interest to return to the negotiating table.

It is especially troubling that this harsh statement came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly and privately explained to Vice President Biden the bureaucratic nature in making the announcement of proposed new building in Jerusalem, and Biden accepted the prime minister’s apology for it.  Therefore, to raise the issue again in this way is a gross overreaction to a point of policy difference among friends.

The Administration should have confidence and trust in Israel whose tireless pursuit for peace is repeatedly rebuffed by the Palestinians and whose interests remain in line with the United States.

Other Jewish organizations have yet to weigh in, although it is Shabbat, and in any event, many will want to take the temperature of their members. Nevertheless, it seems inconceivable that Jewish organizations can remain silent in the face of this unprecedented offensive by the administration. Silence on this one is complicity.

One Congressman has already weighed in. Congressman Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) today issued the following statement:

“I call on President Obama to censure Secretary Clinton’s rebuke of Prime Minister Netanyahu and reaffirm our longstanding friendship with Israel. Past U.S. administrations have recognized the unique relationship between Israel and the United States and made support for Israel a cornerstone of our foreign policy. The United States has a moral and strategic obligation to support this beacon of democracy in the Middle East. For the Obama administration to question the internal decisions of one of our closest allies is both disrespectful and unhelpful. Prime Minister Netanyahu has the authority and responsibility to care for the people of Israel, and it is inappropriate for Secretary Clinton to openly question these decisions. I hope her statements do not weaken the vital U.S.-Israel relationship. Any attempt to cut or restrict military aid to Israel by the administration would severely damage both U.S. and Israeli security. And any effort to cut aid would lead to fierce resistance in Congress.”

Well, let’s be clear — this comes straight from the White House. As the media reported, a special point was made to convey the president’s anger over the situation. Things have certainly gotten out of hand. Let’s see how long it takes the White House to begin to walk this back. After all, to what end are all the angry words and attacks? Certainly no proximity talks are imaginable under such circumstances, at least not ones in which there is any plausible purpose.  There is nothing to be gained by the administration and much to be lost by keeping this up.

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A New Low

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.

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.

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