Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mitchell

What Do the Obami Believe? What Should We?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Obama’s Anti-Israel Bullying Continues

The New York Times reports on the opening of the proximity talks, with two nuggets of news confirming that for all its “charm,” the Obami’s anti-Israel assault is going full steam ahead.

First, the Times — presumably with some sourcing — pronounces that “many experts agree that the chances of a breakthrough are minuscule, and some say the whole exercise is simply a warm-up before Mr. Obama puts forward his own proposals for ending decades of conflict.”  Some say? But the president and Hillary Clinton of late have been promising they won’t “impose” any peace deal. Are we to believe that’s just spin? Yes, we’re shocked, shocked to find there’s duplicity going on in the Obami’s Israel policy. We are, no doubt, going to hear that they gave the parties every chance to work things out among themselves, but, by gosh, now it’s time to get serious and — voila! — here’s the Obama plan. But they promised not to pull this, you say? Well, they also say a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable,” so don’t take them too literally.

But the real news comes with this glimpse into the bully-boyism that now characterizes the Obami’s treatment of our ally. We learn:

The Arab League is expected to endorse the decision of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to return to the bargaining table, when the organization meets on Saturday in Cairo. Mr. Abbas’s change of heart, administration officials said, came after reassurances from the United States, including a letter from Mr. Obama prodding the Palestinian leader to re-enter talks with Israel. Separately, these officials said, Mr. Mitchell’s deputy, David Hale, indicated to the Palestinians that if Israel proceeded with the construction of 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, the United States would abstain from, rather than veto, a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning the move.

So much for defending Israel in international institutions, and so much for past promises by the U.S. to leave disposition of Jerusalem to final-status talks. A knowledgeable source reminds me that the Bush administration regularly vetoed anti-Israel UN resolutions, the sole exception being an abstention in January 2009, which called for a ceasefire in the Gaza War. But the notion that we would threaten prospectively to permit a condemnation of  the Jewish state by the UN Israel-bashers is frankly shocking. We’ll abstain no matter what the UN says? As the source tells me, “Resolutions are vetoed one by one; language counts.” So the Obami are either making a promise to the Palestinians that can’t be relied upon, or the Obami are giving Israel’s UN foes a blank check to bash, condemn, and vilify Israel to their heart’s content.

Once again, one asks, where are the mainstream Jewish organizations? Do they find Obama’s platitudinous assurances and pretty letters so irresistible that they can’t bestir themselves to discern the true nature of Obama’s Middle East policy? The evidence continues to mount that Obama will keep turning the screws on the Jewish state and will countenance, if not encourage, the UN’s crusade to delegitimize Israel and impose a “peace” on an unwilling ally. American Jewish “leaders” better rouse themselves from their slumber before it too late to knock the Obami off their desired course. Or maybe it already is.

The New York Times reports on the opening of the proximity talks, with two nuggets of news confirming that for all its “charm,” the Obami’s anti-Israel assault is going full steam ahead.

First, the Times — presumably with some sourcing — pronounces that “many experts agree that the chances of a breakthrough are minuscule, and some say the whole exercise is simply a warm-up before Mr. Obama puts forward his own proposals for ending decades of conflict.”  Some say? But the president and Hillary Clinton of late have been promising they won’t “impose” any peace deal. Are we to believe that’s just spin? Yes, we’re shocked, shocked to find there’s duplicity going on in the Obami’s Israel policy. We are, no doubt, going to hear that they gave the parties every chance to work things out among themselves, but, by gosh, now it’s time to get serious and — voila! — here’s the Obama plan. But they promised not to pull this, you say? Well, they also say a nuclear-armed Iran is “unacceptable,” so don’t take them too literally.

But the real news comes with this glimpse into the bully-boyism that now characterizes the Obami’s treatment of our ally. We learn:

The Arab League is expected to endorse the decision of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to return to the bargaining table, when the organization meets on Saturday in Cairo. Mr. Abbas’s change of heart, administration officials said, came after reassurances from the United States, including a letter from Mr. Obama prodding the Palestinian leader to re-enter talks with Israel. Separately, these officials said, Mr. Mitchell’s deputy, David Hale, indicated to the Palestinians that if Israel proceeded with the construction of 1,600 housing units in Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, the United States would abstain from, rather than veto, a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning the move.

So much for defending Israel in international institutions, and so much for past promises by the U.S. to leave disposition of Jerusalem to final-status talks. A knowledgeable source reminds me that the Bush administration regularly vetoed anti-Israel UN resolutions, the sole exception being an abstention in January 2009, which called for a ceasefire in the Gaza War. But the notion that we would threaten prospectively to permit a condemnation of  the Jewish state by the UN Israel-bashers is frankly shocking. We’ll abstain no matter what the UN says? As the source tells me, “Resolutions are vetoed one by one; language counts.” So the Obami are either making a promise to the Palestinians that can’t be relied upon, or the Obami are giving Israel’s UN foes a blank check to bash, condemn, and vilify Israel to their heart’s content.

Once again, one asks, where are the mainstream Jewish organizations? Do they find Obama’s platitudinous assurances and pretty letters so irresistible that they can’t bestir themselves to discern the true nature of Obama’s Middle East policy? The evidence continues to mount that Obama will keep turning the screws on the Jewish state and will countenance, if not encourage, the UN’s crusade to delegitimize Israel and impose a “peace” on an unwilling ally. American Jewish “leaders” better rouse themselves from their slumber before it too late to knock the Obami off their desired course. Or maybe it already is.

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Hillary Announces Proximity Talks

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

In remarks on Friday with the Kuwati Deputy Prime Minister, Hillary Clinton repeated her wishy-washy talking point on Iran:

I also updated the deputy prime minister on our ongoing efforts, along with our international partners, to secure a United Nations Security Council resolution on Iran. We discussed the importance of diplomatic efforts to encourage Iran to abide by its international nuclear obligations. On Monday, I will attend the conference in New York reviewing the Nonproliferation Treaty and we will be underscoring once again the importance of all nations upholding their responsibilities.

Good grief — could she sound any less serious about thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions? (Notice how nonproliferation meetings are used as camouflage to hide the utter lack of progress on the proliferation issue which is most urgent.) Later in the news conference, she adds: “We are working to isolate Iran through the United Nations. We’re in the midst of negotiations over a Security Council resolution that will impose consequences on Iran for its unwillingness to follow the IAEA or the United Nations Security Council requirements about its nuclear program. We are working to support the defense and territorial integrity of our partners and allies in the Gulf, and we consult closely.” You think that induces fear in Tehran? No, me neither.

Then she moves on to the “peace process” with her usual pablum. (“As I said last night at the American Jewish Committee, the Middle East will never realize its full potential, Israel will never be truly secure, the Palestinians will never have their legitimate aspiration for a state, unless we create the circumstances in which positive negotiations can occur.”) She announces that next week, after fifteen months, the Obami have been able to get the Palestinians to not talk directly to Israel. (Yes, this is a step backward from the Bush administration, which at least managed to force the parties into fruitless face-to-face talks.) She announces: “We will be starting with proximity talks next week. Senator Mitchell will be going back to the region. And we look forward to the meeting of the Arab follow-up committee in Cairo tomorrow night to support the commitment by President Abbas to move forward with these talks.”

Then, perhaps sensing this is indeed thin gruel and less than other administrations have achieved, she adds: “Ultimately, we want to see the parties in direct negotiations and working out all the difficult issues that they must – they’ve been close a few times before. I remember very well the Camp David experience, and I know that President Abbas negotiated with former Prime Minister Olmert. So we are looking to see the resumption of those discussions.” In other words: for all their smart diplomacy, the Obami have managed to set back the “peace process” by more than a decade.

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Around and Around Foggy Bottom

At the State Department briefing, one sometimes gets the sense it’s Abbott and Costello time (“Who’s on First?”). Reporters on Tuesday tried in vain to get answers to two questions: have the Obami thrown in the towel on the Jerusalem housing issue and have proximity talks actually begun. You can read the transcript in full and not find an answer. A sample of the questioning gives you the sense the Obami would just rather not talk about much of anything right now.

On the housing issue:

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday in her speech to AIPAC, Secretary Clinton said that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — but we’ll just confine ourselves to Jerusalem here — was — did not help; it damaged the credibility of both the peace process and also the credibility of the United States as a mediator. Several hours after she spoke and after she met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he addressed the same crowd and said that Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital. He said that Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so.

What gives here? Where is — is there any attempt to reconcile these positions or have you just — have you guys just decided that they win and you’ll agree to disagree on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are continuing our discussions with Israeli officials and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’ll meet President Obama later this afternoon. We understand that Jerusalem is deeply important to Israelis and Palestinians, and to Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. We believe it’s possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all parties in Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

Without getting into the specifics of our ongoing conversations with the prime minister or with Israeli officials, we’ve raised our concerns with them. Jerusalem is one of those issues. The prime minister has responded to our concerns. During the course of our dialogue over the past two weeks, he has added some thoughts of his own in terms of how we can create an atmosphere of trust and move the proximity talks forward, address the substance, including Jerusalem. It’s a final status issue. The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims on the future of Jerusalem is to get to direct negotiations.

We’re not putting any preconditions on this. Our task at the present time is to get the parties — get the proximity talks moving forward, get the parties into direct negotiations, putting the substance on the table, and finding a just resolution that ultimately reaches a peace agreement. That is our ongoing effort, and that conversation and that effort will continue this afternoon at the White House.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he was extremely emphatic, so I’m a little suspicious about whether this response that he gave to the Secretary contained anything in it that you would like — that you actually want to see done. I mean, how can you convince us that, in fact, progress is being made when he basically said last night that he’s taking your suggestion on East Jerusalem and said thanks but no thanks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Israeli Government has a policy, but we also have a point of view that Jerusalem is a final status issue. And we look forward to addressing these issues first within the proximity talks, moving to direct negotiations. Ultimately, the future of Jerusalem can only be resolved through the direct negotiations that we hope will get started as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: And you don’t see him — you don’t see what he said last night, and not just in the comments that I quoted, but in others, as that Israel does not agree that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think at one point the prime minister also added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We — and we disagree with that. And that Jerusalem is a –

QUESTION: So is that the bottom line here?

MR. CROWLEY: — is a final status issue. It’s a city of significant importance to multiple communities. The issues surrounding the future of Jerusalem as part of this process can only be resolved through direct negotiations, and the sooner we get there, the better.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you have agreed to disagree on this specific issue?

MR. CROWLEY: We are continuing our discussions.

And that’s not even the end of the ping-pong match. Hmm. Sounds like the Obami would rather move on — after they blew up Israel-U.S. relations, sunk Obama’ approval in Israel, and gave Palestinians the idea that there is plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

OK, so have proximity talks begun? Here we go:

QUESTION: P.J., we’ve gone back and forth even as long as 10 days ago on whether the proximity talks had started formally or not started. And now we’ve had the interruption, the Quartet meeting, and yet Mitchell’s — Senator Mitchell’s gone back and had meetings with both sides. Is it your contention that the proximity talks are ongoing or they’re yet to be resumed? What’s the way to phrase it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are looking to make progress through proximity talks, and that is the focus of our effort.

QUESTION: Well, are they ongoing or are they yet to start?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, let’s go back to — the proximity talks are a means to an end. And the first step is proximity talks. The second step is direct negotiations. Hopefully, the end result is a peace agreement that ends the conflict. What we want to see through the proximity talks are to see the parties begin to tackle the substance, to tackle the core issues at the heart of the process. That has not started yet. So we hope to resume that, but before we can, obviously we need to make sure that there’s an atmosphere of trust, so that when those proximity talks begin to address the substance, they will be productive. …

QUESTION: Because, to be honest with you, P.J., and during the last administration we were constantly told that Annapolis was yielding results, that everything was — and they were, oh, just trust us. Yes, it’s happening. Well, it went nowhere. Why should we believe either government this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. Look, I mean, there is a simple pass/fail test here.

QUESTION: And where do you think you’ve gotten on that right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can I – give me a chance, Matt. All right, the proximity talks are not an end to themselves. The proximity talks —

QUESTION: But you haven’t gotten proximity talks yet.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to switch places?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) I just want to — if you can’t — there’s a simple answer, which is why keep this stuff secret? Why keep it secret?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it can be a straightforward answer if I can get it out.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll shut up.

Well, if you can’t even tell whether proximity talks have begun, then there’s no way to tell whether they’re working. It’s increasingly hard for reasonable people to say with a straight face that any of this is producing anything of value. Well, other than the daily dose of farce from Foggy Bottom.

At the State Department briefing, one sometimes gets the sense it’s Abbott and Costello time (“Who’s on First?”). Reporters on Tuesday tried in vain to get answers to two questions: have the Obami thrown in the towel on the Jerusalem housing issue and have proximity talks actually begun. You can read the transcript in full and not find an answer. A sample of the questioning gives you the sense the Obami would just rather not talk about much of anything right now.

On the housing issue:

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday in her speech to AIPAC, Secretary Clinton said that Israeli construction in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — but we’ll just confine ourselves to Jerusalem here — was — did not help; it damaged the credibility of both the peace process and also the credibility of the United States as a mediator. Several hours after she spoke and after she met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he addressed the same crowd and said that Jerusalem is not a settlement, it’s our capital. He said that Jews have been building in Jerusalem for 3,000 years and would continue to do so.

What gives here? Where is — is there any attempt to reconcile these positions or have you just — have you guys just decided that they win and you’ll agree to disagree on this?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we are continuing our discussions with Israeli officials and with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He’ll meet President Obama later this afternoon. We understand that Jerusalem is deeply important to Israelis and Palestinians, and to Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. We believe it’s possible to reach an outcome that both realizes the aspirations of all parties in Jerusalem and safeguards its status for the future.

Without getting into the specifics of our ongoing conversations with the prime minister or with Israeli officials, we’ve raised our concerns with them. Jerusalem is one of those issues. The prime minister has responded to our concerns. During the course of our dialogue over the past two weeks, he has added some thoughts of his own in terms of how we can create an atmosphere of trust and move the proximity talks forward, address the substance, including Jerusalem. It’s a final status issue. The only way to ultimately resolve competing claims on the future of Jerusalem is to get to direct negotiations.

We’re not putting any preconditions on this. Our task at the present time is to get the parties — get the proximity talks moving forward, get the parties into direct negotiations, putting the substance on the table, and finding a just resolution that ultimately reaches a peace agreement. That is our ongoing effort, and that conversation and that effort will continue this afternoon at the White House.

QUESTION: Yeah, but he was extremely emphatic, so I’m a little suspicious about whether this response that he gave to the Secretary contained anything in it that you would like — that you actually want to see done. I mean, how can you convince us that, in fact, progress is being made when he basically said last night that he’s taking your suggestion on East Jerusalem and said thanks but no thanks?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the Israeli Government has a policy, but we also have a point of view that Jerusalem is a final status issue. And we look forward to addressing these issues first within the proximity talks, moving to direct negotiations. Ultimately, the future of Jerusalem can only be resolved through the direct negotiations that we hope will get started as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: And you don’t see him — you don’t see what he said last night, and not just in the comments that I quoted, but in others, as that Israel does not agree that Jerusalem is a final status issue?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think at one point the prime minister also added that he did not see a distinction necessarily between in Jerusalem and building in Tel Aviv. We — and we disagree with that. And that Jerusalem is a –

QUESTION: So is that the bottom line here?

MR. CROWLEY: — is a final status issue. It’s a city of significant importance to multiple communities. The issues surrounding the future of Jerusalem as part of this process can only be resolved through direct negotiations, and the sooner we get there, the better.

QUESTION: So the bottom line is you have agreed to disagree on this specific issue?

MR. CROWLEY: We are continuing our discussions.

And that’s not even the end of the ping-pong match. Hmm. Sounds like the Obami would rather move on — after they blew up Israel-U.S. relations, sunk Obama’ approval in Israel, and gave Palestinians the idea that there is plenty of daylight between the U.S. and Israel.

OK, so have proximity talks begun? Here we go:

QUESTION: P.J., we’ve gone back and forth even as long as 10 days ago on whether the proximity talks had started formally or not started. And now we’ve had the interruption, the Quartet meeting, and yet Mitchell’s — Senator Mitchell’s gone back and had meetings with both sides. Is it your contention that the proximity talks are ongoing or they’re yet to be resumed? What’s the way to phrase it?

MR. CROWLEY: We are looking to make progress through proximity talks, and that is the focus of our effort.

QUESTION: Well, are they ongoing or are they yet to start?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, again, let’s go back to — the proximity talks are a means to an end. And the first step is proximity talks. The second step is direct negotiations. Hopefully, the end result is a peace agreement that ends the conflict. What we want to see through the proximity talks are to see the parties begin to tackle the substance, to tackle the core issues at the heart of the process. That has not started yet. So we hope to resume that, but before we can, obviously we need to make sure that there’s an atmosphere of trust, so that when those proximity talks begin to address the substance, they will be productive. …

QUESTION: Because, to be honest with you, P.J., and during the last administration we were constantly told that Annapolis was yielding results, that everything was — and they were, oh, just trust us. Yes, it’s happening. Well, it went nowhere. Why should we believe either government this time?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, no. Look, I mean, there is a simple pass/fail test here.

QUESTION: And where do you think you’ve gotten on that right now?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, all right, can I – give me a chance, Matt. All right, the proximity talks are not an end to themselves. The proximity talks —

QUESTION: But you haven’t gotten proximity talks yet.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Right?

MR. CROWLEY: Do you want to switch places?

QUESTION: No. (Laughter.) I just want to — if you can’t — there’s a simple answer, which is why keep this stuff secret? Why keep it secret?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, it can be a straightforward answer if I can get it out.

QUESTION: All right. I’ll shut up.

Well, if you can’t even tell whether proximity talks have begun, then there’s no way to tell whether they’re working. It’s increasingly hard for reasonable people to say with a straight face that any of this is producing anything of value. Well, other than the daily dose of farce from Foggy Bottom.

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A Lie: David Petraeus, Anti-Israel

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” As if to illustrate the point, consider the misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus. I already knocked down one fallacious Web item written by terrorist groupie Mark Perry on Foreign Policy’s web site. The meme has also been refuted by other Foreign Policy contributors.

But Media Matters, the far-Left activist group founded by David Brock, continues to peddle this twaddle. Its website proclaims: “On The Middle East: It’s Palin vs. Petraeus & New Poll.” They quote statements made by Sarah Palin supportive of Israel and critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to pressure Israel on West Bank settlements and then gleefully proclaim: “But that isn’t how Petraeus sees it.” The item goes on:

Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas….”

Actually, that’s not what Petraeus said. Rather, it’s pulled from the 56-page Central Command “Posture Statement” filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee. A better indication of what is on the general’s mind is what he actually said. If you check the transcript of the hearing (available on Federal News Service) you will find that he doesn’t mention Israel or its settlements in his opening statement, which provides an overview of the most pressing issues that he sees affecting his Area of Responsibility. He talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, information operations, and cyberspace — but not Israel. The only time Israel came up was when Senator McCain asked Petraeus for his views. Here is what Petraeus said, in its entirety:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. It’s one reason, again, we invite Senator Mitchell to brief all of the different conferences that we host, and seek to support him in any way that we can when he’s in the Central Command part of the region, just as we support Lieutenant General Dayton, who is supporting the training of the Palestinian security forces from a location that is in the CENTCOM AOR as well.

And in fact, although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and — you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to — we have never — I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this — which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.

Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area. And that really is about the extent of our involvement in that, Senator.

So there you have it. General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. In fact, his view, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that settlements are only “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

I doubt that Sarah Palin would disagree.

Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.” As if to illustrate the point, consider the misleading commentary that continues to emerge, attributing anti-Israeli sentiment to Gen. David Petraeus. I already knocked down one fallacious Web item written by terrorist groupie Mark Perry on Foreign Policy’s web site. The meme has also been refuted by other Foreign Policy contributors.

But Media Matters, the far-Left activist group founded by David Brock, continues to peddle this twaddle. Its website proclaims: “On The Middle East: It’s Palin vs. Petraeus & New Poll.” They quote statements made by Sarah Palin supportive of Israel and critical of the Obama administration’s attempts to pressure Israel on West Bank settlements and then gleefully proclaim: “But that isn’t how Petraeus sees it.” The item goes on:

Speaking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Petraeus said:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests… Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples in the [region] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilize support. The conflict also gives Iran influence in the Arab world through its clients, Lebanese Hizballah and Hamas….”

Actually, that’s not what Petraeus said. Rather, it’s pulled from the 56-page Central Command “Posture Statement” filed by his staff with the Senate Armed Services Committee. A better indication of what is on the general’s mind is what he actually said. If you check the transcript of the hearing (available on Federal News Service) you will find that he doesn’t mention Israel or its settlements in his opening statement, which provides an overview of the most pressing issues that he sees affecting his Area of Responsibility. He talks about Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Iran, information operations, and cyberspace — but not Israel. The only time Israel came up was when Senator McCain asked Petraeus for his views. Here is what Petraeus said, in its entirety:

We keep a very close eye on what goes on there [in Israel and the West Bank and Gaza Strip], because of the impact that it has, obviously, on that part of CENTCOM that is the Arab world, if you will. And in fact, we’ve urged at various times that this is a critical component. It’s one reason, again, we invite Senator Mitchell to brief all of the different conferences that we host, and seek to support him in any way that we can when he’s in the Central Command part of the region, just as we support Lieutenant General Dayton, who is supporting the training of the Palestinian security forces from a location that is in the CENTCOM AOR as well.

And in fact, although some staff members have, various times, and I have discussed and — you know, asking for the Palestinian territories or something like that to be added to — we have never — I have never made that a formal recommendation for the Unified Command Plan, and that was not in what I submitted this year. Nor have I sent a memo to the White House on any of this — which some of this was in the press, so I welcome the opportunity to point that out.

Again, clearly, the tensions, the issues and so forth have an enormous effect. They set the strategic context within which we operate in the Central Command area of responsibility. My thrust has generally been, literally, just to say — to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about, and indeed get a sense of progress moving forward in the overall peace process, because of the effect that it has on particularly what I think you would term the moderate governments in our area. And that really is about the extent of our involvement in that, Senator.

So there you have it. General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem. In fact, his view, as I mentioned in my earlier post, is that settlements are only “one of many issues, among which also is the unwillingness to recognize Israel and the unwillingness to confront the extremists who threaten Israelis.”

I doubt that Sarah Palin would disagree.

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Obama Isolated

More and more Democrats are stepping forward to slap down the Obami. Among the more terse was from Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum. Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.” Among the more eloquent was Rep. Eliot Engel from the House floor:

We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.

The relationship remains rock solid. The Obama administration and the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu have been cooperating on a number of things: containing Iran, the Goldstone Report, and making sure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region. And there has been good cooperation between our two administrations, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration. But to seem to question the very nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to put it in personal terms in a very public way will not contribute to peace in the Middle East. Rather, it’s the contrary. It will cause the Palestinians to dig in their heels, thinking that the Americans can just deliver the Israelis.

Last year, when there was public pressure being put on Israel not to expand settlements, there was no simultaneous public pressure being put on the Palestinians, and we saw that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just sat back, didn’t make any concessions, didn’t say that he would do anything positively to further peace talks, and just thought that the United States would wring concessions out of Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been welcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis have said they would sit down and have face-to-face talks for peace with the Palestinians. That’s what you do when you have peace. Instead, the Palestinians have refused to sit with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell is proposing to shuttle back and forth between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to have negotiations, but not direct negotiations.

We need to be careful. If we criticize Israel for doing what we think was wrong, then we need to also criticize the Palestinians when they do things wrong. Just recently, the Palestinians named a square in Ramallah for a terrorist who killed 30-some-odd Israelis. I didn’t hear any criticism of the Palestinian side. When the Palestinians dig in their heels and say they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I didn’t hear any criticism of Palestinians.

Let me say that harsh words are never a replacement for working together, but I think that harsh words can sometimes make us understand that only by working together can we confront the things that we both know need to be confronted–the scourge of terrorism, the thing that all nations understand emanates in the Middle East from radical forces, and those are the kinds of fights that Israel has every single day fighting terrorism. We learned about terrorism on this soil on 9/11. Israel has to deal with it every day.

So all I am saying, Madam Speaker, is that we need to not only reaffirm the strength of our ties between our two countries, but we also need to understand that in a relationship between friends, as in family, there will be some disagreements. We need to be careful about how we voice those disagreements in public.

Let’s put it another way: not a single Republican or Democratic official has come forward to defend the administration. J Street cheers them on, as one can imagine from the never-enough-venom-directed-to-Israel lobby. The National Jewish Democratic Council is hiding under the bed. But actual elected leaders? Not one of them. On this the administration is totally isolated.

More and more Democrats are stepping forward to slap down the Obami. Among the more terse was from Rep. Anthony Weiner: “The appropriate response was a shake of the head — not a temper tantrum. Israel is a sovereign nation and an ally, not a punching bag. Enough already.” Among the more eloquent was Rep. Eliot Engel from the House floor:

We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back.

The relationship remains rock solid. The Obama administration and the administration of Prime Minister Netanyahu have been cooperating on a number of things: containing Iran, the Goldstone Report, and making sure that Israel retains its qualitative military edge in the region. And there has been good cooperation between our two administrations, the Obama administration and the Netanyahu administration. But to seem to question the very nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship and to put it in personal terms in a very public way will not contribute to peace in the Middle East. Rather, it’s the contrary. It will cause the Palestinians to dig in their heels, thinking that the Americans can just deliver the Israelis.

Last year, when there was public pressure being put on Israel not to expand settlements, there was no simultaneous public pressure being put on the Palestinians, and we saw that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas just sat back, didn’t make any concessions, didn’t say that he would do anything positively to further peace talks, and just thought that the United States would wring concessions out of Israel.

The fact of the matter is that the Israelis have been welcoming peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelis have said they would sit down and have face-to-face talks for peace with the Palestinians. That’s what you do when you have peace. Instead, the Palestinians have refused to sit with the Israelis, and Senator Mitchell is proposing to shuttle back and forth between the Palestinian side and the Israeli side to have negotiations, but not direct negotiations.

We need to be careful. If we criticize Israel for doing what we think was wrong, then we need to also criticize the Palestinians when they do things wrong. Just recently, the Palestinians named a square in Ramallah for a terrorist who killed 30-some-odd Israelis. I didn’t hear any criticism of the Palestinian side. When the Palestinians dig in their heels and say they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, I didn’t hear any criticism of Palestinians.

Let me say that harsh words are never a replacement for working together, but I think that harsh words can sometimes make us understand that only by working together can we confront the things that we both know need to be confronted–the scourge of terrorism, the thing that all nations understand emanates in the Middle East from radical forces, and those are the kinds of fights that Israel has every single day fighting terrorism. We learned about terrorism on this soil on 9/11. Israel has to deal with it every day.

So all I am saying, Madam Speaker, is that we need to not only reaffirm the strength of our ties between our two countries, but we also need to understand that in a relationship between friends, as in family, there will be some disagreements. We need to be careful about how we voice those disagreements in public.

Let’s put it another way: not a single Republican or Democratic official has come forward to defend the administration. J Street cheers them on, as one can imagine from the never-enough-venom-directed-to-Israel lobby. The National Jewish Democratic Council is hiding under the bed. But actual elected leaders? Not one of them. On this the administration is totally isolated.

Read Less




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