Commentary Magazine


Topic: Philip Crowley

Lebanon: An Inflection Point for the Status Quo

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle. Read More

The stakes are as high as they could possibly be in Lebanon: Hezbollah, the terrorist group backed by Iran, has obtained coalition approval to nominate its own candidate for prime minister as a replacement for Saad Hariri. (Hezbollah’s first choice, Omar Karami, declined to accept the nomination, so the group has moved on to another “consensus” candidate, Najib Mikati.) If this nomination goes forward and the installation of a new government can be enforced, the Hezbollah-led coalition will rule Lebanon.

Hezbollah is overlaying the process — in effect, an unfolding coup — with a veneer of parliamentary order. This isn’t fooling the Lebanese, who were out in force Monday protesting the move. But has it muted the Obama administration? We may well wonder. On Thursday, the brief comment on Lebanon by State Department spokesman Philip Crowley featured this disingenuous assessment: “There’s a constitutional process underway.” On Monday, the U.S. issued a narrow ––and pointless — warning about American support being “difficult” to continue if Hezbollah assumes a dominant role in the government.

The crucial element in Lebanon’s current crisis will be what the U.S. and the West do about Hezbollah’s power move. This hinge point is crucial not merely because it affects the future of Lebanon and the stability of the Levant, but because its outcome, one way or another, will be a signal to everyone around the globe who has plans to challenge the status quo. Analogies between the Cold War and today’s confrontation with organized Islamism are notoriously inexact, but Hezbollah’s move this month has many features in common with the political subversion campaigns that were the hallmark of Soviet-backed Marxist factions from the 1940s to the 1970s.

In this context, there is a poignant rumor being reported in Arab press that highlights one particular aspect of the West’s current posture. According to this blogger’s quote of a Kuwaiti daily, two “Western” aircraft carriers have been urgently dispatched from the Persian Gulf to the waters off Lebanon. Citing an EU official, the referenced news report offers completely unrealistic numbers (including “210 fighter jets”) for the force supposedly converging on the Eastern Mediterranean. The only realistic aspect of the report is that there have been, in fact, two Western carriers in the Gulf region: USS Abraham Lincoln and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.

But the days when the Western navies had plenty of carriers to move around from crisis to crisis are behind us. Two carriers may be in the Mediterranean shortly, but not because they were urgently dispatched. Abraham Lincoln is tethered to our requirements in Southwest Asia; USS Enterprise, on the way to relieve Lincoln on-station, is transiting through the Mediterranean. Charles de Gaulle, France’s only aircraft carrier, has been scheduled since her deployment in October to return home in February.

NATO’s non-U.S. carrier force is razor thin. Charles de Gaulle’s departure from France last fall was marred by a breakdown that delayed this very rare deployment by several weeks. Britain, once a reliable dispatcher of aircraft carriers, is in worse shape: just this weekend, the Royal Navy sent its last fighter-jet carrier, HMS Ark Royal, to be decommissioned. Britain won’t have a carrier that can deploy fighter jets again until 2020. In this capability, Italy now outstrips Britain: the Italians have two carriers that can each transport eight Harrier jump-jets. Spain has one.

For the U.S., as for France, putting a carrier off Lebanon entails rigorously prioritizing crises: either leaving some unattended or accepting schedule gaps down the road. With enough effort, the U.S. and France could still seek to affect the outcome in Lebanon with an offshore show of force. But the regional expectation implied by the Arab press rumor — the sense that Western navies can easily bring overwhelming force to a crisis — is outdated today.

Margin and latitude in our force options are casualties of the extended post–Cold War drawdown. At a juncture evocative of previous dilemmas for U.S. presidents, Obama would do better to take his cue from Harry Truman in the late 1940s than from Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s. One way or another, this crisis in Lebanon will have a disproportionate impact on the future.

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Not Charming, Are They?

For those who imagine that the Obama team is finally “getting it” with regard to the Middle East or that it has taken to heart the complaints of Jewish supporters, it will be a surprise when the president and his crack diplomatic crew repeat precisely the same error and employ the identical tactics that have been their modus operandi for nearly two years.

Israel resumes building in its capital, in a “Jewish neighborhood.” (The term is objectionable, of course, because it implies Jews can’t live where they please.) This is not some remote “settlement.” This is the sort of building in Jerusalem that has gone on under multiple prime ministers. But the Obami are frustrated and embarrassed, so they double down, reiterating their insistence that Israel cough up more concessions (a building freeze) while the Palestinians freely announce they won’t be recognizing a “Jewish state.” This report explains:

“We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in east Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley to assembled reporters at a weekly briefing.

However, Israel has already announced it won’t be reimposing a settlement freeze, certainly not in Jerusalem. The Obami are mute on whether the walk-out by Abbas is “contrary to [their] efforts” as well.

Now no nation can be less peeved than the U.S., so Jordan chirps up:

Jordan’s State Minister for Media Affairs and Communications Ali Ayed issued a statement condemning building plans, and calling on the international community to “stop Israeli provocations” and do whatever possible to resume and see through successful negotiations.

But things have changed here in the U.S. since the Obama team “condemned” such building last March. Obama now is politically toxic, the American Jewish community has had it with the bully-boy-ism, and liberal elected officials have discovered that there really is no there there on J Street (i.e., no alternative pro-Israel faction — other than Soros and the Hong Kong mystery gal — that approves of Obama’s approach).

Don’t take my word for it. A J Street endorsee and liberal Democrat Gary Ackerman blasts away in a statement:

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is not a settlement. As such, the resumption of construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even a hissy fit. Ramot and Pisgat Zeev are going to be part of Israel in any conceivable final status deal and to pretend otherwise is pointless.

As I have said, those who earlier complained about the inadequacy of Israel’s unilateral and uncompensated settlement freeze, who chose to waste those ten months instead of diving aggressively into direct talks on peace, cannot reasonably now turn around and complain that the end of the freeze and the resumption of Israeli construction in Jerusalem—Israel’s capital, and the singular geographic center of the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people for three millennia—is either a shock or an insurmountable obstacle to  peace.

Israeli construction in Jerusalem, in two already well-established neighborhoods is neither a show of bad faith, nor a justification for avoiding negotiations aimed at achieving a final status agreement. The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians are not going to be achieved by violence and they’re not going to be achieved by the equivalent of holding their breath until their lips turn blue. Direct negotiations are sole pathway to their goal and the sooner they recognize this fact, the better.”

I don’t think Soros is getting his money’s worth from Ackerman. He sounds like he’s echoing the position of the Emergency Committee for Israel.

As belated as Ackerman’s outspokenness may be, it is still welcomed. And it is, I would suggest, the silver lining in the Obama era. There is now the opportunity for Democrats to correct course and demonstrate that their pro-Israel bona fides are just as sound as their Republican colleagues. In the new Congress, perhaps Ackerman and other prominent Democrats (Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, etc.) will cease carrying water for the Obama administration’s flawed Israel policy. The Congress has the power of the purse, the duty of oversight, and the ability to use resolutions and public statements to push back on the administration. All of that is long overdue. Let’s hope Ackerman’s reaction is the beginning of a trend and not simply pre-election political expediency.

For those who imagine that the Obama team is finally “getting it” with regard to the Middle East or that it has taken to heart the complaints of Jewish supporters, it will be a surprise when the president and his crack diplomatic crew repeat precisely the same error and employ the identical tactics that have been their modus operandi for nearly two years.

Israel resumes building in its capital, in a “Jewish neighborhood.” (The term is objectionable, of course, because it implies Jews can’t live where they please.) This is not some remote “settlement.” This is the sort of building in Jerusalem that has gone on under multiple prime ministers. But the Obami are frustrated and embarrassed, so they double down, reiterating their insistence that Israel cough up more concessions (a building freeze) while the Palestinians freely announce they won’t be recognizing a “Jewish state.” This report explains:

“We were disappointed by the announcement of new tenders in east Jerusalem yesterday. It is contrary to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties,” said State Department spokesman Philip Crowley to assembled reporters at a weekly briefing.

However, Israel has already announced it won’t be reimposing a settlement freeze, certainly not in Jerusalem. The Obami are mute on whether the walk-out by Abbas is “contrary to [their] efforts” as well.

Now no nation can be less peeved than the U.S., so Jordan chirps up:

Jordan’s State Minister for Media Affairs and Communications Ali Ayed issued a statement condemning building plans, and calling on the international community to “stop Israeli provocations” and do whatever possible to resume and see through successful negotiations.

But things have changed here in the U.S. since the Obama team “condemned” such building last March. Obama now is politically toxic, the American Jewish community has had it with the bully-boy-ism, and liberal elected officials have discovered that there really is no there there on J Street (i.e., no alternative pro-Israel faction — other than Soros and the Hong Kong mystery gal — that approves of Obama’s approach).

Don’t take my word for it. A J Street endorsee and liberal Democrat Gary Ackerman blasts away in a statement:

“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It is not a settlement. As such, the resumption of construction in Jerusalem is not a justification for a crisis, a showdown, a meltdown or even a hissy fit. Ramot and Pisgat Zeev are going to be part of Israel in any conceivable final status deal and to pretend otherwise is pointless.

As I have said, those who earlier complained about the inadequacy of Israel’s unilateral and uncompensated settlement freeze, who chose to waste those ten months instead of diving aggressively into direct talks on peace, cannot reasonably now turn around and complain that the end of the freeze and the resumption of Israeli construction in Jerusalem—Israel’s capital, and the singular geographic center of the hopes and aspirations of the Jewish people for three millennia—is either a shock or an insurmountable obstacle to  peace.

Israeli construction in Jerusalem, in two already well-established neighborhoods is neither a show of bad faith, nor a justification for avoiding negotiations aimed at achieving a final status agreement. The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians are not going to be achieved by violence and they’re not going to be achieved by the equivalent of holding their breath until their lips turn blue. Direct negotiations are sole pathway to their goal and the sooner they recognize this fact, the better.”

I don’t think Soros is getting his money’s worth from Ackerman. He sounds like he’s echoing the position of the Emergency Committee for Israel.

As belated as Ackerman’s outspokenness may be, it is still welcomed. And it is, I would suggest, the silver lining in the Obama era. There is now the opportunity for Democrats to correct course and demonstrate that their pro-Israel bona fides are just as sound as their Republican colleagues. In the new Congress, perhaps Ackerman and other prominent Democrats (Chuck Schumer, Howard Berman, etc.) will cease carrying water for the Obama administration’s flawed Israel policy. The Congress has the power of the purse, the duty of oversight, and the ability to use resolutions and public statements to push back on the administration. All of that is long overdue. Let’s hope Ackerman’s reaction is the beginning of a trend and not simply pre-election political expediency.

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Rewriting the Rules of International Diplomacy

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

Palestinian preconditions for negotiations with Israel have been changing so rapidly that it’s hard to keep up. Yet they all have one thing in common: all seek to rewrite the accepted rules of international diplomacy.

The latest, unveiled this week, is that the Palestinians refuse to begin direct talks unless the U.S. guarantees that the final-status border will be based on the 1949 armistice lines, including in Jerusalem, and that an international force will replace Israel’s army completely, leaving Israel with no security presence on the West Bank.

In other words, the Palestinians won’t “negotiate” unless there’s nothing left to negotiate about, because the U.S. has already guaranteed that all their demands will be met. That would completely gut the usual principle of negotiations, which is that both sides make concessions to forge a mutually acceptable compromise.

It would also leave Israel with no reason even to begin the talks. Not only are these demands unacceptable to Jerusalem in themselves (as I’ve explained here, here, and here, for instance), but with the entirety of the territory and its military presence having already been conceded in advance, Israel would have no bargaining chips left with which to secure Palestinian concessions on other issues of importance to it, such as the refugees or recognition as a Jewish state.

Indeed, if this were to become the accepted model for diplomatic negotiations — one in which everything is decided in one party’s favor in advance — it would spell the death of international diplomacy, because the other party would always have the strongest possible incentive to avoid talks.

The same was true of the Palestinians’ last attempt to pose preconditions: their insistence that the starting point for talks be the proposals made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert, which they themselves rejected. If leaders knew that any proposal they made would be binding on them and their successors — but not their interlocutors — even if the other side rejected it, they would be reluctant to offer any proposals at all. That would effectively kill off any possibility of negotiations.

Washington, to its credit, rejected that precondition and is so far standing publicly firm on the demand for guarantees as well. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas complained to Fatah’s Revolutionary Council on Tuesday that President Barack Obama had been “vague” on the issues of borders and security, while State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters yesterday that “fundamental issues in the process, including borders … can only be resolved within the context of direct negotiations.”

Nevertheless, there has apparently been some waffling in private: an Israeli source told Haaretz this week that “Washington is giving serious consideration to issuing these guarantees in order to encourage the Palestinians to agree to direct talks.”

If the U.S. actually wants talks to occur, it must continue standing firm — not only for the sake of a time-honored principle of international diplomacy, but also because there is no chance of any deal emerging until the Palestinians are made to understand that they, too, will have to make concessions to achieve it.

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Obama Delivers Up Israel to the “International Community”

Earlier this year at AIPAC, Hillary Clinton assured the assembled that the “United States has also led the fight in international institutions against anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy.” Yesterday, Obama threw Israel to the wolves in the “international community”:

Echoing countless calls on Israel to subject itself to an international investigation of the events that led up to the deaths of nine Turkish activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship last week, the U.S. on Tuesday demanded that some international body be involved in the probe of the events. …

“International participation in investigating these matters will be important to the credibility that everybody wants to see,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Tuesday. “We are discussing with Israel and others the prospective nature of international participation in the investigation. And we’re sharing different ideas on how to best accomplish that.”

Suffice it to say, there was no instance in the Bush administration when we invited the international community to take a swing at Israel. So what say you, AIPAC and American Jewry? This has, of course, been the modus operandi of the administration — singling out Israel in the NPT concluding statement, failing to veto an Israel-bashing resolution in the UN Security Council, and threatening to do the same if Israel resumed building in its eternal capital. The Obama team keeps snowing gullible Jewish “leaders.” Perhaps at some point American Jewry will figure out they are being ill-served by both.

Earlier this year at AIPAC, Hillary Clinton assured the assembled that the “United States has also led the fight in international institutions against anti-Semitism and efforts to challenge Israel’s legitimacy.” Yesterday, Obama threw Israel to the wolves in the “international community”:

Echoing countless calls on Israel to subject itself to an international investigation of the events that led up to the deaths of nine Turkish activists aboard a Gaza-bound aid ship last week, the U.S. on Tuesday demanded that some international body be involved in the probe of the events. …

“International participation in investigating these matters will be important to the credibility that everybody wants to see,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley on Tuesday. “We are discussing with Israel and others the prospective nature of international participation in the investigation. And we’re sharing different ideas on how to best accomplish that.”

Suffice it to say, there was no instance in the Bush administration when we invited the international community to take a swing at Israel. So what say you, AIPAC and American Jewry? This has, of course, been the modus operandi of the administration — singling out Israel in the NPT concluding statement, failing to veto an Israel-bashing resolution in the UN Security Council, and threatening to do the same if Israel resumed building in its eternal capital. The Obama team keeps snowing gullible Jewish “leaders.” Perhaps at some point American Jewry will figure out they are being ill-served by both.

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Israel Policy Debacle? Order Up More Spin!

Well, for anyone not entirely deluded by visions of peace processing and endless European conferences (yes, we’re talking Obama, George Mitchel, and the band of sycophantic enablers of the Martin Indyk variety), this should come as no surprise:

An American official has played down the prospects of any immediate progress in US envoy George Mitchell’s efforts to resume peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. “Are we expecting a breakthrough this visit? Probably not,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Friday.

Really nothing immediately? But the president had gotten impatient and gone to such great lengths to bash Israel into submission. This was all for naught? It must be disappointing, indeed, to those who imagine that Obama and crew are doing something productive to find out that there is not a hint of peace and the process is grinding to a halt. But Mitchell keeps on flying, meeting, cajoling, and babbling about a two-state solution, which is nowhere in sight. (“Mitchell stressed that the Obama administration was working to advance mutual Israeli and US interests, which he said were led by a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution, Israel Radio reported.”)

Meanwhile, the Obami have decided that what is missing from their exquisite Middle East policy is some more PR. Because it is always about a PR deficiency and never a policy problem with this gang. A voice of sanity pipes up:

“What happened here, is they came to a moment of truth about 10 days, two weeks ago, ‘we have failed,’” the former Democratic official continued. “’Our Middle East policy and posture is in chaos, is in failure, and there is no way to ignore it. And therefore, what do we do about it?’ And they decided, we need to change the posture. They realized they were going down a bad path. So they launched a PR campaign — a blitz — entirely to support the policy.”

Change the “posture” but keep the policy that has proven to be a complete failure. And meanwhile, while spinning their wheels and trying out new spin, the Obami still have no viable plan for halting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. The steady progress of Iran’s nuclear policy, even more than the wreckaage left in the wake of this administration’s Israel policy, is what we should not ignore and what very well may be the dismal legacy of the Obama team.

Well, for anyone not entirely deluded by visions of peace processing and endless European conferences (yes, we’re talking Obama, George Mitchel, and the band of sycophantic enablers of the Martin Indyk variety), this should come as no surprise:

An American official has played down the prospects of any immediate progress in US envoy George Mitchell’s efforts to resume peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. “Are we expecting a breakthrough this visit? Probably not,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said Friday.

Really nothing immediately? But the president had gotten impatient and gone to such great lengths to bash Israel into submission. This was all for naught? It must be disappointing, indeed, to those who imagine that Obama and crew are doing something productive to find out that there is not a hint of peace and the process is grinding to a halt. But Mitchell keeps on flying, meeting, cajoling, and babbling about a two-state solution, which is nowhere in sight. (“Mitchell stressed that the Obama administration was working to advance mutual Israeli and US interests, which he said were led by a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state solution, Israel Radio reported.”)

Meanwhile, the Obami have decided that what is missing from their exquisite Middle East policy is some more PR. Because it is always about a PR deficiency and never a policy problem with this gang. A voice of sanity pipes up:

“What happened here, is they came to a moment of truth about 10 days, two weeks ago, ‘we have failed,’” the former Democratic official continued. “’Our Middle East policy and posture is in chaos, is in failure, and there is no way to ignore it. And therefore, what do we do about it?’ And they decided, we need to change the posture. They realized they were going down a bad path. So they launched a PR campaign — a blitz — entirely to support the policy.”

Change the “posture” but keep the policy that has proven to be a complete failure. And meanwhile, while spinning their wheels and trying out new spin, the Obami still have no viable plan for halting the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions. The steady progress of Iran’s nuclear policy, even more than the wreckaage left in the wake of this administration’s Israel policy, is what we should not ignore and what very well may be the dismal legacy of the Obama team.

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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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Negotiating the Conditions for Negotiations Without Preconditions

In a press conference Friday with the Jordanian foreign minister, Hillary Clinton said the U.S. wants new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “as soon as possible without preconditions.” She repeated word-for-word her November 25 statement that the U.S. believes negotiations can end the conflict and reconcile (1) “the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps,” with (2) “the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

At a press conference later in the day, a reporter asked Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley about a word omitted from Clinton’s statement:

QUESTION: The [Jordanian] foreign minister also used the word, when he talked about the creation of a separate Palestinian state, one that is contiguous. I noticed the Secretary did not use that word. Where is the – what is the U.S.’s position on contiguous in terms of somehow uniting the West Bank and Gaza?

It was a significant question (for reasons noted here) — but Crowley dodged it:

CROWLEY: This is a – this is the fundamental challenge of a negotiation, which is to determine the borders of a state. We recognize that any state that would be formed for the Palestinians has to be viable and it has to be based on agreed upon borders. So the foreign minister at his formulation, the Secretary at her formulation – what we really want to do is get the parties back into a negotiation where you can actually put these questions before them.

The next paragraph of Crowley’s answer indicated, however, that the U.S. may answer the question later on:

The United States will continue to play a role. At various times, we may offer our own insights as to how to resolve these very kinds of questions. But let’s get to that negotiation. That’s why we’re continuing to push as hard as we can to get this started as quickly as possible.

The administration strategy is apparently to get negotiations started, assuring both sides that their goals can be met, and then later “offer our own insights as to how to resolve these very kinds of questions.”

Once the process begins, however, it is likely to involve more than insights. In his January 7 interview with Charlie Rose, George Mitchell was asked if he had any “sticks” he could use in the negotiating process (his answer: “Oh, sure”). Pressed to give an example (“You sit there and you say to Israel, look, if you don’t do this — what?”), Mitchell noted the possibility of withholding loan guarantees: “That’s one mechanism that’s been publicly discussed. There are others, and you have to keep open whatever options.”

Mitchell travels to Europe and then the Middle East next week and is expected to bring with him letters of “guarantees” to persuade both sides that their goals can be met in new negotiations. The conditions for the negotiations “without preconditions,” in other words, are being negotiated now.

It will be important to see whether the letter given to the Palestinians includes the word contiguous. As for Israel’s letter, the question will be whether the U.S. will honor the assurances of “defensible borders” given by both the Clinton and Bush administrations — or whether that issue will be relegated to a question for later American “insights” (and “options” in case of disagreement).

In a press conference Friday with the Jordanian foreign minister, Hillary Clinton said the U.S. wants new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations “as soon as possible without preconditions.” She repeated word-for-word her November 25 statement that the U.S. believes negotiations can end the conflict and reconcile (1) “the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps,” with (2) “the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.”

At a press conference later in the day, a reporter asked Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley about a word omitted from Clinton’s statement:

QUESTION: The [Jordanian] foreign minister also used the word, when he talked about the creation of a separate Palestinian state, one that is contiguous. I noticed the Secretary did not use that word. Where is the – what is the U.S.’s position on contiguous in terms of somehow uniting the West Bank and Gaza?

It was a significant question (for reasons noted here) — but Crowley dodged it:

CROWLEY: This is a – this is the fundamental challenge of a negotiation, which is to determine the borders of a state. We recognize that any state that would be formed for the Palestinians has to be viable and it has to be based on agreed upon borders. So the foreign minister at his formulation, the Secretary at her formulation – what we really want to do is get the parties back into a negotiation where you can actually put these questions before them.

The next paragraph of Crowley’s answer indicated, however, that the U.S. may answer the question later on:

The United States will continue to play a role. At various times, we may offer our own insights as to how to resolve these very kinds of questions. But let’s get to that negotiation. That’s why we’re continuing to push as hard as we can to get this started as quickly as possible.

The administration strategy is apparently to get negotiations started, assuring both sides that their goals can be met, and then later “offer our own insights as to how to resolve these very kinds of questions.”

Once the process begins, however, it is likely to involve more than insights. In his January 7 interview with Charlie Rose, George Mitchell was asked if he had any “sticks” he could use in the negotiating process (his answer: “Oh, sure”). Pressed to give an example (“You sit there and you say to Israel, look, if you don’t do this — what?”), Mitchell noted the possibility of withholding loan guarantees: “That’s one mechanism that’s been publicly discussed. There are others, and you have to keep open whatever options.”

Mitchell travels to Europe and then the Middle East next week and is expected to bring with him letters of “guarantees” to persuade both sides that their goals can be met in new negotiations. The conditions for the negotiations “without preconditions,” in other words, are being negotiated now.

It will be important to see whether the letter given to the Palestinians includes the word contiguous. As for Israel’s letter, the question will be whether the U.S. will honor the assurances of “defensible borders” given by both the Clinton and Bush administrations — or whether that issue will be relegated to a question for later American “insights” (and “options” in case of disagreement).

Read Less




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