Posts Tagged ‘Bibi Netanyahu’

Bibi’s Epic Fail, The Israel Lobby Gets Shrill

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

by Brien Jackson

The entire article is well worth a read, but this bit from Gideon Levy’s Haaretz column really stood out to me:

Suddenly all of Israel’s “friends” in Washington have shed their skin. They, too, sense a rare opportunity in the Middle East. They, too, are tired of what Netanyahu has tried to peddle. They, too, understand that the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank must precede Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr. How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister, sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive, without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W. Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel – one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness.

How pathetic was the sight, yet how encouraging; perhaps Netanyahu learned something during his short and dramatic visit. The visit has already made one contribution: Obama tore off the mask of so-called peace-loving Israel. If Netanyahu really feared for the fate of the country he would have immediately agreed, in the Oval Office, to all the ideas put forth by this fantastic president. If Israel does not respond, we, the Israelis, will know, the U.S. president will know and the entire world will know that Israel does not want peace.

I don’t know how accurate the line about “Israel’s friens in Washington” is. AIPAC is more or less unchanged in position, and the rest of the usual suspects are similarly consistent. There’s perhaps a growing awareness that further settlement activity will impede the peace process, and even be bad for Israel’s interests in the long run, but there seems to be little desire to emphasize the point amongst right-of-center Israel watchers, and even less desire to push for the dismantling of existing settlements.

Still, the point about Bibi’s failure in Washington is well taken. Netanyahu was clearly hoping to force Obama into a concilliatory position with regards to Likud, a posture Obama rather easily brushed off, leaving Bibi looking rather ridiculous in places. I’m actually sort of surprised this happened, actually, given Bibi’s reputation for handling Western sentiments, and, putting aside the possibility that this is exaggerated for a second, this sort of makes you wonder if 8 years of an extremely deferential American administration hasn’t made the Israeli state somewhat delusional in regards to the special relationship. After all, great powers rarely like being pushed around geopolitically, and certainly don’t take kindly to being pushed around by a much smaller state that is much more dependent on us than we are them.

And you can almost sense the realization of the worm turning amongst the usual suspects. Jeffrey Goldberg, for one, is barely even trying anymore (apparently, writing hagiographies to Bibi couched in little more than ancient superstition as if it’s a positive aspect to Bibi’s personality will suck the intellectual will right out of you), and it’s almost hard to follow his thought process at this point. Does Goldberg think it was a mistake to normalize relations with Vietnam? Does he think the US, or vital US interests, have been adversely affected by this move? I mean, Cohen’s point in relation to Vietnam is so benign a sto almost be inarguable. Which, I suspect, is why Goldberg has to attack it in such irrelevant terms; too much reminding people that normal relations with “mean” people doesn’t, in fact, lead to buildings blowing up in Omaha and the AIPAC line will seem even sillier than it does right now. (Also, does Goldberg really think he’s insulting Cohen by linking him and one of the most respected International Relations scholars alive?) 

Also, via Yglesias, I see that David Ignatius, for one, has finally realized that Israeli “peace offers” are shot through with ridiculous demands the Palestinians must accept, even though no rational actor would ever accept such an egregious encroachment upon their sovereign rights. Now if only Ignatius (or Yglesias, for that matter), would notice that the Israeli center-left, as represented by then Prime Minister Ehud Barak, made exactly the same demands and then some at Camp David in 2000. It’s not ust Likud that’s imposing a barrier to agreement on the Israeli side of things.

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Rahm Brushing Back Bibi?

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

by Brien Jackson

That would certainly seem to be the case, according to the largest daily newspaper in Israel:

Yedioth Achronoth, the largest circulation daily in Israel, reports today that President Obama intends to see the two-state solution signed, sealed and delivered during his first term.

Rahm Emanuel told an (unnamed) Jewish leader; “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister.”

He also said that the United States will exert pressure to see that deal is put into place.”Any treatment of the Iranian nuclear problem will be contingent upon progress in the negotiations and an Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territory,” the paper reports Emanuel as saying.  In other words, US sympathy for Israel’s position vis a vis Iran depends on Israel’s willingness to live up to its commitment to get out of the West Bank and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state there, in Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

It’s certainly the case that reports about American politics and foreign policy in foreign newspapers tend to be much less accurate than those in American papers, but the journalist who broke this is one of the most respected in all of Israel, and it certainly fits the character that is Rahm.

That said, if this is true, it’s a very big deal for US-Israel relations, and for the Israeli-Palestinian situation. For sure, it’s the toughest line the US has taken with Israel since committing itself to a two-state solution, and the first time in at least 2 decades the United States has seriously threatened to leverage Israel. The diplomatic context here is a little convoluted, but undeniably stark. In forming his new coalition, Benjamin Netanyahu had desperately wanted to bring Kadima into the fold, and keep Kadima leader Tzipi Livni as Foreign Minister. But Livni’s stated price for taking a junior role to Likud was too much for Bibi, and he was instead forced to give the position to the rabidly anti-Arab Avigdor Lieberman, a looming diplomatic disaster for both Bibi and Israel. What concession did Livni demand of Likud? A committment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. In other words, Bibi was more willing to make a man who had previously advocated the bombing of Egypt’s Aswan Dam Foreign Minister than express a committment to a Palestinian state. By declaring that the US is committed to a two-state solution no matter who is prime minister, Emannuel is essentially stating that the US does not care what the Israeli government’s opinion on the question is. And in tying relations with Iran to Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Rham is articulating the most overt opposition to increased Israeli settlements since we stopped calling them illegal in diplomatic language. Again, if this is true, it’s a very big deal diplomatically.

It’s also important that it’s Rahm out front in delivering the message. Given that he is devoutly Jewish, and has actually served in the IDF, it will be hard to level accusations of insufficient affinity for Israel on the part of administration if they go through with this.

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The Five-State Solution: Idealism Trumps Reality Yet Again Concerning Israel

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

by Tommy Brown

The New York Times‘ Thomas Friedman,  he of the fabled Friedman Unit (“The next six months in Iraq. . . .”), has written yet another slightly creepy op-ed where he pretends to be a foreign leader writing to the American president. This time he’s pretending to be Saudi Arabia’s King ‘Abdullah:

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your inauguration and for quickly dispatching your new envoy, George Mitchell, a good man, to the Middle East. I wish Mitchell could resume where he left off eight years ago, but the death of Arafat, the decline of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the 2006 Hezbollah-Israel war in Lebanon, the 2009 Hamas-Israel war in Gaza, the continued expansion of colonial Israeli settlements and the deepening involvement of Iran with Hamas and Hezbollah have all created a new reality.

Specifically, the Palestinian Authority is in no position today to assume control of the West Bank, Hamas is incapable of managing Gaza and the introduction of rockets provided by Iran to Hamas has created a situation whereby Israel won’t turn over the West Bank to any Palestinians now because it fears Hamas would use it to launch rockets on Israel’s international airport. But if we do nothing, Zionist settlers would devour the rest of the West Bank and holy Jerusalem. What can be done?

I am proposing what I would call a five-state solution:

I’d like to tackle each part of the solution he proposes separately. They are idealistic, noble and totally unconnected from reality.

1. Israel agrees in principle to withdraw from every inch of the West Bank and Arab districts of East Jerusalem, as it has from Gaza. Any territories Israel might retain in the West Bank for its settlers would have to be swapped — inch for inch — with land from Israel proper.

Total withdrawal for the West Bank, for one, is a total nonstarter. Israel relies on the headwaters of the Jordan River (inconveniently located within the Occupied Territories) for the majority of its water. This is naturally a major security interest for the Israelis; they fought a war with the Arab League over the attempted damming of the Jordan, water being a big deal in the desert, go figure.

The other two are just as fantastic. While there is the chance that Israel would recognize mostly-Arab East Jerusalem as the ceremonial capital of a Palestinian state, there is no way in hell they are going to give up control of probably the most holy city in the world, or let it be divided Berlin-style that way it was between Israel and Jordan before the Six Day War of 1967.

Regarding a land-swap, settler territory for actual Israeli land to become part of the Palestinian Authority: The fundamentalist right wing in Israel, the characters who are the force behind the attempt to settle the entire area that was once ancient Judea and Samarra, will never ever let an inch of Israeli territory be given to the Palestinians. They’re not even that hot on giving them land in the Occupied Territories. And they have never shied away from violence to prevent this; Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords and was assassinated shortly afterward by a “lone gunman” right-wing Zionist; Ariel Sharon withdrew the settlements from the Gaza Strip and shortly afterwards fell victim to a mysterious stroke (I’m no conspiracy theorist, but still).

2. The Palestinians — Hamas and Fatah — agree to form a national unity government. This government then agrees to accept a limited number of Egyptian troops and police to help Palestinians secure Gaza and monitor its borders, as well as Jordanian troops and police to do the same in the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority would agree to five-year “security assistance programs” with Egypt in Gaza and with Jordan in the West Bank.

With Egypt and Jordan helping to maintain order, Palestinians could focus on building their own credible security and political institutions to support their full independence at the end of five years.

The ground truth is that Hamas and Fatah are locked in a civil war for control of the Occupied Territories (leaving America in the bizarre position of financially backing Fatah when we pushed for the elections that knocked them out of power and started the war in the first place). Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamist group, while Fatah, the former Palestinian Liberation Organization, is a secular nationalist organization composed of Muslims. Huge difference. There is pretty much zero chance of the two reaching any sort of power-sharing agreement, as Hamas considers Fatah to be apostate rulers.

The idea that the Israelis letting Jordanian security forces into the West Bank is similarly insane; the Israelis took the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the first place. It’s never ever ever going to happen. And despite the Camp David Accords with Egypt, letting them put guys with guns into the Territories is another fantasy. Despite their mutual diplomatic recognition and the return of the Sinai to Egypt, the received wisdom in Israel is that President Hosni Mubarak pays but lip service to the agreement, while turning a blind eye to the smugglers supplying Gaza despite the blockade.

3. Israel would engage in a phased withdrawal over these five years from all of its settlements in the West Bank and Arab Jerusalem — except those agreed to be granted to Israel as part of land swaps — at the same pace that the Palestinians meet the security and governance metrics agreed to in advance by all the parties. The U.S. would be the sole arbiter of whether the metrics have been met by both sides.

Removing the settlements is not a bad idea at all, but, as noted above, attempting to give the Palestinians their own land or withdraw the settlements seems to lead to the death or incapacitation of Israeli prime ministers. And if Bibi Netanyahu of the Likud Party becomes PM, this will become another fantasy.

The real issue with this one is that it somehow assumes that either the Palestinians or the Israelis will somehow view America as some kind of impartial judge after eight years of abandoning the role of mediator and siding with the Israelis entirely. Not to mention the aforementioned elections that made Hamas the legitimate government of the Territories. Less than a few weeks ago, during the Gaza War, Prime Minister Olmert actually demanded to speak with President Bush and convinced him not to sign onto to a UN-brokered ceasefire that Condi Rice, his Secretary of State, had drafted the majority of. Something tells me Israel is going to attempt to continue this kind of relationship, though with the new administration it’s totally up in the air. And both Fatah and Hamas view America as betrayers of their interests more than ever.

4. Saudi Arabia would pay all the costs of the Egyptian and Jordanian trustees, plus a $1 billion a year service fee to each country — as well as all the budgetary needs of the Palestinian Authority. The entire plan would be based on U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338 and blessed by the U.N. Security Council.

This one is my favorite suggestion of Friedman’s, for a couple reasons. One, Saudi Arabia is already the major funder of both Fatah and Hamas. They have financed the PLO and other resistance groups since the creation of Israel in 1948, financed the Arab League in both the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and their resident religious nuts (which is most of the country) strongly supported and backed Hamas during the still-smoldering Gaza War.

Despite King ‘Abdullah’s profession that he wants peace, and it is little known that in 2003 he offered diplomatic recognition of Israel in return for the US dropping its planned invasion of Iraq, his proposals always contain enough caveats that make them basically impossible to implement. This is remarkably similar to former President Bush’s “road map for peace,” in which Israel quietly logged seventeen “reservations” about the plan that effectively scuttled it.

And “basing the entire plan” on UN Resolutions 242 and 338 is the problem to begin with, because they call for Israel’s total withdrawal to its pre-1967 borders, which would include returning the Golan Heights to Syria (not a huge deal) and returning the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the Jordanians. As discussed in detail above, the West Bank is too important to Israel’s strategic interests and they will never accept a divided Jerusalem again. It also means that the Jordanian security forces Friedman proposes would not just be there to help the Palestinians, but would be a precursor to Jordan’s eventual reintegration of the territory into their country.

And this is from supposedly one of the finest foreign policy minds in the country?

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