Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Cities - Washington, DC and Jerusalem - Where Right seems to be Right


As the Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton peace initiative seems to fade into the land of lost dreams in the Middle East, where it can join the graveyard of dead peace initiatives of former presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton and Bush 2, a sense of futility is spreading through the peace participants.

I said "Right seems to be Right" and what I meant is the political reality of right leaning politics, both in America and Israel, are driving the failure. Perhaps it is the same wave of conservatism that has swept Communism from most nations and left the liberal socialists in Europe gasping for breath. Whatever it is, there can be no doubt of the impact.

Here in America Obama got clobbered in the Midterm elections because his agenda was too far left, too liberal, and too big government driven for the people he governs. The same was true in nation after nation across Europe the past few years as the socialist agenda was drowning the world in red ink.

Perhaps the most astute observers and practitioners of all special interests in America is the powerful Israeli lobby, the groups solely dedicated to the preservation of Israel. There are three main elements of the Israeli lobby groups, the Christians United for Israel, is the "largest" pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which directly lobbies the United States Congress, and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which "is the main contact between the Jewish community and the executive branch" of the US government according to informed insiders.

Since the founding of Israel in 1948 no other lobbyists have dominated our nation's capitol like the Israelis. So complete is their power and control that Israel has unlimited access to arms and weapons systems, has over 200 nuclear warheads though it refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, has many ways to acquire American funds and dominates the American media.

Anyone who believes wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the saber rattling with Iran has no relationship to Israel is living in fantasy land and if I were Jewish I would not want it any other way. So complete is the Israeli dominance in Washington that both political parties fall all over themselves to prove they are the best hope for the Israeli future.

Most years the Democrats have always counted on the Jewish support in the elections, even while they were trying to solve the Middle East problems in a way to benefit both Arabs and Israelis. At the same time the Republicans have generally not got the Jewish support yet they are harder lined in defending the right of Israel to exist. It was a curious outcome but it changed this year.

With the election of Obama and his family ties to Muslims for once it seemed as if the president would diminish the support for Israel and work for a better deal for the Muslims. Notwithstanding the fact Obama had Rohm Emanuel as chief of staff, the only member of the Obama inner circle to have been in the Israeli army, relations with the Obama administration have been rocky for Israel.

The more Obama tried to engage the Muslims the more suspicious the Jewish lobby. When Obama launched his version of a Middle East peace agreement there was little chance of success. It often seemed as if it was a campaign stunt to make it look like his foreign relations were improving during the bitter Midterm elections.

Israel did little to help him and seemed to be stalling for the purpose of hoping for a Republican landslide to reinforce the support for Israel in congress. Once the landslide was obvious to the Israelis if not to our own news media the Israelis shut down the peace talks over the building of Jewish settlements on Arab lands. It was an issue Obama, Clinton and Emanuel had warned Israel against using many times, calling it a threat to peace.

In response Israel has announced plans for massive new settlement construction, a slap in the face of our young president and his efforts to let the vice president handle relations with Israel. There is no way the state of Israel is going to let a subordinate of the president be their conduit to the president.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, rejected the criticism from Obama, Biden and others and has recently said during his most recent trip to the US, “Israel sees no connection between the peace process and planning and building policy in Jerusalem.,”

The Israeli building plans, which have already been sharply criticized by Palestinian leaders, are at least one year from being implemented. But taken together they could pave the way for the construction of more than 2,000 housing units for Jewish settlers.

The two biggest projects focus on Har Homa, a settlement south of Jerusalem that has been the source of previous diplomatic friction between the US and Israel, and Ariel, a large settlement deep inside the Palestinian West Bank.

The new settlement projects were revealed only days before Mr. Netanyahu is due to meet Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, in Washington.

The Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) Prof. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu has strongly condemned the Israeli government's decision to construct 1.300 new settler homes in East Jerusalem, in addition to other 800 settlement units in "Ariel settlement", built on the West Bank lands.

The OIC Chief emphasized that Israeli settlement, not only affects the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, but also represents a flagrant violation of international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

He said that the intransigence of Israel in its violation of the international law, through imposing a new reality on the ground, settlement building, Isolating and Judaizing al-Quds city, is a blatant challenge to the international legitimacy.

The Secretary-General called the Quartet and the international community to compel Israel to stop all settlement acts that violate the fundamental rights of the Palestinian people.

A day after Israel announced its settlement plans, U.S. President Barack Obama, vehemently criticized the proposed construction of 1,300 Jewish settler homes in the disputed East Jerusalem region.

The U.S., the U.N., the European Union and Russia have all criticized Israel’s decision to approve building of new homes.

IsraCast News from Israel provides a view of the situation not available from the American media in these excerpts from a story by David Essing.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are both grappling with a fundamental issue - the leader's role in a democratic society. Obama and his Democratic party have just been clobbered in the U.S. mid-term elections, while Netanyahu is still walking a tight-rope between American pressure for concessions to the Palestinians and securing his power base among Israeli Right-wingers. On entering the White House, Obama threw caution to the wind; he had seen the light and, like the biblical Moses, was the chosen leader destined to lead his people to the Promised Land of greater social equality. Nor was he deterred from his messianic mission by the pressing need to repair the collapsing economic system that had gone haywire under the Republicans' unbridled capitalism.

Obama would have done better if he had taken a page out of one of his illustrious Democratic predecessors, Franklin D. Roosevelt at the outset of World War II. British historian Ian Kershaw in his book 'Fateful Choices' described how Roosevelt was convinced the U.S. would have to confront Nazi Germany but also realized that he could not overturn the 80% of U.S. public opinion that supported isolationism and opposed getting embroiled again in another European bloodbath. So Roosevelt bowed to public opinion and chose to support British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with lend-lease etc., but even his role as a non-interventionist aroused the ire of the isolationists. Roosevelt had to bide his time until conditions changed which they did after Japan's devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt realized something that Obama did not - if a democratic leader gets too far out in front of the pack, no matter how convinced he is in the justice of his cause, he may lose the pack. In Obama's case, he failed to understand there was a limit on the desire for change that had swept him into the White House. Obama now says the problem was that he was so busy with getting things done that he did not spend enough effort explaining his policies to the public.

In the Israeli context, Obama's 'go for broke' approach recalls Prime Minister Ehud Barak's 'all or nothing gambit' at Camp David 2000 with Yasser Arafat and Bill Clinton. Barak, with Clinton's blessing, staked all his chips on a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinian leader. In that case, Arafat was not ready for peace; he simply walked away from the table and flew home to launch the Second Intifada. Subsequently, Barak had to face an angry Israeli public that included part of his Left-wing power base. He was blamed him for going too far, too fast, 'giving away the kitchen-sink' while all he had to show for it was a bloody wave of Palestinian terrorism. Both Barak and Obama were blinded by their own visions and ignored the underlying reality. Obama will get a second time at the plate before the Presidential election in another two years - the way things are going it is doubtful if the Labor Party leader will get a second chance in the Prime Minister's office.

What can be said about Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu? Where has the Likud leader positioned himself in the choice between setting bold national goals in the face of changing circumstances or sticking to the platform that got him elected to office. Netanyahu appears to be wrestling with this fateful choice. Three Left-wing heavyweights Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and now Yitzak Herzog, the young Laborite who is challenging Barak for party leadership, have all declared they believe Netanyahu when he says he is ready for the 'painful concessions' necessary to make peace with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. However, key Likud cabinet ministers such as Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Begin and Silvan Shalom contend that Netanyahu will honor his pledge to start rebuilding seriously in Judea & Samaria and doubt the PM's commitment to the two-state solution.

The settlers are a little worried - they are running paid ads in newspapers quoting the Prime Minister's promises to build again, as if Netanyahu needs reminding. Right-wingers are declaring: 'We elected Netanyahu and he must do our bidding!' There is a third course of action for an elected leader, the one coined by former PM Arik Sharon - 'What a prime minister sees after taking office is not the same as what he sees before being elected'. Sharon raised this justification after being hauled over the coals by the Right-wing for bowing to President George Bush's Roadmap for a two-state solution. However Sharon as did Yitzak Rabin stipulated that the reality of Israel's security will always be paramount in Palestinian peace-making. The majority of Israelis believed them as evidenced by their election victories. For his part, Netanyahu defied the Right-wing and his own Likud party by enforcing the ten month moratorium on settlement building that expired on Sept.26th. He opted for the move in order to placate the Obama administration after the Israeli government's building gaffe in eastern Jerusalem during the visit by Vice- President Joe Biden. The only reason Netanyahu was able to push through such an abhorrent step was his promise to send the bulldozers back in after the freeze expired. The PM had to reject American and Palestinian demands that he extend the moratorium if he was to save face with his domestic power base. The Arab League has given one month to find a solution and meanwhile Israel has refrained from wide scale building on the West Bank. So what happens now? If Peres, Barak and Herzog are right Netanyahu may possibly come up with a 'constructive ambiguity' when he sees Vice-President Joe Biden again, this time in the U.S. If so, Netanyahu will be declaring as did the late Yitzak Rabin: 'I'm leader and I'll do the navigating!' Otherwise, Netanyahu will be opting for: 'I'm their leader, so I have to do what my supporters want'.

The fact that Obama has stuck to his position, articulated in his Cairo address, that the 'settlements must stop' appears to leaves little room for Netanyahu to maneuver. But the question now being asked in Jerusalem is whether the battered Obama, about to be embroiled in a battle royal with a Republican majority in the House over economic policy will have the inclination to risk more of his political capital in the Middle East. Channel one TV has reported that Obama might replace envoy George Mitchell with old hands Martin Indyk or Dennis Ross. However, many Israeli pundits have said Obama will be preoccupied with economic issues at home, Two years ago during the presidential race they said the same thing and were proven wrong.

On the other hand, the grim IDF intelligence briefing by Gen. Amos Yadlin accentuated the reality of security threats to the Jewish state posed by a potential war on several fronts by multiple enemies. This reality was obviously made clear to the Prime Minister some time ago and undoubtedly stresses, as recently stated by President Peres, Israel's need to assist the U.S. in building the coalition against Iran by advancing on the Palestinian peace track.


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