Posts Tagged ‘AIPAC’

Direct Talks: A Path Forward or A Trap?

July 30, 2010

Aaron Miller, long-time State Department official, warns President Obama against pushing so hard for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Lara Friedman, of Americans for Peace Now, explores the tangled web that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will

PA President Mahmoud Abbas

need to walk now that even the Arab League has endorsed direct talks.

The sum of both articles, though, leaves one wondering why Barack Obama is pushing so hard for direct talks.

It’s clear enough why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants direct talks. Israel has done nothing to advance the proximity talks and faced no consequences for it. In direct talks, that will be even truer; holding the talks will satisfy much of the world, and Israel will be able to prolong them indefinitely.

But what exactly does Obama expect to come from direct talks at this stage? Netanyahu is shouting to all that will listen that he can’t even extend the joke of a settlement moratorium or his government will fall (it won’t). So how can we believe he can possibly make the concessions necessary for peace?

That aside, let’s say Abbas and Netanyahu do come to an agreement that satisfies both sides. What happens with Gaza and Hamas? Part of any agreement that the Palestinians can agree to is the affirmation of the principle that the West Bank and Gaza are a single territorial unit.

If such an agreement, then, is not possible, what’s the big rush for direct talks?

It does seem that this is another symptom of the tragic lack of strategy that has dogged Obama’s Mideast efforts from day one. The President has kept this issue on the front burner, and I remain convinced of his good intentions.

But we all know what is said about the road to hell. (more…)

Bibi: More of the Same Bad Leadership

July 20, 2010

A video from 2001 is making the internet rounds these days, one that shows current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talking to a settler widow who had just lost her husband to a Palestinian attack at the beginning of the second intifada.

In the video, Bibi says (in Hebrew, translation by Dena Shunra, with a few corrections of my own): “ I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved. Moved in the right direction…80% of theAmericanssupport us. It’s absurd. We have that kind of support and we say “what will we do with the…” look. That administration was extremely pro-Palestinian. I wasn’t afraid to maneuver there. I was not afraid to clash with Clinton. I was not afraid to clash with the United Nations. I was paying the price anyway, I preferred to receive the value. Value for the price.”

Well, the wifi and fiber optic networks were abuzz. Here is Bibi with his guard supposedly down. The video is said to have been taken without his knowledge, so we’re supposedly getting the unvarnished Bibi.

I’m not so sure. The takeaway seems to have been “Here is the real Bibi, don’t you see he never wants to make peace?” I think the video shows something else, that Bibi is just a huckster, a politician who is always playing to the crowd. And that he is afraid of a negotiated peace—just like his fellows.

Just because he didn’t know there was a camera running doesn’t mean Bibi wasn’t still performing. He knows well that the settlement communities are very tight-knit, and what he says in the home of a settler who just lost her husband almost certainly would be repeated, making its way quickly throughout the West Bank. At the time of that meeting, Bibi was trying to consolidate a hard right opposition to then-Likud leader and Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. I’m not at all convinced he was being any more sincere with this woman than he was with the Israeli and global public when he accepted a “two-state solution” last year. (more…)

The Play’s the Thing for Bibi and Obama

July 6, 2010

DC theater at its best. That’s what we had today as the much-anticipated photo-op meeting between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took place.

Both parties got what they wanted. Obama had a warm press conference with Bibi, sending the message that American-Israeli relations are as warm as ever and reassuring his Jewish Democratic base (which he is more worried about than he needs to be) that he still loves Israel. He got more statements from Netanyahu committing to a general concept of peace and a lot of praise from Bibi about Obama’s concern for Israel.

PM Netanyahu and President Obama at their press conference after the July 6 meeting

Bibi got a good deal more. Not only was he able to show Israel that the relationship with America remains strong, but he got Obama to publicly imply that the US would continue to back Israeli nuclear ambiguity and to say that he would side with Netanyahu on moving to direct talks with the Palestinian Authority despite there being no indication that actions would be taken to make this politically feasible for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

But in the end, it was just a show. Nothing much changed today, though perhaps Bibi’s closing words, urging Obama to visit Israel, set the stage for the next act.

In the next few days we may find out, that something more important happened behind closed doors between the two. But one thing that was anticipated that seems not to have come about is Obama pressing Netanyahu for an extension of the settlement freeze.

Indeed, just as the meeting began, Americans for Peace Now (APN) delivered a petition with nearly 16,000 signatures urging President Obama to press for that extension. I applaud APN’s effort, and the petition was the right thing to do. But I am also relieved that, apparently, Obama did not heed that call. (more…)

Attack Iran?

July 5, 2010

Once again, there is discussion of military action against Iran, since virtually everyone acknowledges that the new sanctions, both by the UN and US will not change the status quo. I examine the possibilities of an attack on Iran in a new piece I published at Zeek Magazine.

Israel’s A Domestic Issue–That’s the Problem

June 28, 2010

In the 21st century, Congress has demonstrated both incompetence in handling its limited responsibility in foreign policy, and how disastrous it is when it oversteps its bounds and tries to get more involved in foreign affairs than it should.

Outside of those working actively in foreign policy, it still seems like Americans have not grasped the magnitude of the

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA, seated at the left) prepares to address a pro-Israel rally

foolish decisions to go into Afghanistan and Iraq. But, for reasons that did not include a clear and sober calculation of American security or even geo-political interests, Bush, Cheney, and their neo-conservative cohorts did, in fact, put us back into a Vietnam-like quagmire.

But this one is worse. Vietnam was predicated on the “domino theory,” which dictated that the fall of a country in Southeast Asia of relatively minor importance would set off a chain reaction and lead to more crucial countries falling to Communism. Once the theory was discarded, it was possible, even if not so simple, to extricate ourselves from the war.

That’s not the case in either Afghanistan or Iraq, particularly the latter. Iraq, a major oil producer, could easily fall under the control or influence of foreign powers, including Iran, which would significantly affect the global economy and the global balance of power. Afghanistan has always been a center of instability, but the American intervention has embroiled Pakistan more deeply in the conflicts there, and the threat of Afghani issues destabilizing Pakistan, a nuclear power, is very real. In both cases, these are merely singular examples among many other serious concerns.

No, America cannot just up and leave the Middle East as it did Southeast Asia. America also has very little to gain from staying, but must do so to avoid the consequences of leaving. That’s where the Neoconservatives have left the US. Making such clearly foolish mistakes in when and where to go to war is precisely why (among other reasons) Congress is the only body authorized to declare war. (more…)

AIPAC, Gaza and Letters to the President

June 24, 2010

I was reminiscing recently about a very pleasant conversation I had with Stephen Walt, who, along with John Mearsheimer, wrote the explosive book “The Israel Lobby.” Both authors are aware that I disagree with their thesis, and yet Stephen and I were always able to have respectful conversations about it. Would that more conversations about Israel could be conducted in that manner.

But I also disagree with what I call the Chomsky Thesis. Chomsky, and some other analysts, believe that “The Lobby’s” power derives from its essential rapport with American policy aims, and that if it diverges from those aims, it would not prove much of an obstacle.

Saying “The Lobby” is not a considerable force is as false as saying it is the determinative element in US policy. It

Hillary Clinton and AIPAC President Lee Rosenberg at this year's AIPAC policy conference

clearly plays a serious role in American politics, and the more prominently domestic concerns play into an American President’s foreign policy decisions, the more powerful it is. (In fairness, I should note that Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s book is rarely understood to encompass this view, though it can certainly be read that way)

“The Lobby’s” field of play is Congress. To the extent Congress can and will push back against a president on foreign policy, “The Lobby” will get it to do so when they disagree with that president’s policies.

It has often been the case that “The Lobby” tries to push the US into a harder line than Israel takes. It has done so again this week.

Letters to Obama

The Senate, almost as a body, has written to the President in full support of Israel’s version of the events aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla over Memorial Day Weekend. It re-states the position that the siege on Gaza is legal and was imposed to stop the import of weapons to Hamas, while ignoring the question of how children’s toys, coriander, mayonnaise and ketchup could be classified as weapons. It also asks the President to consider putting the IHH, the Turkish organization which is most certainly supportive of Hamas, on the list of terrorist organizations.

The letter, at this writing, was signed by 86 senators, and a similar letter is up to 322 signatures in the House. (more…)

Democrats United In Support of Flotilla Raid

June 15, 2010

MJ Rosenberg reprints dozens of Democrats’ statements on the Gaza flotilla fiasco today in his Media Matters piece.

He doesn’t bother with the Republicans, which are worse, but also to be expected. And the Democrats he quotes include some supported by J Street. This points to a pretty wide consensus of opinion.

I found MJ’s closing line interesting. He writes, pithily, that “Our United States Congress hard at work, doing what it’s told.”

But I’ll say I have no doubt they heard from AIPAC and other, similar advocacy groups. And some, I’m sure, did indeed parrot the party line, wanting to curry favor during this election year.

But I also think that many of them didn’t need to be told what to say and didn’t say what they did because they heard it from AIPAC.

Then-Senator Obama addressing AIPAC on the campaign trail

Let’s face it, there’s more than just political pressure behind the fact that ostensible liberals turn into hawks when it comes to Israel.

Israel’s general approach to terrorism is not much different from our own American version—it’s just the context that makes the biggest difference. We are not anxious to indict Israeli behavior when it comes to real security given the methods we employ in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re not exactly the same, but they all fall under the new rubric of fighting terror.

There’s also the fact that I do not believe many of our elected officials really know that much about the Israel-Palestine conflict and give little real thought to what Israel’s best interests are. They also can’t really understand what America’s interests in the region are, beyond political expediency.

Members of Congress track many issues, even those who focus more on foreign policy. When I’ve listened to Gary Ackerman or Howard Berman speak, I perceive a big gulf between their knowledge of the Middle East and that of their staffers. That’s a reflection, too, of the fact that Israel is a domestic political issue for them. (more…)

We Now Hate Turkey, So the Armenian Genocide DID Happen

June 9, 2010

Spencer Ackerman has an excellent and succinct post on the hypocrisy abounding now that the American Jewish leadership has decided Turkey is an enemy, so they have stopped lobbying against recognition of the Armenian genocide.

He’s nicer about it than I am.

This has long been something I’ve found truly disgusting, and an example of how when it comes to a choice between being a Jew and marching lock-step with Israel, the so-called “pro-Israel” Jewish forces don’t even blink and abandon Judaism, our community and our heritage without a second thought.

WE ARE JEWS!!! HOW CAN WE DENY A GENOCIDE FOR CYNICAL POLITICAL PURPOSES???

And can anyone seriously doubt that such is exactly what happened?

This hypocrisy is not merely academic, now that AIPAC’s dissembling on behalf of Turkey has come to an end. It is that same trait that is on display on a daily basis in the denial of suffering in Gaza. (more…)

Flotilla Fallout: An Early Assessment

June 3, 2010

There’s a lot more information out now about the disastrous Israeli attack on the flotilla that was heading to Gaza last weekend. That doesn’t necessarily mean more clarity about what actually happened, but there’s enough to start assessing at least some of the impact.

There aren’t a lot of winners in this affair. Facts tend to be one of the first casualties in these things, and such has been the case again. We can start with that.

Israel’s claim that she’s entitled to take this action is disingenuous at best. There simply is no legal basis for taking an action such as this one in international waters, far from Israel’s zone of sovereignty. The idea that a civilian ship intending to run a blockade (one which itself has no basis in law, despite claims to the contrary) can be boarded in international waters before attempting such a run is simply absurd. Boarding civilian ships in international waters by armed commandoes invites the use of force, and the notion that such commandoes were “victims” of a “lynching” simply turns reality on its head.

Israel is also talking out of both sides of its mouth. On the one hand, Israel claims that they needed to board these ships in force, with an elite commando unit, because they feared they might be carrying weapons to Hamas, particularly due to the involvement of “terrorist supporters.” On the other, they say they were unprepared for significant resistance and were expecting non-violent tactics. You can’t have it both ways.

There is a lot of wailing to the effect that the real purpose of these ships was to run the blockade of Gaza and make a media splash, not primarily to deliver the goods they brought.

Well, yes. That’s not a secret, and no one is claiming otherwise.

MJ Rosenberg puts it very well: “Of course the goal of the flotilla was to break the blockade.  Of course Martin Luther King provoked the civil authorities of the South to break segregation.  Of course the Solidarity movement used workers’ rights as a pretext to break Soviet-imposed Communism.”

But the facts are not the only losers here. (more…)

Israel’s Kent State

May 31, 2010

Having worked on the issue of Israel and its myriad conflicts for many years, one gets used to tragedy and even to stunningly abhorrent behavior. And indeed, I have seen more than enough of both from all sides in this conflict.

But every once in a while, things take a turn, and that turn is punctuated by a singular, stunning event. The murderous raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla this day was one such event.

The Mavi Marmara, one of the ships that was stormed

I waited to start writing this until there was some official statement from Israel. I did that because I want to start off with Israel’s explanation for this horror. Here’s what the IDF spokesperson said, in part:

During the intercept of the ships, the demonstrators onboard attacked the IDF Naval personnel with live fire and light weaponry including knives and clubs. Additionally one of the weapons used was grabbed from an IDF soldier. The demonstrators had clearly prepared their weapons in advance for this specific purpose.

As a result of this life-threatening and violent activity, naval forces employed riot dispersal means, including live fire. Reports from IDF forces on the scene are that it seems as if part of the participants onboard the ships were planning to lynch the forces.

I am sure, as is always the case, there will be those who believe this version of events. But frankly, I can’t see how anyone can do so unless they are so desperate to justify Israel’s action here that they’ll believe anything. Let’s examine the IDF’s version of events.

We begin with the point that these were civilian ships and Israel boarded them with commandoes—soldiers who are disposed toward combat situations and are not meant to police unarmed civilians. They’re fighters, that’s their purpose. But the IDF claims that an assortment of international activists deliberately provoked a violent confrontation (using potentially deadly weapons, but which still leave them ridiculously overmatched) against heavily armed and trained soldiers in order to “lynch them.” (more…)


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