Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

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.

Jerusalem’s Mayor is a Threat to Israel’s Future

June 28, 2010

Americans for Peace Now sent a letter to President Obama today, urgently pointing out what should be obvious to him: “Engage NOW to get Jerusalem under control.” The full text of the letter can be found here.

The letter lays out the problem clearly enough. And, indeed, the solution is for President Obama to get Prime Minister

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat

Netanyahu to rein in the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. I’ll take it further—Barkat is as big a threat to Israel’s future as any individual in the world.

Barkat, a businessman, became mayor in 2008, and many thought that as a secular Israeli, coming on the heels of a very religious mayor, he would be more pragmatic. Such has not been the case.

Barkat has gone out of his way to enflame the conflict with the Palestinians. Jerusalem is the most emotional of all the issues setting Israelis and Palestinians at odds, and the mayor of Jerusalem, therefore, has more direct power than anyone to cause flare-ups.

Barkat does not pay much mind to this fact. In his campaign for mayor he made it very clear that he felt strongly that Jerusalem remain the “undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people.” And, much more than his Haredi predecessor, he has taken bold steps to ensure that outcome. (more…)

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…)

Gaza: A Kadima-Made Quagmire

June 22, 2010

The political mudslinging between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni over the failure of Israel’s siege of Gaza would be amusing if it were not so disturbing.

The exchange basically comes down to Bibi saying that he inherited the Gaza siege from the previous government and Livni responding that under their version of the siege, the world wasn’t condemning Israel for it.

We’ll get back to Bibi in a moment, but let’s look at the depths of Livni’s disingenuousness.

Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzipi Livni

Livni is not just the current head of Kadima; she was Foreign Minister when the siege was enacted and when Israel wreaked havoc in Operation Cast Lead. Unlike Avigdor Lieberman, the FM in the current government, Livni was at the very heart of policymaking under Olmert. She cannot duck responsibility for Gaza.

Under the watch that Livni was a central part of, Israel enacted a policy that was needlessly cruel and ultimately self-defeating. For three years, the civilians in Gaza have been devastated. They, not Hamas, bore the brunt of Israel’s policies. They, not Hamas, were impacted by Israel barring all sorts of household items, cleansers, foodstuffs, coffee, cigarettes, and other consumer products.

These effects were far from unexpected; they were the sole intent of the policies. This was the very definition of collective punishment. (more…)

Solving the Hamas Question

June 16, 2010

Few events are as badly misunderstood as the 2006 election that brought a stunning victory for Hamas.

The factors that led to that electoral victory were:

  • The perception that Fatah had failed utterly to make any significant gains for the Palestinian people
  • The widespread corruption that was the norm for Fatah at that time
  • The in-fighting in Fatah which caused not only disillusionment, but also led to more than one Fatah candidate in numerous districts, splitting the vote
  • Only the smallest factor was a moderate rise in religious nationalism among Palestinians

Hamas enjoyed a certain temporary popularity, more as an alternative than anything else. Much of the current dilemma involving Hamas arises not from their electoral victory but from the coup that the US and Israel attempted to engineer, backing Fatah in Gaza, which was thwarted by Hamas’ pre-emptive strike and led to Hamas ejecting much of

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

Fatah completely from Gaza and taking unilateral control.

I bring this up because a friend asked me how Hamas might be undermined today. The answer is both pragmatic and involves no devious tricks or the use of force.

The first step is easing the Gaza siege so that the people can rebuild destroyed homes and business, and resuscitate their economy. Already, even Israel has conceded this can be done without compromising security measures. And that it can be done while largely bypassing Hamas.

From there, Fatah and Hamas must be pushed toward forming a unity government that would have only one purpose—facilitating new elections for the Palestinian Authority. Polls have consistently shown that Fatah would emerge the winner, while Hamas would be a significant minority party. The most recent poll shows that the gap between the two is widening as Salam Fayyad’s popularity is increasing significantly. (more…)

Resolving the Gaza Siege Conundrum

June 13, 2010

The Gaza Flotilla disaster has shone a light on the siege of Gaza. After three years, the international community has finally stood up and said this must stop.

Now the question is how.

I’m reminded of a meeting I had about a year ago with several State Department officials. Already, the Obama

President Obama and President Abbas met this past week in Washington

administration had made it clear that Gaza was not an issue they wanted to deal with. They preferred to advance the peace process with Mahmoud Abbas and hope Gaza would just go away.

That was never going to happen, of course, but the Administration still seems to want to avoid dealing with Gaza if at all possible. The flotilla massacre made it impossible.

At that meeting, I went through the list of reasons why the siege on Gaza was both unjust and against Israel’s better interests. I stressed throughout, and continue to do so today, that Israel has legitimate security concerns that it has every right to address. But that right does not mean all restraints are off.

So after some discussion, I was asked what I thought should be done about it. I believe my answer to them still holds today as a way to address both Hamas and the rights of the people in Gaza. (more…)


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