Archive for category Israel
Robert Zubrin, in three succinct Facebook posts, explains his objections to the Iran “deal.” First, the problems with the deal itself:
The problem with the Obama-Teheran Pact is that no genuine deal is possible. This is so because the entire purpose of the Iranian nuclear program is to produce nuclear bombs. The proof of this is:
- Iran does not need nuclear power for electricity, as it is currently flaring vast quantities of natural gas.
- If Iran did want nuclear power for electricity, it could buy 3.7% enriched U235 (reactor grade) for power generation purposes from either France or Russia at much lower cost than it can producing it domestically.
- Therefore, the only reason why Iran needs its own enrichment capability is to further enrich reactor grade U235 to bomb grade material.
- Further proof of this is supplied by the fact that Iran is actively developing ICBMs, whose only purpose is to deliver nuclear warheads.
- Therefore there can be no genuine deal, because any arrangement which stops Iran from developing nuclear weapons would defeat the entire purpose of its nuclear bomb program, while any deal that does not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons would represent a complete capitulation by the West.
- And since Iran cares deeply about what actually results from any deal, while Obama only cares about how the deal appears, it is clear that any deal which is made will be one in which Iran is allowed to develop atomic bombs while Obama gets to pretend otherwise for a few months.
The simplest way to stop the Iranian nuclear bomb program completely is to strike Iran’s oil export terminal on Kharg Island. As you can see, it is a very soft target. Two dozen JDAMs would suffice to set the whole place ablaze. Without oil exports, Iran would go bankrupt, and not only the bomb program, but the entire regime would be brought to an end, as they would be unable to meet payroll. No bucks = no bombs.
I observe that my previous posting identifying Iran’s extreme vulnerability to a strike on Kharg Island has provoked numerous responses objecting to US military action and pointing out a variety of possible negative consequences. However those authors misunderstand my point entirely. I am not calling for a US military strike on Kharg Island. That obviously is not going to happen under the Obama administration, as its current energetic efforts to make any deal with Iran, regardless of consequences, clearly shows. I was simply pointing out that if someone actually did want to stop Iran from getting atomic weapons, they readily could do it using much smaller military forces than the US has at its disposal.
Therefore, those people who find the idea of a strike on Kharg island and its potential aftermath unpleasant should do everything in their power to prevent the Obama administration from sealing a deal that would make such a strike an existential necessity for the Israelis.
It will be observed that everywhere Obama has abandoned America’s commitments, chaos and mass bloodshed has erupted. Look at Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Ukraine. Consider what will happen to Afghanistan, particularly the women and girls of Afghanistan, as soon as Obama withdraws American forces. Should Obama be allowed to proceed with his policy of ending the containment of Iran, the level of violence he has already unleashed will continue to expand without limit.
When the policeman abandons his post, it does not bring peace to the neighborhood.
More than history, the Jews have memory.
In his marvelous little book, Zakhor (“Memory”), Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi notes that Jewish historiography ends with the destruction of the Second Temple, revived only with the Continental Enlightenment and its reach into the communities of France and Germany.
Jewish memory, by contrast continues on, making sense of current events by analogy with Biblical ones. It’s a method not entirely alien to American history itself. The New England settlers saw themselves as latter-day Israelites, guided by God across a forbidding body of water, fleeing a corrupt Egypt to establish His kingdom on Earth in a new land. Franklin proposed that the Great Seal of the United States feature the Israelite crossing the Red Sea. Bruce Feiler’s America’s Prophet (I have not read it, so I can make no recommendation one way or the other) chronicles the role of Moses in American thought, American memory.
But if America could draw on a new founding to make Moses its central prophet, the Jews, in exile, usually turned to a different Biblical story, the Book of Esther. Scattered, everywhere a minority, at the mercy of temporal powers who were usually not friendly, the Jews frequently found reason to compare their situation to the Jews in the Babylonian exile, rescued from extinction by Divine Providence hidden in natural events, hopeful of soon returning home.
It was not unusual for local communities, and even families, to celebrate such rescues by declaring local “Purims,” often recording the events in local chronicles by paralleling the very words of the Book of Esther.
Even though there is now a Jewish Commonwealth for the first time since 70 AD, the current Purim Parallel practically writes itself. Genocidal theocratic Persian seeks nuclear bomb for destruction of Jewish people, twists current world power’s leader to its own ends to obtain such. The comparison was given an added push by the timing of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to Congress – on Tuesday, the day before the Fast of Esther, commemorating Esther’s own fast before she approached the King to plead her case. Most of the commentaries I’ve seen put Netanyahu in the role of Esther, braving the dangers of speaking truth to power (in the old Lefty phrase) in order to save his people.
I don’t think that’s quite right.
Netanyahu’s role here much more close parallels that of Mordecai, imploring Esther to do the right thing and risk her own position and comfort to save her people. Netanyahu deftly explained why the approaching deal is a bad idea, why it’s a threat to Israel, but also – more importantly, given the audience – a threat to the United States. He appealed to the common civilization and shared values between Israel and the United States.
But thought Bibi can persuade, he cannot directly influence. He has no vote in the US, he must act through others, igniting a serious debate where there had been none, inviting others to bring to bear direct political pressure.
Which means that you and I, friends, are Esther.
It is incumbent upon us to act, to persuade Congress to oppose the agreement when it is reached, to retain or increase sanctions, to prevent the administration from giving power, legitimacy, and trade to our enemies as Americans and Jews.
It is our role to step out of our comfortable positions in a wealthy, friendly, welcoming society and use what influence and power we have to prevent any agreement that even contemplates an Iranian bomb from being anything more than a dead letter.
Given this, the actual words of Mordecai’s plea are even more ominous for an American Jewish community used to security but facing new demographic and ideological threats:
Do not imagine to yourself that you will escape in the king’s house from among all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and rescue will arise for the Jews from elsewhere, and you and your father’s household will perish. And who knows if you became Queen for such a time as this?
There is actually a dispute as to how to translate Mordecai’s last sentence. Some translate it as, “And who knows if you will remain Queen a year from now?” meaning that Esther might lose her position as Queen. Others translate it as, “And who knows if this isn’t the reason you became Queen?”
The two translations aren’t necessarily at odds: the calendar date for the actual massacre was a year off from Esther’s approach to the King. Mordecai could have been arguing that if Esther didn’t fulfill her purpose in being Queen, God could easily enough arrange for her fall from power and its protections.
There is, or should be, a growing unease among Jews in the United States, this exceptional home for us with its exceptional relationship to us. Too many Jews have traded in their Jewish identity for a Democratic Party one, replacing eternal transcendent values for temporary, political issues of the day. A small minority, the 10% who are Orthodox, are having the great majority of the children, and with even Modern Orthodoxy teetering a little unsurely, the future of Judaism in the States looks potentially smaller, poorer, and more inward-looking.
The President, in his desire to reach a deal with Iran’s mullahs, has put Jewish Americans, but especially Jewish Democrats, in a position of having to choose between identities many had come to see as identical. There are any number of powerful and influential Jewish Democrats, and who knows that they didn’t achieve these positions for such a time as this?
Rabbi David Fohrman points out something I hadn’t noticed before. Two tribes – Judah and Benjamin (plus some Levites, but leave them aside, they’re not a full tribe here) – are actually in exile in Babylon. Those are the only two tribes left in the southern Kingdom of Judah after the northern Kingdom of Israel had been conquered a couple of centuries earlier.
Mordecai was from Benjamin. Esther was from Benjamin. But the decree was phrased as “Yehudim,” Judahites. Haman didn’t care about tribal differences, but Mordecai would have caught the wording. Benjamin and Judah had often had a somewhat tense relationship. Would Esther think that the decree didn’t mean Benjamin, that she and others from her tribe could ride this out?
Mordecai’s demand means this, too: we’re all in this together, Benjamin and Judah. Don’t think this doesn’t mean you. It does.
Similarly Netanyahu is telling American Jews: don’t think this doesn’t mean you. The Islamists, the anti-semites, the BDS-ers and the campus radicals have it in for all of us. You may be secular, you may be comfortable, you may be wealthy, you may even be intermarried or atheist, it doesn’t matter. They mean you, too.
And to non-Jewish Americans, Netanyahu is saying the same thing: the Islamists are coming for you, too. This is a civilizational war we’re fighting, and we’re part of the same team. Some of you may think you can buy safety by cutting a deal that puts Israel at risk, but you can’t. And you’re putting your country and your children and your future in danger if you try.
Will the American Jews extend themselves on behalf of the Israeli Jews, or will we huddle together, trying to ride out the storm?
There are some, Alan Dershowitz, AIPAC, Larry Mizel & Norm Brownstein, who have risen to the occasion. Since 2005, I’ve been on the email list for Jewish NOLA, and its president, Michael Weil, sent out an email this afternoon very supportive of Netanyahu’s speech and its message.
Too many, however, including our own JCRC here in Denver, the ADL, and other organizations charged specifically with advocating for Israel, have taken the safe route. Happy to opine on just about any partisan political social or economic issue, they have fallen silent, ostensibly afraid to make Israel “partisan.” In doing so, of course, they are acquiescing the an administration that has chosen to politicize Israel to try to isolate it, because it stands in the way of its Middle East Grand Strategy. They have, perversely, allowed Israel to become the one topic they won’t discuss.
That’s not good enough.
There is one final parallel. The Purim story doesn’t end with the King revoking his decree and saving the Jews. In some interpretations, the King is prevented by Persian law from revoking a decree, in others he’s too proud to admit a mistake. Regardless of the reason, the King instead issues another decree – a change in policy, if you will – permitting the Jews the defend themselves. It’s a striking thing, a King risking the internal stability of his empire by permitting a subject people to take self-defense into their own hands on a national scale. But he does it, confident that he’s not unleashing chaos, but rather encouraging justice.
Too often, we have valued stability in the Middle East above all else (indeed, stability is given as the reason for welcoming a nuclear-tipped Iran into a role a regional hegemon). It would take a brave president indeed, or at least a confident and secure one, to welcome an Israeli effort to defend itself against an Iranian bomb. It may mean waiting until the next president, who, while not repudiating whatever agreement this one reaches, winks and nods at such an effort.
The International Community condemns the Jerusalem terror attack.
The Palestinian Authority honors the murderer of the 3-month-old child.
At least in the minds of American and European diplomats. It’s a bipartisan affliction, but one to which Democrats and Europeans seem especially prone, probably because it’s an excuse to pressure Israel.
Today we can add another pronouncement from another US Secretary of State that it’s time for Israel to repent, as the end is near. John Kerry assured the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum that, “Well, the difference is that what happens in the coming days will actually dictate what happens in the coming decades. We’re running out of time. We’re running out of possibilities. And let’s be clear: If we do not succeed now – and I know I’m raising those stakes – but if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.”
Here’s the list as it stood when I last posted on the Window of Perpetual Closing, back in November of 2010:
- February 26, 1995 – South Florida Sun-Sentinal – “Middle East Peace in Pieces”
- “Many U.S. diplomats say in confidential interviews that the partners for peace had but a short window of opportunity, a window that opened when the PLO and Israelis issued the declaration of principles for peace 18 months ago. Now, U.S. officials fear, that window has closed.”
- October 15, 1998 – Austin American Statesman – “Decks Clear for Mideast Talks”
- The decks literally cleared in southern Israel a few days later, when a bomb injured 64 people
- July 24, 2000 – St. Paul Pioneer Press - “Clinton Rejoins Peace Talks, Pressure High, Time is Short“
- August 14, 2000 – New York Times – “Washington Feels Time is Short for Restarting the Mideast Talks”
- April 5, 2002 – Jerusalem Post – “The Postwar Window of Opportunity”
- December 12, 2003 – New York Times – ‘A Bush Aide Criticized Israel For Not Doing More To Foster Peace”
- “In Rome international donors to the Palestinians said that, because of the installation of a new Palestinian prime minister, a ”window of opportunity” had reopened, permitting the resumption of negotiations with Israel.”
- October 19, 2006 – UN Security Council – “Mideast Peace Envoy Tells Security Council…Urgent to Help Restart Dialogue”
- “ELLEN MARGRETHE LØJ ( Denmark) said the challenge for the parties to the conflict, as well as for the international community, was to ensure that they embarked on a process leading towards lasting peace…. It was now up to the parties to avail themselves of that window of opportunity.”
- March 31, 2007 – Bloomberg – “EU Says Palestinian Government Gives Window for Mid East Peace”
- May 2, 2008 – MonstersAndCritics.com – “Rice Warns Time Is Limited For Achieving Mideast Peace Deal”
- November 16, 2010 – Washington Post – “Israeli officials say time growing short for West Bank peace deal” (I speculated at the time that elements within Israel might be coordinating with the Obama Administration)
Today is the UN’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s commemorated on January 27, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army, and is generally pointed to, even by UN critics, as one of the few things that the UN gets right. For its admirers, the day pretty much absolves the UN of all sins.
I confess to having mixed emotions about it.
First, there’s the tendency towards universality that pervades everything Jewish-related that the UN does. The Holocaust has a specific, unique meaning to Jews that it doesn’t have to anyone else. This is a result of the special place that Jews held in Nazi ideology, and therefore the uniquely catastrophic results that the Holocaust had on the Jewish population and civilization of Europe. This point has been made before, but the need to draw universal lessons from a uniquely Jewish experience has the effect of lessening, rather than deepening, the lessons that we actually draw from it. It’s much easier, much more banal, to oppose “hate” in the abstract, than it is to look at the much more concrete way that a specific person or people is seen.
That universality has been the Trojan Horse by which, ironically, anti-Semitism has been given a new lease on life, when the Holocaust was supposed to have rendered it inert for all time. As British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has repeatedly pointed out, anti-Semitism is a virus, that mutates into whatever form the current zeitgeist finds most acceptable. Currently, racism is the one thing that can’t be tolerated. Therefore, it is convenient to condemn Israel – and Jews – for supposed racism vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Rebutting those charges is well beyond the scope of this blog post, and well-nigh impossible in the eyes of those who make them in the first place. But the charge of racism, accompanied by the de rigeur comparisons of 2013 Israelis to 1943 Germans, is what has allowed anti-Semitism to regain respectability within the Left. It will provide the cover for the very same diplomats shedding crocodile tears over the dead Jews of 70 years ago to condemn the living Jews of today for resisting a repeat of history.
In fact, there already is a Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, Yom HaShoah, and it celebrates life, vitality, resistance, and renewal, rather than the passive liberation and victim-status that the world prefers for its Jews. Two days were considered – first the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 14 Nissan. That was rejected because of its proximity to Passover. Instead, Yom HaShoah is commemorated a week before Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day. Either one of those would be just fine for a UN Holocaust Remembrance Day, but either would make more difficult the UN’s current mission of demonizing and dispossessing the Jews of their national homeland.
If a Day of Liberation of the Camps were strictly necessary, perhaps the anniversary of the liberation of one of the camps by Eisenhower, who actually commissioned films to be made in order to perpetuate the awful memory of what happened. Instead, we get the liberation of Auschwitz, the Symbol of Symbols of the Holocaust, but one which was also liberated by the Red Army, which turned out to be in many ways, not much better than the Wehrmacht, and was servant to an ideology in every way the equal of Hitler’s.
Perhaps more ironically, there is a way to redeem this date specifically with respect to Jews. In 1945, as in 2013, it falls on Parshat Beshallach, the week where Jews read of the crossing of the Red Sea and the destruction of Pharaoh’s armies. Carrying the story a little further, we also read of the Amalekites attacking the Jews in their new sanctuary, with the intent of annihilating them, and the Jews’ success in fighting them off.
Don’t count on too many people pointing out those parallels.
UPDATE: As if to make the point, here’s a front-page cartoon from this morning’s Sunday Times of London:
This evening, the Romney campaign hosted a conference call for Jewish supporters, with the featured speaker being Dan Senor, author of “Startup Nation,” about Israel’s economy. Senor accompanied Gov. Romney on his recent foreign trip, and spoke about some of the highlights.
During the Q&A, I asked him specifically about his recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv. A 1995 law provides for that, but also allows the President to waive that action for 6 months. Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama have all repeatedly put off moving the embassy to Jerusalem. President Obama recently took this equivocation to new heights, when his spokesman refused to identify Israel’s capital:
The followed the BBC’s failure to identify any city as Israel’s capital on its Olympics site, while readily identifying Jerusalem as the capital of the as-yet non-existent country of Palestine. While the Obama administration is hardly responsible for the BBC, its failure to support Israel generally – beyond the security cooperation – no doubt contributes to an atmosphere where the Beeb can perpetrate such insults.
While I don’t think anyone can reasonably question Romney’s affection for and support for Israel, Obama’s supporters have taken to pointing out that President Bush, while also identifying Israel’s capital as Jerusalem, repeated waived moving the embassy.
Senor, I think, aptly separated the two issues. Moving the embassy isn’t necessary to recognizing a country’s capital. Likewise, it should be a no-brainer to recognize that Israel’s national governmental institutions reside in a part of Jerusalem whose position as a part of Israel has never seriously been questioned. Doing that in no way pre-judges the final status negotiations, which may take place sometime in our lifetimes.
In other words, doing so should have no immediate practical implications vis-a-vis the Palestinians, except insofar as they and other Arabs choose to be rejectionist of even minimal Israeli demands. It would, however, be of significant symbolic importance, making it clear that the US supports Israel as a normal country within the nation state system.
That the Obama administration is incapable of even that tells you all you need to know about the difference between Romney and Obama on this matter.
Colorado Democrats, and even Denver Democrats, like to portray themselves as being more centrist, less likely to be run by their wing nuts. Certainly, there’s been little if any evidence of an anti-Israel bias in the state’s Congressional delegation over the years. Unfortunately, their choice of speaker for Saturday night’s State House District 7 “Unity Dinner” calls that claim into question.
The speaker is California Congressman Maxine Waters, who, only three months ago, was peddling Jewish conspiracy claptrap to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, a hard-leftist organization:
AIPAC has a lot of power, a lot of influence. They raise a lot of money, and they raise this money not just for re-elections, but also to see that the people who will support their agenda are in key places in all of the committees. and all of the leadership of Congress. So they do exercise tremendous power, and I think that the more money you take from AIPAC, the more you get tied down to their policies. I do not accept contributions from AIPAC.
Well, that’s mighty independent of her, given that AIPAC doesn’t make campaign contributions, spending its money on lobbying. Make no mistake, there are plenty of pro-Israel PACs, an they are often informed by AIPAC as to the positions of Congressmen on specific bills or appropriations. But AIPAC doesn’t even issue legislative ratings. So if Rep. Waters wants to stay clear of undue Jewish influence, it’ll take more than dodging non-offered contributions from a non-existent PAC. (The PAC in AIPAC stands for “Public Affairs Committee.”)
What’s disturbing is that the Denver Democrats would choose someone like this to speak at a Unity Dinner. The last couple of years, they’ve had more or less traditional liberals speak at their Jefferson-Jackson Day dinner: Cory Booker, Deval Patrick.
And, typically, the choice has evoked no response from the establishment Jewish institutions here in Colorado, dominated as they are by those who identify Jewishness with membership in the Democrat party.
Comes this report from Palestinian Media Watch, that a lecturer at Al-Najah University in Nablus is claiming that Moses led the Muslims out of Egypt. (No jokes about how if this is true, he’s the last Egyptian to have successfully led his people across Sinai.)
“We must make clear to the world that David in the Hebrew Bible is not connected to David in the Quran, Solomon in the Hebrew Bible is not connected to Solomon in the Quran, and neither is Saul or Joshua son of Nun [of the Bible]. We have a great leader, Saul, [in the Quran] who defeated the nation of giants and killed Goliath. This is a great Muslim victory. The Muslims of the Children of Israel went out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses, and unfortunately, many researchers deny the Exodus of those oppressed people who were liberated by a great leader, like Moses the Muslim, the believing leader, the great Muslim, who was succeeded by Saul, the leader of these Muslims in liberating Palestine. This was the first Palestinian liberation through armed struggle to liberate Palestine from the nation of giants led by Goliath. This is our logic and this is our culture.”
The Palestinians have a national obsession with delegitimizing not only Israel, but Jews and Judaism, in their effort to uproot Zionism, but you can’t help but laugh at this one. After all, they’ve tried being descended from Canannites and Jebusites in their efforts to ante-date Jewish claims. Back in his pre-Camp David days, Anwar Sadat wanted to avenge the killing of Palestinians like Goliath at the hands of shepherds like David. So it was only a matter of time before one of them decided that Louis Farrakhan had the right idea and that the Jews were actually Palestinians, or the Palestinians were actually Jews, or something. The Palestinian narrative has been so incoherent for so long, it’s surprising it took them until now to come out with this one. (I suppose this ancestral confusion was transplanted to my 2008 primary opponent, who was variously born in Jordan, Saudi, Jerusalem, and recently claimed in a interview to be a child of the Levant, which must have come as quite a shock to him.)
Ultimately, of course, none of this matters. If the Palestinians would leave the Israelis alone long enough to celebrate the Exodus peacefully, the Israelis would by and large be willing to leave the Palestinians alone to their genealogy. But as long as “this is their logic (sic) and this is their culture,” there’s not much hope for that, I’m afraid.
From the Washington Examiner’s Joel Gehrke, a report on Attempted Public Diplomacy by our Secretary of State the other day in Tunisia:
QUESTION: My name is Ivan. After the electoral campaign starts in the United States – it started some time ago – we noticed here in Tunisia that most of the candidates from the both sides run towards the Zionist lobbies to get their support in the States. And afterwards, once they are elected, they come to show their support for countries like Tunisia and Egypt for a common Tunisian or a common Arab citizen. How would you reassure and gain his trust again once given the fact that you are supporting his enemy as well at the same time?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, let me say you will learn as your democracy develops that a lot of things are said in political campaigns that should not bear a lot of attention. There are comments made that certainly don’t reflect the United States, don’t reflect our foreign policy, don’t reflect who we are as a people. I mean, if you go to the United States, you see mosques everywhere, you see Muslim Americans everywhere. That’s the fact. So I would not pay attention to the rhetoric.
Secondly, I would say watch what President Obama says and does. He’s our President. He represents all of the United States, and he will be reelected President, so I think that that will be a very clear signal to the entire world as to what our values are and what our President believes. So I think it’s a fair question because I know that – I sometimes am a little surprised that people around the world pay more attention to what is said in our political campaigns than most Americans, say, are paying attention. So I think you have to shut out some of the rhetoric and just focus on what we’re doing and what we stand for, and particularly what our President represents.
The first problem, the one where she acts as a partisan advocate for the President, she’s already admitted was a mistake: “My enthusiasm for the President got a little out of hand.” I’ll say. I realize the days of politics stopping at the shoreline are long gone, and have been at least since Ted Kennedy tried to cut a deal with the Soviets to defeat Ronald Reagan in the Presidential elections, and Jimmy Carter circulated a letter begging UN Security Council members to vote against President George H.W. Bush’s efforts to liberate Kuwait. Nevertheless, I was operating under the quaint assumption that the Secretary of State represented the country, not her political party, when she traveled overseas.
The second problem is much more substantive. Tunisians might well understand a personal loyalty from the Secretary of State, they’re more likely to attach significance to foreign policy pronouncements. Her answer, roughly translated into English, is, “Don’t worry about what gets said in the campaign. There’s a lot of pandering to small, specific lobbies. We’re not really all that supportive of Israel.”
If she felt the need to be non-committal, there are about 100 ways she could have done that. But what about an answer that defends not only the interests of the United States, but the good sense of the American people, and the interests of our allies, as well? Something like:
Well, you have to understand that the American people as a whole, not just particular lobbies, feel a sympathy towards Israel, for its democracy, and its success in defending itself against enemies. Naturally, we hope that that era is coming to an end, and Israel and her neighbors can live in peace. but
Rather than defining your interests in opposition to Israel, perhaps you should look to them as a model in some ways. It, too, is a small country, whose primary resource is the creativity of its own diverse population. After all, your question implies an interest in our own democratic process for how we select leaders and how that affects policy, so it’s clear that Tunisians would like to develop a stable, lasting free system of their own. And I think the Arab Spring could learn a lot from a close neighbor who also wants close relations.
I realize it’s much more fun to engage in “Smart Diplomacy,” but how about mastering actual, basic diplomacy first. That starts with not accepting all the premises of a hostile question.
I just finished watching President Obama address AIPAC’s 2011 Policy Conference, and I can’t say I was comforted.
The crowd was enthusiastic, as one might expect for a sitting US President who didn’t openly pull the rug out from under Israel. Obama mouthed all the right key phrases about not delegitimizing Israel, supporting its security, never questioning its existence or right to do so, and holding the Palestinians accountable. No President will ever say anything different.
But the speech was very much the Tacoma Narrows Bridge: beautiful from a distance, but lacking all structural integrity.
Even as he was saying, “We will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their words,” everything else he said indicated that he won’t.
Obama said that the world is impatient with a peace process, or lack thereof, that produces no results, which is why the Palestinians are pursuing their statehood ambitions through the UN. In order to forestall this, the Israelis must recognize the need for progress in negotiations.
This formulation completely ignores the fact that this is part of the Palestinians strategy, the whole Menendez-brothers-but-we’re-orphans Act, allowing them to avoid responsibility for their role in the talks’ failures. It presumes that the Palestinians had any interest in coming to an agreement under the current framework, and makes Israel to blame for Palestinian intransigence.
Moreover, by listing the regions of the world (Latin America, really?) that are frustrated with the lack of an agreement, he highlights his administration’s utter incompetence in defending Israel diplomatically, which is what a large part of his speech claimed that he had done.
Obama said that the PLO-Hamas agreement posed a “huge obstacle,” and that Israel couldn’t be expected to negotiate with people who want to destroy it, therefore, he will continue to press Hamas to fulfill the basic requirements.
Israel is expected to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, without negotiating with Hamas? Or Hamas is to fundamentally transform itself from the equivalent of the Nazi Party into Social Democrats? One proposition betrays the conditions the President just set, the other ignores the reality to which he is supposedly so attached.
He focused again on his line concerning the 1967 borders, repeating “mutually agreed swaps,” and adding in that the Palestinians “must” recognize facts on the ground.
And if they don’t? The basic premise of everything is that there must be an agreement. After a speech that does little but reward Palestinian intransigence, why should the Palestinians do anything other than dig in their heels? If the Israelis open with an aggressive map, they’ll be quickly “reined in” by the rest of the world, that has no right to set terms, but every right to, well, set terms. And if they open with a reasonably map, it will be treated as a good basis for the beginning of negotiations.
He was silent on Jerusalem and the “Right of Return.”
But security and the Jewish character of Israel, two things Obama claims to want, are tied up inextricably with those two issues. For a President who opened the speech by congratulating himself he was remarkably silent on the two issues on which are the most zero-sum of all.
After months of having the Arab world ignore a President who repeatedly insists that they “must” do this and that they “must not” do that, the standing ovation he got in DC was probably dwarfed by the one he got in Ramallah and Gaza.