The Israeli Leadership is 'Reading Obama Wrong' (Israel Policy Forum)

De arrogantie van de macht van de zionistische (Pro-Groot)’Israel lobby’ in Amerika lijkt te worden gebroken door president Obama. Het is hoog tijd dat de rechtse regering van Israel dat gaat beseffen.

It seems to me that none of the key figures in the Israeli leadership (Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, or Minister of Defense Ehud Barak) "get" Barak Obama. This is no surprise. Israel was one of the only countries in the world that preferred Obama’s opponents in the primaries and then in the general election. In fact, if Israelis could have chosen our President, they would have given George W. Bush a third term. (On the other hand, 78 percent of Jewish Americans voted for Obama last November).

I don’t know why Israelis have never taken to Barack Obama. My guess is that they view him, correctly, as one of those American liberals who, given the choice, prefer diplomacy to war. This is not to say that a Bush will never choose diplomacy or that an Obama will never choose war. It is just that for Obama, war is an option only after every other option has been exhausted. That is not how recent Israeli governments have operated.

That does not make Israel a war mongering country, but it is no peace-monger either. For instance, the recent war with Hamas might never have happened if Israel had lived up to its side of the ceasefire agreement and eased the blockade on Gaza. (Hamas almost completely stopped firing its missiles but Israel maintained the blockade).

This is a fairly typical pattern. For years, successive Israeli governments have not exerted themselves to avoid war. Even Sharon’s unilateral Gaza withdrawal proves that point. If Israel wanted a peaceful Gaza, it would have negotiated withdrawal with President Abbas. Instead, it pulled out without even notifying Abbas. It was, obviously, not surprised when Hamas moved right in.

Why belabor these points? Simply to demonstrate that the Israeli government and Barack Obama do not have the same approach to handling conflict. George W. Bush was enthusiastic about the Israeli approach and gave Israel carte blanche to do whatever it wanted to do. That is except on Iran where, to his credit, he put his foot down and vetoed an Israeli attack.

In any case, while Americans are still celebrating Obama’s presidency (his popularity is in the stratosphere), the government of Israel need only get over 43’s departure and learn how to deal with 44. That requires understanding Barack Obama. And, so far, there is no evidence that it does. To use a phrase common in Israel, it is time for the government to replace its hard disc–the one with all the information about how to deal with the Americans.

Once it does that, it will understand that its current modus operandi is, at best, counterproductive. At worst, it will significantly damage the U.S.-Israel relationship, eroding a friendship that took decades to cement.

Since coming to power, the new government has alternated between telling America that the U.S. approach to the two-state solution is dead and that our Iran policy soon will be. Netanyahu seems unable to utter the phrase "Palestinian state" while Lieberman flatly says that the Annapolis roadmap is a dead letter. As for Iran, Netanyahu says that he is fine with the United States pursuing diplomacy for a decent interval, but then Israel may have to attack. He makes clear that attacking or not attacking will be his decision, as if an Israeli attack will not be viewed by the entire world as a joint U.S.-Israel venture and as if U.S. interests-including 130,000 troops in Iraq-will not be jeopardized.

But it’s not as dire as it sounds. The Israeli threats are serious, but not that serious.
I do not believe they will reject the two-state solution and I expect Netanyahu will be forced to utter the dread words "Palestinian state" very soon. Nor do I think Israel would attack Iran in defiance of U.S. wishes unless it itself was under a direct and imminent threat of attack (in which case the United States would support Israel anyway).

As far as Netanyahu’s latest demand-that he will only endorse the two-state solution if the Palestinians recognize Israel "as a Jewish state," it is just silly and designed only to buy time. As a U.S. official was quick to respond, "nations don’t recognize other nations as anything in particular. How a nation state defines itself is the business only of the country itself." It is also profoundly un-Israeli to depend on the Palestinians to give Israel legitimacy as a Jewish state. If Israel wants to be a "Jewish state," it will be. If it decides at some point to become the secular state of the Israelis, it can do that too.

So why this confrontational approach? Why try to appear as inflexible as possible?
Simple. It’s gamesmanship. The Israeli government wants Obama to believe it is making huge concessions when it announces its acceptance of the two-state solution and follows America’s lead on the Iran nuclear issue. This is an old game.

It is like Israel’s oft-repeated offer to dismantle illegal settlements? That is supposed to be a "concession," for which America is supposed to be grateful. In the past, that tactic has worked and America quickly eased up on its feather-like "pressure." Of course, the illegal outposts are still there, to be offered as a concession the next time the Israeli government feels the need to keep U.S. diplomacy at bay.

In any case, Obama does not play this game. Unlike his recent predecessors, he seems to understand that he holds the cards in the U.S.-Israeli relationship. He’s in his first year in office. He is incredibly popular. His party controls Congress. And American Jews are crazy about him-and not so crazy about Netanyahu and Lieberman.

The latter two can huff and puff all they want but they are not going to blow Obama’s house down. And they know it.

It’s a new ball game and Obama controls the ball.

Some evidence. Any previous President who might have thought to hold a White House seder would have invited the "usual suspects"-the Jewish organizational figures, legislators, and big donors who are the backbone of the status quo lobby. Obama invited his Jewish friends and staff-and not one member of the old crowd which usually represents Jews at this kind of event.

Obama wasn’t "sticking it" to anybody. He simply knows the Jewish community too well (his entire career in Chicago was advanced by Jewish friends) to believe that it is represented by any one group or coalition of groups-and certainly not the "Israel is always right" establishment.

It is then no surprise that, according to a report in Yedioth Achronoth yesterday, Obama is not impressed with the tough talk coming out of Jerusalem. In fact, Rahm Emanuel is quoted as saying, "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." That is pretty much what Special Envoy George Mitchell told Netanyahu and Lieberman in Jerusalem yesterday. The United States is committed to the two-state solution and to implementing it very soon. It has no intention of debating it with Avigdor Lieberman or anyone else.

So Israel needs to stop with the threats and treat Obama as the most significant ally Israel has in the world. In the end, assuming Obama hangs tough, Israel will be closer to both peace and real security than if it stays on the path to collision with its ally and arsenal. The worst mistake its leaders could make is to assume that they can strong-arm the new President. They can’t, so long as he is popular with the American people and understands his own strength.

Lyndon Johnson famously told his staff that he had two years after the largest landslide in U.S. history to implement Medicare, Civil Rights, Voting Rights and his other top priorities. He figured that after that, he might not have the "juice" to put over his program. So he got it all done in those first two years and, two years later when he was much weakened by Vietnam, he had already transformed America.

Obama should follow that model and wrap up an agreement by 2011.

As for Israel, it will have to trust America. Isn’t that what allies are supposed to do?

Reading Obama Wrong (MJ Rosenberg, Washington Director of Policy Analysis, Israel Policy Forum)

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.

Yedioth also reports that Obama is conveying his displeasure with the new Israeli government in several ways. "US administration officials informed Netanyahu that President Obama will not be able to meet with him in early May, while the AIPAC conference is held in Washington. The meeting between the new Israeli premier and the president of the United States is perceived in Israel as a sign that the formation process of the new government has been completed and as a salutation by Israel’s close friend. Netanyahu had hoped to capitalize on the opportunity and to meet with Obama during the annual AIPAC conference, but the Americans informed the Israelis that Obama was not going to be ‘in town.’ That being the case, the inclination among Netanyahu’s aides is to cancel his trip to attend the AIPAC conference and to try to secure a date for a meeting with Obama later in May.

"Sources in Washington also said that the Obama administration would not continue the tradition that developed during the Bush administration of hosting Israeli premiers many times during the year, sometimes with just a phone call’s advance notice."

So far neither the White House or the Israeli government has commented on the report which, it should be noted, comes from Shimon Shiffer, one of Israel’s most highly respected journalists.

Emanuel Says Obama Insists On Implementing Two State Solution, No Ifs, Ands, or Buts (MJ Rosenberg, Washington Director of Policy Analysis, Israel Policy Forum)

U.S.: Early Friction with New Israeli Government (by Jim Lobe in IPS)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a condition for renewing peace talks is unacceptable to the United States, the State Department said during special envoy George Mitchell’s visits over the weekend to Ramallah and Cairo.

The State Department released statements saying that the United States would continue to promote a two-state solution. In Ramallah, Mitchell met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Mitchell’s talks also seem to indicate that the United States does not accept Netanyahu’s position that the renewal of negotiations should be postponed until the Iranian nuclear threat is removed.

While Defense Minister and Labor Party leader Ehud Barak has not spoken publicly on the issue, his associates said Saturday he is obligated to the party platform, which supports the establishment of a Palestinian state. The platform does not mention Palestinian recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition for establishing a Palestinian state…

U.S.: Palestinians need not recognize Israel as Jewish state before talks (By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz)


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