Category Archives: Israel/Palestine

Statements And Resolutions… Wasn’t That A Paul Simon Song?

Colum Lynch at Foreign Policy:

The U.S. informed Arab governments Tuesday that it will support a U.N. Security Council statement reaffirming that the 15-nation body “does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity,” a move aimed at avoiding the prospect of having to veto a stronger Palestinian resolution calling the settlements illegal.

But the Palestinians rejected the American offer following a meeting late Wednesday of Arab representatives and said it is planning to press for a vote on its resolution on Friday, according to officials familar with the issue. The decision to reject the American offer raised the prospect that the Obama adminstration will cast its first ever veto in the U.N. Security Council.

Still, the U.S. offer signaled a renewed willingness to seek a way out of the current impasse, even if it requires breaking with Israel and joining others in the council in sending a strong message to its key ally to stop its construction of new settlements. U.S. officials were not available for comment, but two Security Council diplomats confirmed the proposal.

Jennifer Rubin:

The U.S., according to an informed source on Capitol Hill, also offered “support for a UNSC fact-finding mission to the Middle East, which the Russians have been pushing.” And there was “some sort of Quartet statement that would reference the 1967 borders.” Israel, of course has made perfectly clear that 1967 borders are unacceptable, and, in any case, that this is an issue for direct negotiations. (That would be the direct negotiations that the Palestinians walked out of last fall.)

This remarkable deviation from past administrations’ treatment of Israel was not lost on Pawlenty. His spokesman provided a statement via e-mail, “The Obama administration has shown an astonishing unwillingness to stand by Israel at the United Nations, an organization with a long history of blaming Israel for just about every problem in the Middle East. It’s time for our UN ambassador to finally show some leadership, draw a line in the sand, and defend our historic ally. Global stability depends more than ever on a respected America that is loyal to our allies and realistic about the malice of our adversaries.”

Pawlenty is exactly right. Because this administration does not want to do what its predecessors did — exercise the Security Council veto to shield Israel from one-sided resolutions seeking to isolate the Jewish state in the international community — it instead has offered to join the pack of jackals that seek, at best, to extract concessions and impose a deal on Israel and, at worst, delegitimize Israel.

Hugh Hewitt:

This is as shocking. For the president to undercut Israel even as instability mounts on all of Israel’s borders is a clear signal that Team Obama is either indifferent to Israel or incompetent beyond even its critics estimates.

The presider-in-chief is presiding over a major and unprecedented turning against Israel.  Allahpundit says it isn’t a “total sellout” of Israel, but it is a major blow to Israel at precisely the moment when Muslim radicals are wondering if they can run the board, and whether the U.S. will stand behind its long-time ally. Ben Smith has some updates.  Even if the blowback forces the U.S. to do what it ought to have done from the beginning –threaten a swift and conclusive veto on any such resolution– no supporter of Israel ought to forget that at a moment of great peril to Israel, President Obama endorsed piling on with statements of disapproval from the Security Council.   Perhaps the U.S. ought to have suggested statements of disapproval of Iran, Libya, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas were all in order first.

John Tabin at American Spectator:

Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-New York) gets it exactly right:

This is too clever by half. Instead of doing the correct and principled thing and vetoing an inappropriate and wrong resolution, they now have opened the door to more and more anti-Israeli efforts coming to the floor of the U.N. The correct venue for discussions about settlements and the other aspects of a peace plan is at the negotiating table. Period.

This is a moment of uncertainty in the Middle East, with a wave of protest movements threatening the stability of autocrats across the region. If this leads to the opening of Arab societies, that’s a good thing in the long term (tyranny has bred radicalism; freedom is likely to breed moderation). But in the short term, a more democratic Arab world could be enormously destabilizating; people who have been fed decades of propaganda laden with Jew-hatred will be tempted to embrace a politics of confrontation with Israel. Maintaining Israel’s ability to project strength is the best bet for maintaining peace — Israel must be able to credibly say things like “You don’t like Camp David? We’ll be taking the Sinai back, then.” This is no time to be shy about reminding the world the the US has Israel’s back.

Danielle Pletka at AEI:

Hmmmm, how do we get back to a more “balanced approach”? Aha! The way we always do: Screw Israel. After all, the resolution the Palestinians are pushing is little more than cheap maneuvering. It certainly isn’t going to advance the peace. What the administration fails to appreciate is that this “feed the beast” move is going to have the effect that feeding the beast always has. It will be hungrier. So of course, the White House’s execrable “compromise” has only encouraged Israel’s (and our) enemies to up the ante. Clever.

Israel Matzav:

On Wednesday night, a couple of hours before this report broke, an Israeli Radio commentator expressed amazement that with all that’s going on in the Arab world today, the Arabs are still aggressively pursuing this resolution. After watching what has happened in Egypt, my sense is that the Wikileaks disclosures to which Omri referred reflected the views of the elites and not those of the Arabs on the street. The Arabs may be trying to save their regimes by distracting them with Israel big time. The US is apparently willing to help them out, even at the expense of throwing its most loyal ally under the bus. And the Europeans, as always, are cheering them on.

Maybe the US is hoping the ‘Palestinians’ will once again not miss the opportunity to miss an opportunity by saying that the Council statement isn’t good enough?

What could go wrong?

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Talking About The Talking About The Talking… Do You Feel Cynical Or Dizzy?

Ethan Bronner at NYT:

The American invitation on Friday to the Israelis and Palestinians to start direct peace talks in two weeks in Washington was immediately accepted by both governments. But just below the surface there was an almost audible shrug. There is little confidence — close to none — on either side that the Obama administration’s goal of reaching a comprehensive deal in one year can be met

Instead, there is a resigned fatalism in the air. Most analysts view the talks as pairing the unwilling with the unable — a strong right-wing Israeli coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with no desire to reach an agreement against a relatively moderate Palestinian leadership that is too weak and divided to do so.

“These direct negotiations are the option of the crippled and the helpless,” remarked Zakaria al-Qaq, vice president of Al Quds University and a Palestinian moderate, when asked his view of the development. “It is an act of self-deception that will lead nowhere.”

And Nahum Barnea, Israel’s pre-eminent political columnist, said in a phone interview: “Most Israelis have decided that nothing is going to come out of it, that it will have no bearing on their lives. So why should they care?”

That such a dismissive tone comes not from the known rejectionists — the Islamists of Hamas who rule in Gaza and the leadership of the Israeli settler community in the West Bank — but from mainstream thinkers is telling of the mood.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

State Department officials had been sure that the statement, a formal invitation for both parties to enter direct negotiations, would be released earlier this week. But last-minute objections from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides forced new rounds of discussions, culminating in what Reuters reported was a conference call between Quartet members Thursday afternoon to discuss the latest draft.

“There are details that are still being worked out. You could quote Yogi Berra, I suppose, ‘It’s not over till it’s over,'” State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday. “We think we’re very, very close to an agreement.”

Multiple diplomatic sources confirmed that the substance of the reported draft represents a compromise intended to accommodate the Palestinians’ calls for the pending Quartet statement to include several specific items that they believe are “terms of reference” for the direct talks but which the Israeli side sees as “preconditions” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to reject.

The apparent compromise would result in a statement whereby the Quartet reaffirms a “full commitment to its previous statements,” according to Reuters, a reference to the March 19 Quartet statement issued in Moscow, but doesn’t explicitly repeat certain contentious language from that document.

Among the disputed items in that statement, which Netanyahu ultimately rejected, were calls for a Palestinian state to be established in 24 months and for Israel to halt all settlement building, including natural growth of existing settlements, as well as building and evictions in East Jerusalem.

Neither side wants to be seen as resisting the move to direct talks, which the Obama administration has been pushing hard to begin before Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement moratorium expires next month. If the Quartet is able to get its new statement out Friday, it will be about a week later than State Department sources had predicted, due to some extra shuttle diplomacy that the U.S. team had not anticipated.

When Special Envoy George Mitchell traveled to the region last week, he believed he had a deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over the wording of the statement, but it was clear upon arrival that Abbas had additional concerns, multiple diplomatic sources said.

So, Mitchell called back home to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to inform her that the Palestinians were not on board. After further negotiations, Abbas set forth his demands for what the statement should include, but when Mitchell brought those terms to Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister told Mitchell he couldn’t accept them.

“We wanted the statement to include the same elements the March 19 statement included,” the PLO’s Washington representative Maen Rashid Areikat, who is in the region, told The Cable in an interview.

“The Quartet statement must be clear about how the quartet sees the terms of reference, the time frame, and the situation on the ground, such as the cessation of settlement activity,” Areikat said.

Mitchell was forced to return to Washington empty-handed, but left the National Security Council’s David Hale in the region to continue working the problem and negotiations continued.

Mitchell’s trip wasn’t a failure, according to Areikat. “I believe it was part of an overall discussion of progress with the parties, and if we see progress in the statement it will have been worth it,” he said.

Andrew Lebovich at Washington Note:

The big news today is of course the announcement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been invited to Washington at the beginning of September to engage in the first direct talks between the two sides in two years.

The stakes are high on a regional and international level, but Clinton’s announcement left many things up in the air, by refusing to endorse the pre-1967 boundary as the starting point for negotiations on borders, and leaving so-called “final status” issues, like the fate of Jerusalem, land swaps, and settlements, to be brought up when Netanyahu and Abbas decide to do so.

Still, the onus is on the United States to bring the two sides together, as President Obama will have to deal with the backlash if talks fail. As Daniel Levy, the co-director of the New America Foundation/Middle East Task Force said today:

[Clinton’s] announcement covered very familiar ground, following a playbook that has been tried many times and found wanting. Instead of terms of reference to guide negotiations we received today a guest list for a September 1 White House dinner – even the chaperons for that dinner have a decidedly retro ring to them – Jordanian King Abdullah and Egyptian President Mubarak. Today’s announcement could have been an opportunity to introduce some clarity to proceedings and to jumpstart real decision-making (by for instance, defining border talks as being based on ’67 lines with one-to-one land swaps). Rather we were served ambiguity, and not it seems of the constructive variety……What today’s announcement has done is to raise expectations given the one-year deadline placed on the resumed talks. Yes, deadlines have been missed before, but this time the US national interest in resolving the conflict has been placed front and center and there is now broad consensus that the two-state option is passing its sell-by date. It was the Obama administration that insisted on the direct talks format as the way forward, and the ball will now be in their court to produce results.

Lexington at The Economist:

It is easy to be cynical about the scope of this supposed breakthrough. By getting the two sides back into direct talks Mr Obama has merely returned to where George Bush was after his Annapolis summit of November 2007. Big deal: the direct talks initiated then got nowhere, even though Israel’s prime minister at the time, Ehud Olmert, was far readier for territorial compromise than is Mr Netanyahu. Even if, by some miracle, the two men came close to agreement, Hamas is still absent from the table. This means that half of the Palestinian movement would not be party to any deal and will try hard to sabotage one. So indeed will those Israelis in Bibi’s governing coalition who for reasons of ideology, security or both vehemently oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. It is better for the parties to be talking than not talking, but a betting man would not favour the chances of a breakthrough to peace.

That said, it would be a mistake to put the chances of success entirely at nil. When Mr Netanyahu and Mr Abbas hit the inevitable impasse, the Americans, who intend to be actively involved in the process through the person of George Mitchell, will doubtless table a bridging proposal. And this is the point at which the script could begin to depart from the precedent Mr Bush set at Annapolis.

Mr Bush left his push in Palestine to the end of his presidency, and with the Iraq war to fight never saw the peace process as much more than a distraction or palliative. Mr Obama, on the other hand, started early, and seems determined to persevere despite the pushback he ran into from Israel’s friends in Congress after his brutal confrontation with Mr Netanyahu over settlements in the territories. America’s president, in short, shows every sign of being a true believer in the necessity of solving this conflict, not least in order to redeem the promises he gave the Muslim world in his famous Cairo speech. A year from now, when the negotiation “deadline” expires, he may be approaching the final year of his presidency—but for all the parties in the region know he might still have another four-year term ahead of him. That will make it more expensive for the Israelis or Palestinians to resist whatever bridging ideas America brings to the table.

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

Well there is certainly less here than even the initial Obama spin would have had us believe. It seems to be that only an initial dinner is set. (”The United States will put its imprimatur on the talks in an orchestrated series of meetings that begin with a White House dinner Sept. 1 hosted by Mr. Obama.”) Beyond that? “Within the negotiations we’ve obviously had a lot of preparatory discussions with the parties on how to structure them,and we’ll need to finalize those, so we’re not in a position now to really talk about that.” Good grief. This has all the makings of a rushed announcement to try to put a horrid week for the White House behind them.”

It is interesting that Obama’s role is not yet finalized either. In fact, as my Israel expert points out, the death knell of the talks may be Obama’s own presence. After all, the Israelis have learned the hard way not to trust him, so it’s difficult to see how his presence could be a help. The telltale sign of the level of animosity between Obama and the Jewish state – he doesn’t yet have the nerve to visit Israel, where he could very likely face angry crowds. (”‘He looks forward to an opportunity to visit Israel,’ [Dan Shapiro] said of Obama, adding that such a visit would likely include a stop in the Palestinian Territories. The visit ‘could be very valuable and very meaningful at the right time.’”) Translation: he’s not going anytime soon.

The statements by others released on Friday were indicative of the low expectations that these talks engender among knowledgeable observers. AIPAC, which is obliged to cheer each step in the fruitless “peace process,” declares that it  ”welcomes the renewal of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), as announced Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and expresses its appreciation to the Obama administration for its efforts in making this goal a reality.” But even its usually bubbly tone was replaced by sober and somewhat skeptical caveats:

For talks to succeed the PA must match Israel’s commitment to conducting peace talks without preconditions or excuses, abandon its longstanding attempts to avoid making difficult choices at the negotiating table and cease incitement against Israel at home and abroad.  Likewise, Arab states must heed the calls by the Obama Administration and Congress to take immediate and meaningful steps toward normalization with Israel, and they must provide the political support for the Palestinians to make the kind of significant and difficult choices that will be required.

An even more candid statement came from Senate candidate Pat Toomey, who said he was hopeful but also “wary”:

Too often such talks produce little substance, and devolve into casting unfair blame at Israel for its legitimate efforts to guard its own security, while ignoring the unending violence that is openly encouraged by Palestinian leaders. That is especially the case with negotiations that involve the United Nations, the Russians, and the Europeans. I encourage President Obama to work against that tendency, and to set the tone in these talks by stressing the very real national security concerns Israel is dealing with.

And what happens when the talks go nowhere? Will we face yet another intifada? Will the bridging proposals morph into a imposed peace plan? Who knows — not even Day 2 is set yet.  The administration has imbibed the peace process Kool-Aid, but there is little evidence that it promotes peace or that the Obami are competent to oversee negotiations. And meanwhile the real Middle East crisis — the development of an Iranian nuclear weapon looms on the horizon. In a real sense, the “peace process” is nothing more than a dangerous distraction.

Allah Pundit:

Coincidentally, according to today’s front-page administration-fed NYT story, one year is also the timeframe U.S. officials are now claiming Iran has before it achieves nuclear breakout capacity. The idea of this two-step media offensive, presumably, is to put pressure on Israel not to do anything “rash” before the new round of peace talks plays out, especially with news set to break tomorrow that the Bushehr reactor is ready to go. That’s consistent with the White House’s thinking all along: They’ve always believed that settling the Palestinian issue first will make it easier to deal with Iranian nukes by denying the mullahs an opportunity to exploit the great Muslim grievance. If a peace deal is struck, then theoretically the goodwill it’ll generate towards Israel and America among Sunni nations will neutralize the Muslim solidarity that Iran wants to exploit when the confrontation over its nuke program finally comes. I’m not sure how that’ll work in practice, though, since Hamas will play no role in the peace negotiations and has no interest in ceding Gaza to its enemies in the Palestinian Authority in the event that a peace deal is hashed out. On the contrary, with Iran’s full support, they’ll inevitably accuse Abbas of having sold out the Palestinian nation in order to inflame the same sense of Muslim grievance and solidarity that the peace talks are meant to mute. In fact, if O shocks the world and the talks start making serious progress, I assume Iran and Hamas (and Hezbollah, of course) will simply precipitate some sort of crisis in order to derail them. Which is to say, how can you expect any deal to hold as long as Tehran and its proxies still have fangs?

Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy:

If you think today’s announcement that the Israelis and Palestinians are going to resume “direct talks” is a significant breakthrough, you haven’t been paying attention for the past two decades (at least). I wish I could be more optimistic about this latest development, but I see little evidence that a meaningful deal is in the offing.

Why do I say this? Three reasons.

1. There is no sign that the Palestinians are willing to accept less than a viable, territorially contiguous state in the West Bank (and eventually, Gaza), including a capital in East Jerusalem and some sort of political formula (i.e., fig-leaf) on the refugee issue. By the way, this outcome supposedly what the Clinton and Bush adminstrations favored, and what Obama supposedly supports as well.

2. There is no sign that Israel’s government is willing to accept anything more than a symbolic Palestinian “state” consisting of a set of disconnected Bantustans, with Israel in full control of the borders, air space, water supplies, electromagnetic spectrum. etc. Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear that this is what he means by a “two-state solution,” and he has repeatedly declared that Israel intends to keep all of Jerusalem and maybe a long-term military presence in the Jordan River valley. There are now roughly 500,000 Israeli Jews living outside the 1967 borders, and it is hard to imagine any Israeli government evacuating a significant fraction of them. Even if Netanyahu wanted to be more forthcoming, his coalition wouldn’t let him make any meaningful concessions. And while the talks drag on, the illegal settlements will continue to expand.

3. There is no sign that the U.S. government is willing to put meaningful pressure on Israel. We’re clearly willing to twist Mahmoud Abbas’ arm to the breaking point (which is why he’s agreed to talks, even as Israel continues to nibble away at the territory of the future Palestinian state), but Obama and his Middle East team have long since abandoned any pretense of bringing even modest pressure to bear on Netanyahu. Absent that, why should anyone expect Bibi to change his position?

So don’t fall for the hype that this announcement constitutes some sort of meaningful advance in the “peace process.” George Mitchell and his team probably believe they are getting somewhere, but they are either deluding themselves, trying to fool us, or trying to hoodwink other Arab states into believing that Obama meant what he said in Cairo. At this point, I rather doubt that anyone is buying, and the only thing that will convince onlookers that U.S. policy has changed will be tangible results. Another round of inconclusive “talks” will just reinforce the growing perception that the United States cannot deliver.

UPDATE: Daniel Drezner and Heather Hurlburt at Bloggingheads

UPDATE #2: Hussein Ibish and Eli Lake at Bloggingheads

Max Fisher at The Atlantic

UPDATE #3: Daniel Levy at The Huffington Post

Taylor Marsh

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Say “Divest” In A Bahston Accent

Hillel Koren at Globes:

In another blow to Israeli shares, the Harvard Management Company notified the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Friday that it had sold all its holdings in Israeli companies during the second quarter of 2010. No reason for the sale was mentioned. The Harvard Management Company manages Harvard University’s endowment.

Harvard Management Company stated in its 13-F Form that it sold 483,590 shares in Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. (Nasdaq: TEVA; TASE: TEVA) for $30.5 million; 52,360 shares in NICE Systems Ltd. (Nasdaq: NICE; TASE: NICE) for $1.67 million; 102,940 shares in Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP) for $3.6 million; 32,400 shares in Cellcom Israel Ltd. (NYSE:CEL; TASE:CEL) for $1.1 million, and 80,000 Partner Communications Ltd. (Nasdaq: PTNR; TASE: PTNR) shares for $1.8 million.

Stephen Bainbridge:

I’m not sure where Globes got the sales data. The 13-F form is a holdings report, not a transaction report. In other words, institutional investors use the 13-F to report their current holdings at the end of the quarter, not sales. But if you compare the first quarter and second quarter 13-Fs, the endowment management company owned the stocks in question at the end of the first quarter and no longer owned them at the end of the second quarter.

In one sense, Harvard did divest–they dumped all their Israeli stocks. But most people use divest in a more nuanced way; i.e., to intentionally sell and thereafter refrain from investing in stocks of a particular country for political reasons. So the interesting question is why Harvard sold the stocks at issue. Was it coincidence, a purely investment-driven decision, or a surrender to political activists opposed to Israel? Only the latter would count as divestment in my book.

John Hinderaker at Powerline:

If this is right, it assorts oddly with Harvard’s acceptance of large amounts of money from Saudi Arabian sources. Also, what are Harvard’s largest securities holdings? Two ETFs, each worth $295 million, one in Chinese equities and the other in emerging markets. So Israel doesn’t meet Harvard’s moral test, but China does; and it would be interesting to see what countries are included among those emerging markets.

There is a pretty clear pattern here–again, assuming that the five nearly-simultaneous sales of shares in Israeli companies were not coincidental. Harvard is happy to do business with oppressors–real oppressors, that is–as long as there is enough money in it. China and Saudi Arabia have, in sheer monetary terms, a lot to offer. But taking a “principled” stand against Israel, still the Middle East’s only democracy (unless you count Iraq, on which the jury is still out) and the only country in the region with a Western human rights sensibility, is cost-free. Sort of like banning military recruiters.

Israel Matzav:

On Monday morning, there were several comments and emails providing plausible explanations for Harvard’s sale of their Israeli shares (and apparent purchase of Turkish shares in their place) for reasons that are not political. There are two principle schools of thought.

One is that with Israel’s admission into the OECD, we are no longer an emerging market, and therefore the emerging market section of the portfolio had to be reshuffled.

The other is that the Israeli stocks in Harvard’s portfolio had performed poorly of late.

I actually find the first explanation more plausible than the second. University endowments are long-term investments and would not be likely to be reshuffled solely on the basis of a quarter or two of poor performance. On the other hand, the OECD admission is a recent, verifiable event.

One would hope that a statement from Harvard will be forthcoming once the business day starts in the US. But that could be a vain hope. The SEC report on which the Globes article was ostensibly based (which is nothing but a list of Harvard’s current holdings) is here, here and here (an overall document and two subparts).

Globes probably put together the list of Israeli shares sold by comparison to last quarter’s report and updating the prices. But that says nothing about why the shares were sold.

Pam Geller:

Look at how far we have sunk. America’s once leading institution for higher learning pimps for jihad. We knew that these institutions like Harvard, Georgetown, etc., would unashamedly dance on demand when those Saudi 20 million dollar gifts began rolling in. Middle Eastern Studies departments are hotbeds of radicalism. Jewish students are persecute, harassed and physically threatened on these campuses.

If these institutions of higher learning get federal taxpayers dollars, is this not against the law? It’s one thing when jihadist frenemies violate the Arab boycott of Israel. We expect that from these players, they lie and are incapable of being honest merchants. When Saudi Arabia joined the World Trade Organization, they promised to end their participation in the Arab boycott of Israel, but they have not done so.

But this is Harvard. It is wrong, outrageous, that these tools of the stealth jihad are supported by your taxpayer dollars and private endowments (many from Jewish families). The whole moral structure is disintegrating before our very eyes. These whorehouses do not deserve one thin dime from public or Jewish coffers. This is getting very ugly. I expect Tariq Ramadan will be offered the Edward Said chair at Columbia in no short order.

Hugh Hewitt:

I find it hard to believe that the country’s oldest university would take such a step at all, much less without a full discussion and consultation with the broader university community.

This would be a very big story if it is in fact correct, so look for MSM to follow up tomorrow.  Certainly thousands of alums will react with extraordinarily negative consequences for the university, so President Drew Gilpin Faust should move quickly to answer all questions about the concern.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

I read on the Atlantic Wire earlier today that Harvard’s endowment had quietly dumped its investments in Israeli companies. Several bloggers had already picked up on the story, following a report in an Israeli newspaper. This seemed strange to me (for, among other reasons, the simple fact that there is no divestment campaign targeting Harvard at the moment) so I contacted Harvard. I was told that the university was not divesting itself of Israeli companies; quite the opposite, it was moving its Israeli investments out of a developing-market fund to another fund focused on more advanced economies. An hour later, Harvard issued a statement saying the same thing.

So the question is: Why didn’t anyone simply pick up the phone and call Harvard’s public relations office and find out exactly what was happening before posting, and repeating, what turned out to be pure speculation?

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Barack, Bibi, And The Bomber Boys

Jeffrey Goldberg at The Atlantic:

It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran “unacceptable,” will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.

But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft. (It’s so crowded, in fact, that the United States Central Command, whose area of responsibility is the greater Middle East, has already asked the Pentagon what to do should Israeli aircraft invade its airspace. According to multiple sources, the answer came back: do not shoot them down.)

In these conversations, which will be fraught, the Israelis will tell their American counterparts that they are taking this drastic step because a nuclear Iran poses the gravest threat since Hitler to the physical survival of the Jewish people. The Israelis will also state that they believe they have a reasonable chance of delaying the Iranian nuclear program for at least three to five years. They will tell their American colleagues that Israel was left with no choice. They will not be asking for permission, because it will be too late to ask for permission.

When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.

If a strike does succeed in crippling the Iranian nuclear program, however, Israel, in addition to possibly generating some combination of the various catastrophes outlined above, will have removed from its list of existential worries the immediate specter of nuclear-weaponized, theologically driven, eliminationist anti-Semitism; it may derive for itself the secret thanks (though the public condemnation) of the Middle East’s moderate Arab regimes, all of which fear an Iranian bomb with an intensity that in some instances matches Israel’s; and it will have succeeded in countering, in militant fashion, the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East, which is, not irrelevantly, a prime goal of the enthusiastic counter-proliferator who currently occupies the White House.

Steve Clemons at the Washington Note:

In an important article titled “The Point of No Return” to be published in The Atlantic tomorrow, national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg recounts something many people didn’t realize at the time and still have a hard time believing. President George W. Bush knocked back Dick Cheney’s wing of the foreign policy establishment – both inside and out of his administration – that wanted to launch a bombing campaign against Iran. In a snippet I had not seen before, Bush mockingly referred to bombing advocates Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer as “the bomber boys.”

George W. Bush was showing his inner realist not allowing his own trigger-happy Curtis LeMays pile on to the national security messes the US already owned in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But that was several years ago. Today, there is a new US President, more Iranian centrifuges, and a different Israeli Prime Minister – and Bibi Netanyahu seems closer to a Curtis LeMay, John Bolton or Frank Gaffney than he does to the more containment-oriented Eisenhowers and George Kennans who in their day forged a global equilibrium out of superpower rivalry and hatred.

Goldberg, after conducting dozens of interviews with senior members of Israel’s national security establishment as well as many top personalities in the Obama White House, concludes in his must-read piece that the likelihood of Israel unilaterally bombing Iran to curtail a potential nuclear weapon breakout capacity is north of 50-50.

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time:

I’m not sure I miss Bush’s penchant for nicknames (mine was “Joe Boy”): it was far too frat boy by a lot. But occasionally the President struck gold, as Jeff Goldberg reports in a new piece previewed by Steve Clemons today: he called Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer “the bomber boys,” after their obsession with going to war with Iran–an obsession Bush eschewed in his more reasonable second term, when he retrieved his foreign policy from the Cheney Cult.

In the end, Bush was completely overmatched by the presidency. His time in office–the tax cuts, the Iraq war, the torture, the slipshod governance, the spending on programs like Medicare prescription drugs without paying for them, the deficits, the failure to foresee the housing bubble–was ruinous for the country. But I’ve got to say that “Bomber Boys” is a keeper. Kristol and Krauthammer are hereby branded for life.

Jonathan Tobin at Commentary:

It is more likely that the president and his advisers are more worried about validating the Bush doctrine that a preemptive strike is justified when the threat of a rogue regime getting hold of a weapon of mass destruction is on the table. Everything this administration has done seems to indicate that it sees a potential strike on Iran as more of a threat to the world than the Iranian bomb itself. Since Obama is almost certainly more afraid of another Iraq than he is of a genocidal threat to Israel’s existence, it is difficult to believe that he will take Hitchens’s advice.

Instapundit:

I think some people in Washington — and elsewhere — have been letting the Israelis twist in the wind in the hopes that Israel will solve our Iran problems for us, and take the blame. I don’t think these “leaders” will like the outcome, and if I were the Israelis I wouldn’t be trying too hard to make it pleasant. Irresponsibility can be expensive.

Rick Moran:

Goldberg notes that with success, the Israelis will buy time (probably putting the Iranian program back 3-5 years), earn the secret thanks of most of the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East, and will have stopped potential proliferation to terrorist groups in its tracks.

Is that worth initiating a strike that could lead to World War III?

What will the Russians do if the Israeli’s hit Bushehr? It is likely they will kill Russian technicians in such a strike since they are building the facility under contract with Tehran. Will Vladmir Putin take the death of Russian scientists and technicians lying down? What if he retaliates against Israel? What would be the American response to that?

August, 1914?

Unleashing Hezb’allah against the western world, stirring up trouble in Iraq by ordering the Shia militias into the streets, not to mention a missile campaign against Israel that could kill thousands (at which point Israel may decide that to save its people, it must expand its own bombing campaign, escalating the conflict to the next level) – this alone could ratchet up tensions causing the world to start choosing up sides.

And no America with the will or the self-confidence to step in and assist the world in standing down.

Obama’s foreign policy is not anti-American, unpatriotic, or designed to favor Muslims. It’s just weak. The president has made the conscious decision that the US is too powerful and needs to defer to supra-national organizations like the UN, or regional line ups like NATO or the Arab League when conflict is threatened. “First among equals” is not rhetoric to Obama. He means it. He has been thoroughly indoctrinated with the idea that most of the world’s troubles have been caused by a too-powerful United States and hence, only deliberately eschewing the promotion of American interests can redress this sin.

This will be the first world crisis since the end of World War II where American power and prestige will not be used to intervene in order to prevent catastrophe. Obama is betting the farm that his worldview will be more conducive to defusing a crisis than the more realpolitik and pragmatic point of view that has dominated American foreign policy for 65 years.

We are shortly going to find out whether good intentions really matter in international affairs

Allah Pundit:

Somehow it manages to be both harrowing and mundane: No matter what Obama and Netanyahu end up doing or not doing, the Middle East is sure to be a more dangerous place in a year or two than it is even now — and yet we’ve been headed towards that Catch-22 for years, dating well back into the Bush administration. As dire as they are, the strategic calculations have become sufficiently familiar — a bombing run might not disable the program, might only postpone it for a year or two, might touch off a regional war with America in the middle — that I bet most readers will either glance at the piece or pass on it entirely as old news. The Iranian program is like having a bomb in your lap knowing that any wire you cut will detonate it, so you sit there and fidget with it in hopes that it’ll just sort of fizzle out on its own. Sit there long enough and even a situation as dangerous as that will start to seem boring. Until the bomb goes off.

Doug Mataconis:

I honestly don’t know what the answer to the Iranian nuclear question is.

The prospect of the likes of the Islamic Republic possession nuclear weapons is not something I look forward to. Then again, I’m still not all that comfortable with the idea of Pakistan having nuclear weapons, and don’t get me started about North Korea. Nonetheless, Pakistan has had those weapons for more than a decade now and they haven’t used them. Even same goes for North Korea. Both countries, of course, have engaged in nuclear proliferation, and that may be the greatest danger of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, not that they’d use them, but that they’d teach others how to make them.  It’s entirely possible, then, that a nuclear-armed, or nuclear-capable, Iran, may not end up being as much of a threat as we fear.

Israel, however, doesn’t seem to be inclined to wait to find out how things will turn out. Their current leadership views a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat to Israel and, whether or not that is actually true, they’re likely to act accordingly. Unfortunately, their actions are likely to have consequences that we’ll all have to deal with.

UPDATE: Fred Kaplan at Slate

Glenn Greenwald

Jonathan Schwarz

Joe Klein at Swampland at Time

James Fallows

UPDATE #2: Robin Wright at The Atlantic

Christopher Hitchens in Slate

UPDATE #3: Elliott Abrams at The Atlantic

Greg Scoblete

Dave Schuler

UPDATE #4: Marc Lynch at The Atlantic

UPDATE #5: Heather Hurlburt and Daniel Drezner at Bloggingheads

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The Tree In Lebanon

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up. Fisher:

Israeli and Lebanese forces briefly exchanged fire across the border today, killing an Israeli officer, three Lebanese soldiers, and a Lebanese journalist. The conflict has sparked tension on both sides of the border and raised fears of a return to the periodic Israeli-Lebanese violence that most recently recurred in Israel’s 2006 invasion in retaliation against Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah.

Gregg Carlstrom at Al Jazeera live-blogged:

1:24pm: A few regional reactions. Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, phoned Sleiman and told him Syria “stands with Lebanon.”

And Ahmed Aboul Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, spoke with Hariri and promised Egyptian support. He also called for “self-restraint,” and asked the UN to intervene to “de-escalate” the situation.

1:14pm: Many reports say this whole incident started because Israeli troops were trying to cut down a tree on the Lebanese side of the border.

The US television network MSNBC has posted a photograph that appears to show an Israeli soldier, in a crane, cutting down a tree on the Lebanese side of the border fence.

1:08pm: The Israeli military, which issued only a brief statement this morning on the clashes, just e-mailed a longer statement to reporters.

It claims an Israeli army unit was carrying out “routine maintenance” along the border, and that the work was “pre-coordinated” with UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping force in the region.

The IDF force immediately returned fire with light arms at a force of the LAF, and the IDF also made use of artillery fire.

[…] The IDF holds the LAF responsible for the incident that disrupted the calm in the region, and its consequences.

12:56pm: Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, meanwhile, said Israel “holds the Lebanese government responsible” for the incident.

This recent violation is one of many violations of Resolution 1701, the most severe of which is the massive rearmament of Hizbullah, including the rearmament of Hizbullah units in southern Lebanon.

He also directed the Israeli representative at the United Nations to file a formal complaint about Lebanon.

12:51pm: Saad Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, and Michel Sleiman, the Lebanese president, were the first two senior Lebanese politicians to comment on the clash.

Hariri’s statement was predictable: It condemned Israel’s “violation of Lebanese sovereignty” and demanded that the UN stop the fighting.

Sleiman said much the same thing, but he also included a message for the Lebanese army, asking it to “confront any Israeli aggression, whatever the sacrifices.”

12:45pm: There are many conflicting reports from southern Lebanon, but the latest confirmed details right now (from the Lebanese defence ministry) are that three Lebanese soldiers were killed, and four others wounded.

There are also reports of an Israeli soldier killed in the fighting – the Al-Manar television station, which is run by Hezbollah, has carried that story for an hour or so – but no confirmation from the Israeli military.

A journalist was also killed in the fighting; Lebanese media are identifying him as Assaf Abou Rahhal, from the Al-Akhbar newspaper.

Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs:

UNIFIL says IDF activity did not warrant Lebanese fire:

UNIFIL forces who toured the site of Tuesday’s deadly exchanges of fire on the northern border said the IDF’s activity did not warrant the attack launched by Lebanese Army soldiers, Israeli army officials who spoke to UNIFIL representatives said.

According to the IDF, soldiers were performing routine operations in a border-area enclave within Israeli territory when they were ambushed by Lebanese troops.

Weasel Zippers:

According to my sources:

  • IDF in coordination with the UN and Lebanese army were working within Israeli territory to fix security cameras.
  • Overconfident due to this coordinated effort, the soldiers did not mind the watchful eye of Lebanese soldiers at close range.
  • Lebanese forces opened fire, Israel says a few soldiers were wounded (recent wording on Israeli news site suggest possible casualties).
  • Israelies retaliated, killing 3 soldiers and a news reporter.
  • Lebanese president came out in statements supporting further escalation.
  • Rockets were fired again at northern Israeli towns.
  • Lebanese villagers are packing their bags and fleeing.
  • Israeli officials stated they do not wish to continue escalation, while certain operations within Lebanon are in action.

Edward Teller at Firedoglake:

In clear violation of U.N. Resolution 1701, which Israel signed at the conclusion of their ignominious defeat in July-August 2006, Israeli troops violated Lebanese sovereignty this morning, cutting down a tree on the Lebanese side of the border. An MSNBC video and still clearly show the Israelis, attempting to cut down the first tree on the Lebanese side of the border.

The Lebanese Army (not Hizbollah) responded with warning shots, then with live fire. The Israeli counter-reasponse apparently killed three Lebanese soldiers and a reporter. A sniper from the Lebanese side of the border then killed “a high-ranking Israeli officer.

Although Israel routinely violates Resolution 1701 (overflights, shelling of Lebanese fishing boats, etc.), Hizbollah has also done so, though less blatantly.

The Israelis are now responding with heavy artillery and rocket fire, as well as white phosphorus. Numerous Lebanese soldiers and civilians have been injured in the exchange, which is probably escalating to include Hizbollah rockets, as I write.

UPDATE: Israel Matzav

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit

UPDATE #2: Daniel Levy at Foreign Policy

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Man Lied To Get A Woman Into Bed. In Other News, The Sky Is Blue.

Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up.

Jo Adetunji and Harriet Sherwood at The Guardian:

A Palestinian man has been convicted of rape after having consensual sex with a woman who had believed him to be a fellow Jew.

Sabbar Kashur, 30, was sentenced to 18 months in prison on Monday after the court ruled that he was guilty of rape by deception. According to the complaint filed by the woman with the Jerusalem district court, the two met in downtown Jerusalem in September 2008 where Kashur, an Arab from East Jerusalem, introduced himself as a Jewish bachelor seeking a serious relationship. The two then had consensual sex in a nearby building before Kashur left.

When she later found out that he was not Jewish but an Arab, she filed a criminal complaint for rape and indecent assault.

Although Kashur was initially charged with rape and indecent assault, this was changed to a charge of rape by deception as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

Handing down the verdict, Tzvi Segal, one of three judges on the case, acknowledged that sex had been consensual but said that although not “a classical rape by force,” the woman would not have consented if she had not believed Kashur was Jewish.

The sex therefore was obtained under false pretences, the judges said. “If she hadn’t thought the accused was a Jewish bachelor interested in a serious romantic relationship, she would not have cooperated,” they added.

The court ruled that Kashur should receive a jail term and rejected the option of a six-month community service order. He was said to be seeking to appeal.

Segal said: “The court is obliged to protect the public interest from sophisticated, smooth-tongued criminals who can deceive innocent victims at an unbearable price – the sanctity of their bodies and souls. When the very basis of trust between human beings drops, especially when the matters at hand are so intimate, sensitive and fateful, the court is required to stand firmly at the side of the victims – actual and potential – to protect their wellbeing. Otherwise, they will be used, manipulated and misled, while paying only a tolerable and symbolic price.”

Al-Jazeera:

The Israeli criminal code mentions “deceit” as a possible aggravating factor in sexual assault cases and the verdict in Kashur’s case is not the first time an Israeli court has sentenced a man for “rape by deception,” according to several Israeli lawyers.

The most notable case was in 2008, when Israel’s high court of justice upheld the conviction of Zvi Sleiman, a man who impersonated a housing ministry official and promised women apartments and benefits in exchange for sex.

A rape conviction sentence could be upheld, the court ruled, when “a person lies does not tell the truth regarding critical matters to a reasonable woman”.

Several other men have been convicted of “rape by deception” since that ruling.

But the Kashur case appears to be the first time a person’s race has been used as the determining factor.

“In this case, the ruling seems to say that if a ‘reasonable’ Jewish woman knew a man was an Arab, then she would not make love to him,” Abeer Baker, an attorney with Adalah, an organisation that advocates for Arab rights in Israel, said.

Baker called it a “dangerous precedent,” saying it would allow the Israeli government to interfere in the private lives of citizens.

“It’s interfering in a very intimate, personal decision,” she said. “That should be made between two people. The court should not interfere.”

Open hostility

Similar laws have been controversial in other countries, as well. A man in the United States was convicted in 2007 of impersonating his brother in order to have sex with his girlfriend. That conviction was overturned on appeal, though, after an appellate court ruled that rape laws apply only to non-consensual sex.

Kashur’s case also highlights the open hostility with which many Israeli Jews view mixed relationships with Arabs, who make up one-fifth of the population of Israel.

A poll conducted in 2007 by Israel’s Geocartography Institute found that more than 50 per cent of Israeli Jews thought marrying an Arab was “equal to national treason”. Jews are legally forbidden to intermarry in Israel.

The Sunday Times reported in 2009 on a squad of “vigilantes” in the Jewish settlement of Pisgat Zeev. The group has patrolled the streets for more than a decade looking for mixed couples.

And in 2009, the town of Petah Tikva established a team of counsellors and psychologists to “rescue” Jewish women from relationships with Arab men.

The Israeli daily Maariv reported in February that Tel Aviv had launched a similar programme.

Eugene Volokh:

Such “fraud in the inducement” would not suffice for a rape conviction under the law of most American states (see, e.g., this case), though it’s an interesting question why it’s a crime to get money by fraud but not to get sex by fraud. There are good answers to that question, I think, but they’re not so obviously right as to keep the question from being interesting.

For some thoughts from last year on a proposal in Massachusetts that might have allowed liability in such a situation, see here. Also, it appears that a few American rape statutes might already criminalize sex procured through false statements. State v. Tizard, 897 S.W.2d 732 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. 1994) holds that Tennessee law rejects the distinction between “fraud in the inducement” and “fraud in the fact,” which is what has prevented rape prosecutions in cases such as the Israeli one; the facts of Tizard, though, are rather different — the defendant was lying about the supposed medical reason of the sexual act (there, the defendant’s masturbation of the victim, though the analysis would be the same for intercourse) rather than about the defendant’s identity. And some states generally provide that “assent does not constitute consent if … [i]t is induced by force, duress, or deception” (to quote Colo. Rev. Stats. Ann. § 18–1-505), which would in principle apply to rape cases as well.

If anyone can point me to the written opinion in the case, I’d be much obliged, both so I can blog about it and so I can use it in my Criminal Law class this Fall (I have a unit on fraud in the section on the law of rape). Thanks to Mike Sheridan for the pointer.

UPDATE: Several commenters raise a point that was also made by one of the source cited in the article: “Gideon Levy, a liberal Israeli commentator, was quoted as saying: ‘I would like to raise only one question with the judge. What if this guy had been a Jew who pretended to be a Muslim and had sex with a Muslim woman? Would he have been convicted of rape? The answer is: of course not.’”

It’s certainly possible that a court would have — and still would in the future, even given this decision — acquit this hypothetical Jew-pretending-to-be-a-Muslim defendant. But I’m just not sure that one can categorically assume this, especially in light of the judges’ rhetoric. It seems to me that Jewish judges might well think the lying Jew’s behavior is as deceptive, manipulative, and injurious to “the sanctity of [victims’] bodies and souls” as a lying Muslim’s, and that the deceived Muslim woman should be as protected as a deceived Jewish woman. And this is so even given the undoubted psychological reality that judges, like other people, generally tend to empathize more with people who are like themselves. Despite this reality, judges may still empathize enough with people who are less like themselves.

Now I’m certainly not an expert on Israeli judges’ attitudes, and I’d be happy to hear the views of people who have lived in Israel and have a sense of how the Israeli legal system would deal with this situation. But I’m reluctant to accept the assumptions of the one Israeli commentator who was quoted, at least unless I hear a broader range of people confirming his judgment.

Jonathan Turley:

That reads uncomfortably close to old miscegenation cases where judges sought to protect women from “smooth-taking” black men.

Even in cases where women have been falsely told that a lover does not carry an STD, the matter is addressed in the United States as a matter of civil not criminal battery. Does this mean that any false fact used in a one-night stand is now a criminal matter deserving of jail or it is only Arab status that gets that level of punishment? For example, if a Israeli man says he is unmarried and looking for a lasting relationship, can he be jailed? If so, the Israeli jail would be stuffed to over-capacity.

We have been following a crackdown on Israeli women dating Arab men recently.

Richard Lawson at Gawker

The Jawa Report:

Frankly, one has to wonder about this case. I suspect it’s somewhat common for a man to tell a woman lies while trying to bed her.

In fact I heard about one case where a woman sued a man for lying because he said he would take her to Florida if she went to bed with him. The case was thrown out after the man explained that he never said he was going to take her to Florida, rather he said he was going to tamper with her.

Heh.

Robert Stacy McCain:

Obtaining sex “under false pretences” is a crime in Israel? It’s against the law in Israel to get sex by feigning interest in “a serious romantic relationship”? OK, you bachelors out there, let’s have a show of hands: How many of you guys have ever lied to get some nookie?

Everybody? I thought so.

Just don’t try that in Jerusalem, buddy. And let this be a lesson to you Israeli ladies: Just because a goyim tells you it’s kosher . . .

UPDATE: Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon

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We Talked, We Laughed, We Quoted A Bit Of Mark Twain…

Benjamin Weinthal at The Corner:

Today’s meeting between Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama has the potential to repair the U.S. administration’s frosty posture toward Israel. In March, Obama publicly snubbed America’s only democratic ally in the Mideast by rejecting a joint Bibi-Obama press conference at the White House. Now Obama has an amazing opportunity to refill U.S.-Israeli relations with meaning and content.

What issues are front and center on Israel’s diplomatic agenda? Stopping Iran’s accelerated quest to obtain nuclear weapons; preserving Israel’s nuclear-ambiguity policy; securing U.S. pressure on Turkey so that it recoils from its threats to sever relations with Israel; and a peace process with the Palestinians that does not entail terror attacks and violent anti-Semitic propaganda.

The president’s decision to single out Israel for criticism at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, while not mentioning Iran’s illicit atomic program, was one of the lowlights of his administration so far. After nearly unanimous congressional votes in favor of new energy and financial sanctions on Iran, Obama signed the robust anti-Iran legislation last Thursday. One of the litmus tests of a restart in U.S.-Israel relations would be a hard-hitting enforcement of these sanctions.

Allison Hoffman at Tablet:

How often do you hear Mark Twain quoted at a high-level diplomatic summit? Not often enough, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to do his part to fix that: In his brief appearance today at the Oval Office with President Obama, Netanyahu announced that, pace Twain, rumors of the demise of the U.S.-Israel relationship are greatly exaggerated. In fact, they’re “flat wrong.” (Video here; transcript here.)

It was the first joint appearance by the two men in months, and a departure from their recent pattern of press blackouts and leaked reports of snubs. But with Israeli-Turkish relations maybe on the (slow) mend and both the Israelis and the Palestinians making refreshingly positive noises about the prospects for moving from proximity talks to direct peace negotiations, whatever topics Netanyahu and Obama needed to discuss, in “robust” fashion, in private—settlements, Iran, nuclear non-proliferation, the World Cup—were evidently overshadowed by the importance, for both, of giving off the impression of being copacetic.

So, in front of an audience limited to the American and Israeli press pool, they sat side by side, Bibi in a black-and-white striped tie and Obama in a red one, tag-teaming to give sunny responses. Is Netanyahu a partner for peace? “I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace,” Obama assured. How quickly will things move now that we’re heading into the last few months of the settlement-construction freeze? “When I say the next few weeks, that’s what I mean. The president means that, too,” Netanyahu insisted.

Greg Sargent:

For many hawkish and pro-Israel commentators, there are few events that are more infamous than Obama’s speech in Cairo last summer. Though he reaffirmed in that speech that the U.S.’s bond with Israel is “unbreakable,” many analysts have simply ignored this fact and pointed to Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world as proof of anti-Israel intent.

So it’s a bit surprising that at their joint press availability today, Netanyahu actually praised that Cairo speech, specifically citing it as proof that the President does not harbor ill will towards Israel. From the White House transcript, just out:

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:

[…]

So I think there’s — the President said it best in his speech in Cairo. He said in front of the entire Islamic world, he said, the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. And I can affirm that to you today.

Hard to square that with the conservative interpretation of that speech, isn’t it?

Also key: Jake Tapper asks whether Netanhayu’s suggestion that the two men talked about moving the peace process forward in the coming weeks means that there could be peace talks on the agenda.

Laura Rozen at Politico:

“We’re nowhere near [former President Bill] Clinton and [former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin,” veteran U.S. diplomat Aaron Miller commented on the warm body language of today’s meeting between Obama and Netanyahu, their fifth since taking office in early 2009. But still, Miller said, the concerted demonstration of good will today between two leaders who have had more strained encounters in the past “was impressive.”

“Obama and Bibi have set the parameters for their friendship pact for awhile,” Miller said. “There was no reason for a fight and every reason to do the proverbial reset. Still, lurking below the surface is an expectations gap that will test each leader. In the end, everyone will want to know how do we get to an agreement, given the gaps, particularly the Palestinians who have got to be wondering what the game really is.”

But the American Task Force for Palestine’s Hussein Ibish said he was encouraged by Obama’s comments during the press conference.

“The most significant thing said during the presser was support for state and institution building led by Abbas and [Palestinian Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad, and a clear indication from the president of the United States that the area of their control needs to be expanded in the West Bank,” Ibish said. “This is highly significant.”

Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:

It’s never a bad thing for the U.S. president and the Israeli prime minister to be chummy in public. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that whenever Israel is the topic, Obama’s focus is on the “peace process” and not on the mullahs’ nuclear program. That is a central, but certainly not the only, failing in Obama’s Middle East policy.

Peter Beinart at The Daily Beast:

Don’t listen to what Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama said at their buddy, buddy press conference Tuesday afternoon. Listen to what they didn’t say. Netanyahu volunteered that “I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” The only problem: Obama didn’t say that. He said Iran must “cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.” That’s a whole lot vaguer, and it points to the crux of the dispute between the two men. Netanyahu wants Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent an Iranian nuke, including going to war. Obama doesn’t want to box himself into that corner. But putting Obama in a box is exactly Netanyahu was trying to do.

As for Netanyahu, he didn’t utter the word “Gaza.” Obama praised Israel’s easing of the blockade on Gaza Strip, but signaled that it wasn’t enough. “We believe,” the president declared, “that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs.” All well and good, except that Netanyahu doesn’t want the people of Gaza to prosper economically. For public relations reasons, he’s willing to allow more goods into the Palestinian enclave. But he’s still banning virtually all exports, which means that most Gazans can’t afford to buy the goods Israel is now allowing in. The truth is that Israel is still punishing the people of Gaza for having elected Hamas; it’s just doing in a more subtle, less cruel way.

The second words Netanyahu didn’t mention: “Palestinian state.” Obama not only used the “S” word, he doubled it; referring to a “sovereign state” that the Palestinians “call their own.” Netanyahu, by contrast, talked about a “political settlement for peace” but not a state. In other words, he wouldn’t even go as far as he went last summer, under intense U.S. pressure, at Bar Ilan University.

Which raises a question: what kind of schmuck does Netanyahu think Obama is?

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