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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 contiguousstate 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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?
The contours of the response to the Gaza flotilla fiasco are now coming into sharper public view: the Israeli government will significantly ease the blockade of Gaza in exchange for American support for a whitewash of the investigation of the flotilla incident. As I’ve said many times on Twitter, this is a good deal. No investigation was ever going to produce anything of any particular value, but easing the blockade of Gaza could have significant positive effects for the people of Gaza, the prospects of Palestinian reconciliation, the peace process, and American credibility in the region. None of those will happen on their own, of course. And nobody is likely to be fully satisfied with the new measures. I’ve been quite critical of how the Obama team has handled the Israeli-Palestinian track, and particularly the Gaza situation — and if they had moved strongly to resolve the Gaza blockade a year ago, the issue wouldn’t have been there now to exploit. But now, I think they deserve some real credit for nudging Israel towards finally making a move which could over time open up some real new possibilities for progress.
I know a lot of people won’t agree with me on this, but trading off the investigation for the blockade was the right move. It is difficult to imagine what value even a real, independent international investigation of the flotilla incident would possibly have. The incident itself was only a minor one in the longer, deeper story of the Gaza blockade — a fiasco waiting to happen, not a bolt from the blue. An investigation narrowly focused on the flotilla and what happened during the Israeli boarding would be of only marginal value, while the process itself would be hopelessly politicized. The Israeli self-study seems designed to be self-discredting. By appointing David Trimble, founder of a “Friends of Israel” group, as one of the two international observers, they have more or less guaranteed that the results will be pleasing to their sympathizers and totally discredited in the eyes of everyone else. So be it.
But it is far from clear what this “liberalisation” will entail, or how fast it will happen. The statement also says that Israel would continue to implement the “existing security procedures to prevent the inflow of weapons and war materials” and that it will decide in the coming days how it will implement this decision. Some items banned from Gaza, mainly construction materials, are forbidden on the basis that they are “dual-use”—they might be used to build houses but they might also be for building bombs, says Israel.
The ultimate victory for the Mavi Marmara: Israel has decided to ease the blockade of Gaza, shifting its policy closer toward what supporters of the blockade said it was always supposed to accomplish, preventing Hamas from stockpiling weapons. We’ll have to wait to see how much so-called ‘dual use’ material — stuff that could have both civilian or military application — Israel will actually continue to exclude before we can really determine whether the easement even remotely approaches the “fundamental change” that Robert Gibbs said in a statement Gaza needs. But any relaxation of collective punishment is a positive sign. And whatever you think of the Mavi Marmara, it’s impossible to deny that the flotilla’s mission of concentrating international attention on the immiseration of Gaza succeeded.
If it was only interdiction of military supplies to Hamas, they would allow building materials and other civilian goods through to Gaza. But an ancillary goal of the blockade is to make life so difficult for Gazans that they overthrow or vote out Hamas. It’s not working at this point so a relaxation of some of the blockade’s strictures might generate a little international goodwill while still maintaining the main reason for having the blockade in the first place.
Those predisposed to see Israel as the villain won’t be swayed. But on another level, this move makes sense if you consider that these small concessions to American and European sensibilities makes it easier for them to support Israel at the UN and elsewhere.
The NGO Save the Children e-mailed reporters to praise the decision, but said “simply easing the blockade by allowing more goods in is not enough.” Oxfam called it a “baby step.”
Reaction from Washington was slightly more positive, but still quietly urged Israel to loosen the blockade further. The subject came up very briefly during yesterday’s White House briefing, where press secretary Robert Gibbs said the president “welcomed” the move.
Look, I think that we welcome the principles that were announced by the Israeli government today. They’re a step in the right direction. We will continue to work in the coming days with our Israel friends to continue to improve a humanitarian situation in Gaza that the President has said is unsustainable.
At the State Department briefing, spokesman Mark Toner said the Israeli decision was consistent with US requests for a looser blockade.
Well, we welcome the general principles announced earlier today by the Israeli Government. They reflect the type of changes we’ve been significant with our Israeli friends. And Senator Mitchell, who was in the region, will continue working on them in the coming days.
As the President has said, the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. And as these principles get further developed and implemented, we’re hopeful that the situation in Gaza will improve. Meanwhile, we just would also reiterate our call for the unconditional release of Corporal Shalit.
The language about “further developed and implemented” is the State Department’s way of very quietly urging Israel to loosen the blockade further. Toner later said the US wants a “further expansion of the scope” of goods allowed into Gaza.
Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defences to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.
In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defence sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.
To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defence systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defences will return to full alert.
“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” said a US defence source in the area. “They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department.”
Sources in Saudi Arabia say it is common knowledge within defence circles in the kingdom that an arrangement is in place if Israel decides to launch the raid. Despite the tension between the two governments, they share a mutual loathing of the regime in Tehran and a common fear of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “We all know this. We will let them [the Israelis] through and see nothing,” said one.
The four main targets for any raid on Iran would be the uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Qom, the gas storage development at Isfahan and the heavy-water reactor at Arak. Secondary targets include the lightwater reactor at Bushehr, which could produce weapons-grade plutonium when complete.
This claim bubbles up from time to time — remember this iteration from last July, or this one from last September? — but the repetition doesn’t make it any less fun.
It’s Middle Eastern politics in microcosm. For all the Wahhabist invective towards al-Yahud, the Saudis are more afraid of being nuked by Iran in some insane Sunni/Shiite armaggedon than by Israel, and rightly so. So, just as the local Arab regimes demagogue Israeli nukes for show while worrying privately about Tehran, the Kingdom might lend the IAF some airspace and then lamely pretend afterwards that the incursion was unwanted. Question, though: Will anyone seriously believe their denial that they were involved? It probably won’t spare them some sort of Iranian reprisal, either overt or covert (via Hezbollah or a Quds Force operation inside S.A.), and it’s bound to draw the ire of the many Jew-hating fanatics in their clerical class. The only reason to deny, I assume, is to deprive Iran of a confession it could use to pressure other local Muslim regimes into isolating the Saudis as punishment — although even there, how likely it is that Sunni leaders will side with the great Shiite menace against Riyadh?
A fascinating development. With the notable exception of Chuck Wald, essentially every security analyst I’ve heard or read on the subject thinks that an aerial attack on Iran’s facilities would be counterproductive. But, given no good options, Israel is likely to take one of the bad ones.
Frankly, this is a more effective deterrent on the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions than anything Obama has done in eighteen months. And it proves how utterly false is Obama’s premise that progress on the ”peace process” is required to gain the Arab states’ co-operation on Iran. Imagine if we had spent the last 18 months rounding up support from the Arab states on a shared defense pact, demonstrating America’s full support of Israel and making clear that the military option is perfectly viable. Instead, we have a tenser Middle East, a withering U.S.-Israel alliance, and an emboldened Iran. It is the greatest foreign-policy miscalculation in memory.
I hope this U.S. defense source wasn’t the Times‘ only source. I also hope that if Israel does conduct an airstrike against Iran, President Obama will side with the Saudis and the Israelis instead of Iran and its enablers. For one of the few times in my life, I’m not sure which side the American government would support.
But at least now we know the old saying is true: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Gulf states will not support any military action against Iran despite being wary about its nuclear programme, analysts said on Saturday.
“Saudi Arabia will not cooperate with Israel or any other country to attack Iran. We have always advocated a peaceful solution to the Iran crisis,” Dr Abdul Aziz Hamad of King Saud University told Gulf News.
Saudi and US defence officials were quoted in a report in The Times as saying that Riyadh will allow Israeli jets to use its airspace if Tel Aviv decides to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.
“The Saudis have given their permission for the Israelis to pass over and they will look the other way,” the London-based newspaper said, quoting a US defence source.
“They have already done tests to make sure their own jets aren’t scrambled and no one gets shot down. This has all been done with the agreement of the [US] State Department,” the report said, quoting an unnamed Saudi official.
However, experts said although Gulf states continue to be concerned about Iran’s designs, they would not support any military action against the Islamic republic.
Riad Kahwaji, General Director of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said the “[Times] report, in my opinion, is part of the psychological warfare between Iran and the US, because there is no need for Saudi-Israeli cooperation to allow the Jewish state to attack Iran.”
THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned that senior Obama administration officials have been telling foreign governments that the administration intends to support an effort next week at the United Nations to set up an independent commission, under UN auspices, to investigate Israel’s behavior in the Gaza flotilla incident. The White House has apparently shrugged off concerns from elsewhere in the U.S. government that a) this is an extraordinary singling out of Israel, since all kinds of much worse incidents happen around the world without spurring UN investigations; b) that the investigation will be one-sided, focusing entirely on Israeli behavior and not on Turkey or on Hamas; and c) that this sets a terrible precedent for outside investigations of incidents involving U.S. troops or intelligence operatives as we conduct our own war on terror.
While UN Ambassador Susan Rice is reported to have played an important role in pushing for U.S. support of a UN investigation, the decision is, one official stressed, of course the president’s. The government of Israel has been consulting with the U.S. government on its own Israeli investigative panel, to be led by a retired supreme court justice, that would include respected international participants, including one from the U.S. But the Obama administration is reportedly saying that such a “kosher panel” is not good enough to satisfy the international community, or the Obama White House.
Kristol’s report comes just as Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has informed Israel’s representatives the world over that there were never any humanitarian supplies or equipment aboard the Mavi Marmara, where Israeli commandos were ambushed by armed mercenaries posing as peace activists. Of related interest are the videotaped statements of two Mavi Marmara crew members showing that preparations for a violent confrontation with IDF forces were put in motion about two hours before the boarding began, when the Israeli Navy hailed the ship and told it to halt; according to the statements, the atmosphere aboard the Mavi Marmara; IHH operatives on the main deck were cutting the ship’s railings with metal disks they had brought with them into lengths suitable to be used as clubs.
Despite outward appearances, the Obama administration is not clueless. It has plenty of clues. Let’s just say now is a good time to meditate further on Dorothy Rabinowitz’s Wall Street Journal column on “The alien in the White House.”
Recall that this week Obama himself spoke about an international board of inquiry. And other sources confirm to me that, indeed, this was Susan Rice’s recommendation. (This may explain why the U.S. was mute when Israel was condemned by the Human Right Council.)
But this brain storm might be a bridge too far, even for timid Democrats on the Hill. So (like the leaks about an imposed peace plan from James Jones meeting with such illustrious characters as Zbigniew Brzezinski), this may be an idea that the Obama administration really, really wants to pursue but doesn’t know if it can pull off. Test the waters, make Israel nervous. Turn up the heat. Show the Arabs what good guys we are. But if the game plan is exposed and a firestorm erupts, well, then — retreat. Deny that was ever the intention and come up with a plan that is less offensive — another “compromise.”
There is another alternative, of course. Veto (if it should come to the Security Council) and/or refuse to cooperate with any UN investigation. Support an Israeli investigation. The administration can and should do both. Perhaps the revelation that Obama is playing footsie with the UN (again, and as he did with the NPT group), will cause the administration to sound the retreat (as the Obama team was forced to do regarding the trial balloon on an imposed peace plan). But Obama can never bring himself to wholeheartedly embrace Israel and say no to the international community. Let’s see if he can manage to do that this time around.
I suppose, if nothing else, one should be grateful that Obama is showing his true colors for once. Among his failings as a human being and a leader—and they are legion—perhaps none is more glaring than his dishonesty, which has been on fairly continuous display since he took the oath of office. He has not leveled with the American people regarding his stance on health care (despite his refusals to acknowledge the fact, he is on record as stating his ultimate goal for the country is universal health care), nor has he been forthcoming about his views on black nationalism or socialism.
At least at last, he is flautning his anti-Semitism for all the world to see. I trust that Jewish voters will find some way to repay his candor in the polls come November of 2012.
The White House is sharply denying a claim by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol that “the administration intends to support an effort next week at the United Nations to set up an independent commission, under UN auspices, to investigate Israel’s behavior in the Gaza flotilla incident.”
The White House has suggested in the past that it supported international participation in an Israeli investigation, but a shift to the kind of international inquiry supported by many of Israel’s critics would be a dramatic one, and a White House official brushed off Kristol’s flotation.
The White House pushed, immediately after the incident, to downgrade a planned resolution condmening Israel to a vague presidential statement that didn’t directly target the Jewish State.
The White House official said the administration continues to support “an Israeli-led investigation into the flotilla incident that is prompt, credible, impartial, and transparent.”
The White House is pushing back hard against a claim by Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol that the administration is preparing to support an independent U.N. investigation into the Gaza flotilla incident.
Kristol, writing on the Weekly Standard blog, claimed he had heard, “the administration intends to support an effort next week at the United Nations to set up an independent commission, under UN auspices, to investigate Israel’s behavior in the Gaza flotilla incident.”
The White House quickly and sharply denied that account.
A White House official told multiple reporters, “We’ve said from the beginning that we support an Israeli-led investigation into the flotilla incident that is prompt, credible, impartial, and transparent. We are open to different ways of ensuring the credibility of this Israeli-led investigation, including international participation.”
The official also said, “We know of no resolution that will be debated at the U.N. on the flotilla investigation next week.”
Kristol’s allegation, and the White House’s rebuttal of it, is further illustration of the ongoing tension between some in the pro-Israel advocacy community and the administration over how strongly and aggressively to defend Israel in the international arena.
While it’s true there is no specific resolution expected, sources close to the issue say, what pro-Israel leaders like Kristol are worried about are continuing calls for tougher measures against Israel, such as the vote in the Human Rights Council, and whether or not the administration will really oppose them with vigor.
As expected, the administration is denying the report — sort of. The response is telling, and not only for its gratuitous nastiness. First, the administration plainly thinks it’s achieved a grand success by toning down the UN resolution and downgrading it to a statement. And it lets on that, once again, some “compromise” is under consideration. Moreover, it only denies that the UN will not debate the resolution “next week.”
What is missing is any determination to rule out an international investigation. Indeed, it advances the notion that an Israeli investigation would not be “credible.” No mention is made of, and there seems to be no interest in, investigating Turkey or the terrorists.
A simple denial would look something like this: “The United States will oppose any UN investigation into Israel.”
But the White House didn’t say that. It couldn’t even muster an official response on the record. Politico originally included a statement from White House spokesman (and friend of THE WEEKLY STANDARD) Tommy Vietor—”We have no idea what Bill Kristol is talking about, and would surmise that neither does he”—but that quote has since vanished from the blog (it can be seen here).
Maybe Tommy had to ask for his quote to be deleted because it was a tad snarky—given that the administration probably is going to end up supporting (or at least yielding to), and cooperating with, and pressuring Israel to cooperate with, a UN investigation.
He’s also probably on a tight leash after this picture zipped around the Internet this week (for the record, I fully support Vietor’s right to drink beer at a bar—and even play beer pong—though he really should keep his shirt on at public establishments, especially on a Sunday afternoon).
Talking About The Talking About The Talking… Do You Feel Cynical Or Dizzy?
Ethan Bronner at NYT:
Max Fisher at The Atlantic with a round-up
Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:
Andrew Lebovich at Washington Note:
Lexington at The Economist:
Jennifer Rubin at Commentary:
Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy:
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
Filed under Israel/Palestine
Tagged as Allah Pundit, Andrew Lebovich, Bloggingheads, Commentary, Daniel Drezner, Daniel Levy, Eli Lake, Ethan Bronner, Foreign Policy, Heather Hurlburt, Huffington Post, Hussein Ibish, Israel, Jennifer Rubin, Josh Rogin, Lexington, Max Fisher, New York Times, Stephen Walt, Taylor Marsh, The Atlantic, The Economist, Washington Note