Israel's clash with Obama at the boiling point
by MainStreet, Thu Jun 18, 2009 at 07:26:34 AM EDT
Netanyahu's intransigence on movement that would facilitate peace in the Middle East, the kernel of which is a real two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is for all practical purposes dead in the water. The Israelis have spoken. If Obama is unable to move Netanyahu toward goals that extend beyond empty words, he will be seen as a puppet of Israel, and Israel will again be seen as wagging America's tail.
It is too late for Obama to withdraw his envoy, George Mitchell; it is too late to curb Hillary Clinton's public policy stances; and it is definitely too late for Obama to cancel the Cairo speech. We once talked about Netanyahu being between a rock and a hard place, between US support and his right wing settler supporters. Now we just might think of Obama being in the same position.
An update on where Israel's intransigence stands is available from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz this morning:
On freezing settlements: go to hell.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday that Israel could not accept the Obama administration's demand to "completely" halt activity in West Bank settlements.
"We have no intention to change the demographic balance in Judea and Samaria," Lieberman said during his talks with the secretary of state in Washington. "Everywhere people are born, people die, and we cannot accept a vision of stopping completely the settlements. We have to keep the natural growth."
Still, he said, Israel is "ready for direct negotiations with the Palestinians."
Negotiations for what? Israeli diplomats never say, "West Bank." It's rather the possessive phrase, "Judea and Samaria."
On the issue of the Gaza siege, which Obama asked Israel to cease months ago, and Jimmy Carter called inhumane, Israel is likewise unyielding: go to hell.
The United States has stepped up pressure on Israel regarding the Gaza Strip: Three weeks ago it sent Jerusalem a diplomatic note officially protesting Gaza policy and demanding a more liberal opening of the border crossings to facilitate reconstruction.
U.S. and Israeli sources say the note was followed by a verbal communication clarifying that the Obama administration thinks Israel's linkage of the case of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit and the opening of the crossings was not constructive.
So what can we make of these positions? David Grossman put it succinctly in yet another Haartez article: Peace? Go to hell.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech was indeed, as it has been described, the speech of our lives. Our bogged-down, hopeless lives.
Once again, most Israelis can snuggle up around what appears to be a daring and generous offer, but what is in fact, as usual, a compromise between the anxieties, the weakness and the self-righteousness of the center just-to-the-right and the center a-little-left. But what a great distance between them and the harsh demands of reality, as well as the legitimate needs and rightful claims of the Palestinians, now accepted by most of the world, including the United States.
Other than acceptance of the two-state principle, which was wrung out of Netanyahu under heavy pressure and sourly expressed, this speech contained no tangible step toward a real change of consciousness. Netanyahu did not speak "honestly and courageously" - as he had promised - about the destructive role of the settlements as an obstacle to peace. He did not look the settlers in the eye and tell them what he knows full well: that the map of the settlements contradicts the map of peace. That most of them will have to leave their homes.
Ball in Obama's court. Stay tuned.