Leftist Rabbi to Obama: No More Negotiations to Nowhere! UPDATE
by MainStreet, Mon May 18, 2009 at 04:51:38 AM EDT
Huffington Post this Monday morning featured a Time.Com article, The Six Issues That Divide Bibi from Barack, to describe the stumbling blocks Bibi Netanyahu is expected to throw before Barak Obama's feet to avoid peace negotiations when they meet in the White House.
By contrast, Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue in San Francisco, put Netanyahu's tactics more succinctly by alluding to Israel's mastery of negotiations to nowhere. He entitled what is taking place this morning in the White House, Obama's Mistaken Middle East Peace Strategy or No More Negotiations to Nowhere!(emailed, not yet posted).
Rabbi Lerner's article provides a more transparent view of Netanyahu's strategy, which has been used time and again throughout Israel's history to avoid peace negotiations, i.e., to keep the colonization of the Palestinian territories moving forward.
Rabbi Lerner asserts that "nothing proposed by Obama is likely to change the realities on the ground in the West Bank." Netanyahu begins this morning's meeting already off the hook. Language is everything. Even if Netanyahu agreed to restart talks with the Palestinians, it would be about as meaningful as Olmert's famous "teas with Abbas," or the agreement to trivial concessions. It would amount to nothing.
But Olmert was not the first Israeli PM to ploy the Palestinians (or the US or the world) by carrying on the pretext of negotiating peace.
Obama's insistence that negotiations begin again between Israel and the Palestinians toward a final settlement agreement sounds "tough" and "standing up to Israel" only to those who have no historical memory. But Netanyahu and the Israeli right-wingers who now run the Israeli government remember very well the willingness of a previous Likud prime minister (and former underground terrorist) Yitzhak Shamir to participate in just such negotiations in the early 1990s. Shamir explained to his constituents that he could sit in such negotiations for the next twenty years and still never concede anything that would resemble a viable Palestinian state: that is, one not still dominated by Israeli settlers, with their own exclusive roads and military protectors, which would make such a state nothing more than a string of Palestinian cities isolated from each other.
Why then will Netanyahu resist such negotiations? Why will the 50% of the Congress that showed up at the AIPAC conference--to prove their loyalty to Israel's most extreme rightist government ever--also do everything they can to block Obama were he to decide to demand for Israel to start negotiating a 2 state solution? Because the Right has learned that it works to press for far more than they can settle with,and then appear to be "compromising" when they are actually giving little more than what they really wanted in the first place. .
Another point made by Rabbi Learner is Israel's ability to make meaningless right wing concessions.
Over the past several decades, by vehemently staking out extreme positions the Right both in Israel and the U.S. have managed to shift the center of public discourse far to the Right. Positions once advocated by centrist Labor Party people in Israel (dismantling all the settlements in the West Bank, not just the so-called "illegal settlements") or by centrist Democrats like Clinton in the US (universal health care) are labeled "extreme leftist" views (health care is now called "socialism," for example).
In response, yesterday's centrists, now stuck with the label "left of center," think they are doing well if they can achieve success by "winning" concessions that were once the positions of moderate Republicans or moderate Likudniks. So the Democrats in the U.S., and now the peace forces in the Jewish community, imagine that they are winning some serious victory if they get those peace negotiations started again, when there is no reason to believe that they would lead to the kind of Palestinian state that is economically and politically viable, and to a just settlement for Palestinian refugees-the only outcome that could actually provide the preconditions for lasting security for Israel.
Therefore, "don't put it past Netanyahu to make a dramatic 'concession,' warns Rabbi Lerner. Israel may even be willing to acknowledge the goal of two states, but will attach several "ifs," provisos that cannot be attained. It may be remembered that as PM, Sharon added fourteen such conditions that virtually stalemated peace talks.
....if the Palestinians (including Hamas) renounce all violence (something the US won't do in regard to its mission in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistant) and if they agree to recognize Israel as a Jewish atate (though the US would never recognize, say, Saudi Arabia as a Muslim state--because we'd never want to impose a particular religious or ethnic identification on any state we recognize).
Still, I don't put it past Netanyahu to let go of these demands at some point in the process, because he is a wily negotiator who knows how to deal with U.S. pressure--namely to appear to be making huge concessions while actually implementing none of them. Thus, when he was Prime Minister in the 1990s, he acceded to Bill Clinton's desire to appear to be making peace, but after a torturous process agreed to Israel to allow Palestinians some autonomy (not sovereignty) over about 2/3 of the West Bank (less than 14% of pre-48 Palestine). Meanwhile, he encouraged expansion of settlers so that between the signing of the Oslo Accord at the White House in 1993 and the time that the 2nd Intifda began in 2000 the number of settlers on the West Bank had actually doulbed (though to be fair, part of that process took place with the blessings of Rabin before he was murdered by an Israeli right-wing religious fanatic and by Ehud Barak who now serves at Defense Minister in Netanyahu's government). The point here is that Netanyahu knows how to play "cat and mouse" excellently, and unless the US is prepared to impose a fair settlement agreement, Netanyahu could easily agree to start negotiations again and then produce nothing that would satisfy even the most beaten-down and ready-to-compromise Palestinian Authority leadership.
Site rules prevent me from reprinting Rabbi Lerner's entire article, which contains many ideas about a solution to the conflict. Hopefully, the full article will appear on the Tikkun site shortly (link above). Otherwise, permission to reprint the above sections granted.
UPDATE: Juan Cole's sagacious two-cents.
Obama-Netanyahu must not be Kennedy-Khrushchev
Monday, May 18, 2009
Far rightwing Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is meeting Monday with President Barack Obama in Washington.
It is the most fateful encounter of two world leaders since Kennedy met Khrushchev. And Obama absolutely must not allow himself to be cowed or misunderstood as timid by Netanyahu, who is a notorious bully and warmonger. (Bill Clinton complained that Netanyahu when last prime minister thought that he was the superpower). If Obama can cow Netanyahu, his Middle East policy may have a chance. If Netanyahu comes away thinking he can thumb his nose at Washington, the whole Middle East could be in flames by the end of Obama's first term.
The two come to the encounter with starkly different agendas for the Middle East. Obama wants better relations with Iran (which he needs for a clean withdrawal from Iraq and for success in Afghanistan). And Obama wants to be the president who finally established a Palestinian state, implemented a two-state solution, and resolved the long-running Arab-Israeli conflict, which has generated so many wars and so much terrorism and instability. (As I have said before, the key problem in all this is Palestinian statelessness.)
Netanyahu on the other hand wants to attack Iran and attempt to destroy its nuclear enrichment research facilities. And he absolutely does not under any circumstances want a Palestinian state or to be forced to withdraw Israeli squatters from the Palestinian territories that they have been colonizing since 1967 (unlike most of Israel proper, the UN never awarded that territory to Israel, nor has it been recognized implicitly by international treaties, as Egypt's Camp David accords implicitly recognized 1949 Israeli borders.)
Obama, concerned that Israeli sabre-rattling might itself lead to hostilities, sent CIA head Leon Panetta to Israel recently to demand that the Netanyahu government tone down its belligerent rhetoric. Netanyahu maintains that Iran has vowed to destroy Israel, which is not correct. The Iranian government is hostile to Israel and wishes that the Zionist enterprise would collapse the way the Soviet Union or the shah's government did. But it has said that it would accept a two-state solution if that was what the Palestinians wanted. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad never threatened to 'wipe Israel off the face of the map,' since there is not even such an idiom in Persian. He was talking about an ideological collapse of a Zionist regime and its occupation of Jerusalem, Islam's third holiest city. Iran has not launched an aggressive war possibly since Karim Khan Zand took Basra in the 1780s.
Netanyahu's plan to attack Iran's nuclear facilities would fail, and would only cause Iran actually to seek nukes, which it is not presently doing according to US intelligence. I like Israelis, but they are understandably traumatized by all the things that have happened to them since the 1930s and have developed an unhealthy hysteria and tendency to shoot first and ask questions later. They were convinced that a US overthrow of Saddam Hussein would change the Middle East in their favor. It has not (Hizbullah in Lebanon has new friends in Baghdad, as does Tehran). Obama must impress on them that the answer to every problem is not a bombing raid. The good thing about having Rahm Emmanuel in the White House is that he will be able to phrase the instruction colorfully enough for it to be understood unambiguously.
An Israeli attack on Iran might well reactivate the Mahdi Army and Badr Corps as anti-American Shiite militias in Iraq- all hell could break loose in that country, leaving Obama's hopes for a withdrawal in tatters. And Iran has many clients in Afghanistan that could be mobilized against NATO-- in fact it could join an effort to keep military material from even getting to Afghanistan, leaving NATO forces vulnerable to being cut off and killed.
Netanyahu's talk of improving the economic lives of Palestinians instead of giving them a state is also nonsense. Statelessness prevents economic security and progress. And people aren't just motivated by material things. Palestinians want a concrete manifestation of their national identity, just as everyone else does.
Only a viable Palestinian state resolves this huge decades-long mess in the short to medium term. I think it may be too late but am willing to see what Obama has in mind.
Aljazeera English reports on the Obama-Netanyahu meeting from a pan-Arab point of view.
Cole also posted two videos of interest at the site link above.