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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bipartisan criticism of Obama on Israel

Criticism of President Obama's handling of relations with Israel has gone bipartisan.
Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a letter this morning to President Obama asking the administration to climb down.

"We urge your Administration to refrain from further public criticism of Israel and to focus on more pressing issues affecting this vital relationship, such as signing and enforcing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act when it comes to your desk," they write.

New York's intensely pro-Israel delegation has also begun to criticize the White House openly, if in measured tones.

"We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back," Rep. Eliot Engel said on the floor of Congress yesterday.

"While the timing of the East Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties — Irans nuclear threat," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

"The Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation," said Rep. Steve Israel.
Carney and Kirk actually wrote more than what's quoted in that letter to Obama.
Pennsylvania Rep. Christopher Carney, a Democrat, and Illinois Republican Rep. Mark Kirk are sending a joint letter to Obama telling him to recommit to a number of principles, including “the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, [under which] official United States policy recognizes Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel.”
There are also signs that the crisis may finally be winding down.
“I don’t buy that,” Clinton said of the “crisis.” She told reporters Tuesday, “We have an absolute commitment to Israel’s security. We have a close, unshakeable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American and Israeli people, …but that doesn’t mean that we are going to agree. We don’t agree with any of our international partners on everything.”


Clinton referred to the issue Tuesday, saying that “we have expressed our dismay and disappointment,” but she did not mention her public condemnation of the Israeli government’s announcement.
And Netanyahu has reciprocated the calming words:
"The State of Israel appreciates and respects the warm words said by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the deep bond between the U.S. and Israel, and on the U.S.' commitment to Israel's security," Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

"With regard to commitments to peace, the government of Israel has proven over the last year that it is commitment to peace, both in words and actions," said the statement."

The statement cited as examples Netanyahu's inaugural foreign policy speech made at Bar Ilan University, the removal of hundreds of roadblocks across the West Bank, and its decision to freeze temporarily construction in West Bank settlements. The latter, said the statement, was even called by Clinton an "unprecedented" move.
So is it over? Well, maybe.
Clinton last week made specific demands of Netanyahu about the housing project and about showing commitment to U.S.-mediated indirect peace talks, the State Department has said.

"We do expect to have the Israeli response shortly," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters on Tuesday. "I would anticipate that, you know, very soon there is likely going to be a conversation between the secretary and Prime Minister Netanyahu."

Crowley said he was "not forecasting that'll happen today," but did expect the conversation to occur sometime this week."

When asked whether the U.S. was putting impossible political pressure on Netanyahu, Crowley said: "We are pursuing peace in the Middle East. We are looking for the best way to get the parties into formal negotiations that lead to a comprehensive peace agreement. That is in our interest. It is in Israel's interest. It is in the Palestinian interest.

"And we are - we are playing the role that we've always played in this peace process. And we're going to push the parties as hard as we can, as far as we can. Ultimately, they're the ones that have to sit together and work through these challenging issues. We're just trying to find the right recipe to get them to the table."‬
So if it's a choice of saying no or not responding, which is Netanyahu better off doing? I'd say to wait until he meets Clinton in Washington next week and ask which she'd prefer. I suspect she'd prefer to let her demands die.

Oh, and another Democrat who is critical of Obama:
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY), Chair of the Appropriations State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, also released a statement on Tuesday declaring: "Israel is and will remain the United States' most stalwart ally."
And a somewhat surprising defender:
Co-Chairman of the House and Senate Foreign Affairs committees, Congressman Howard Berman, defended the Obama administration's rebuke and called on Israel to ensure such moves not happen again,

"The Administration had real justification for being upset with the timing of the settlements announcement," he said in a statement. "A process was supposed to be in place to keep the United States from being blindsided by just such a development, and yet once again we were blindsided. The Israeli leadership needs to get this right and put a system in place so it won't happen again.

"We need to disentangle bilateral relations from the peace process," he added. "Let's keep in mind that peace talks are not a gift to one party or the other. They are an opportunity for both parties, Israelis and Palestinians, both of whom badly need peace.

"The Palestinians may not like an Israeli announcement about prospective housing in Jerusalem, and the Israelis may not like the Palestinians naming a town square after a brutal terrorist, but the talks need to go forward."
So how will we know whether it's over? On Tuesday in Washington, the Obama administration said that the President would not campaign for any Representative or Senator who votes against his healthcare reform package. If it's not over, you'll see support for him on Israel become a litmus test as well. And that's good news. Because Obama's poll numbers are so bad right now that no one in their right mind would want him to campaign for them. Ask Martha Coakley.



At 8:54 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

I don't think Obama really wants to force matters over Jerusalem. No Israeli Prime Minister can give ground on the issue and the American Administration is making demands Israel cannot possibly meet.

There's reason to hope this particular "crisis" is now over but the Administration's visceral hostility to Israel on open display in this particular incident will not soon be forgotten in Israel.


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