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Sunday, May 16, 2010

Rahm Emanuel to rabbis: 'We screwed up'

In a meeting with 15 carefully chosen American rabbis that also included Dennis Ross and Dan Shapiro, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel continued the White House effort to make amends to the Jewish community by admitting that 'we screwed up.'
The Obama administration has “screwed up the messaging” about its support for Israel over the past 14 months, and it will take “more than one month to make up for 14 months,” White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said on Thursday to a group of rabbis called together for a meeting in the White House.

“During the elections there were doubts about President Obama’s support for Israel, and now they have resurfaced,” Emanuel said, according to one of those who participated in the meeting. “But concerning policy, we have done everything that we can that is in Israel’s security – and long-range interests. Watch what the administration does.”

Dennis Ross, who runs the administration’s Iran policy, tried to allay fears during the meeting that by calling for a nuclear-free Middle East, US policy regarding Israel’s alleged nuclear capabilities was changing.

Since 1995, Ross explained, the administration’s policy, supported by Israel, was to push for a nuclear-free Middle East in conjunction with comprehensive peace. Emanuel, according to a participant in the meeting, said, “We understand Israel’s full layer of deterrence.”

These comments came during the second of two White House meetings with a carefully selected slate of 15 rabbis from across the US representing the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative streams. The first meeting took place on April 20, shortly after Obama was widely perceived to have treated Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu shabbily during their last White House meeting.
Ross' claim might have made more sense had the US called for a WMD-free Middle East, and had it done so in a forum other than the IAEA.

But it's not just the 'messaging' that the White House has gotten wrong, at least according to one rabbi in attendance.
Efrem Goldberg, the rabbi at Florida’s Boca Raton Synagogue, which is Orthodox, said he left the meeting still wondering if the administration is on the right track, but “cautiously optimistic” because of the depth of commitment to Israel he heard.

“I left with a clear impression that these individuals have a real passion about Israel,” even if he did not agree with them on tactics, Goldberg said.
They may have a 'real passion' about Israel, but I'm not convinced it's the kind of passion that will be beneficial to Israelis. Emanuel is scheduled to come to Israel next week for his son's Bar Mitzva, and while he will likely say lots of nice things while he is here, Aluf Benn reports that the Obama administration's goals for our region have not changed.
But, even if the style has changed and softened, the content has not. Obama is determined to foster a change in America and adapt its foreign policy to the 21st century, and this requires him to close old cases that have been dragging on without resolution since the last century, such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He's tired of it, the world is fed up with this nuisance, and he wants to put an end to it. Or at least achieve an accord that eluded his predecessors. For this he needs Netanyahu.

And herein lies the problem. No one in the administration has any idea what Netanyahu wants or what his aims really are. The White House recognizes the prime minister's political strength. He has no rivals threatening to take over his seat and no scandals hovering over him. He crushed Moshe Feiglin in the Likud vote. The Americans also understand that Netanyahu could persuade the Israeli public to back any agreement that he signs. But this strength is causing Netanyahu to sit on the fence. If life is so good, why mess with it?

Here's why: By summer's end, Netanyahu-Obama relations will be put to a harder test than ever before. The settlement freeze will expire in tandem with the end of the proximity talks, the UN General Assembly will convene in New York, attended by major world leaders, and the American government will try to advance the new package of sanctions against Iran. Obama will expect the freeze to be extended, which means that Netanyahu could be pushed up against a wall.

What will he do? Will he resume building in the settlements, as the rightist ministers promise he will - or find a pretext to continue the moratorium? And how will he convince his coalition to support that? Direct talks with the Palestinians will seem like a good justification for a further freeze, but Netanyahu will have to give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas something more, and this could cost him a confrontation with the right.

Aggressive American sanctions against Iran seem like a more convenient enticement for Netanyahu, who could persuade his "forum of seven" that this important effort against the Iranian nuclear program mustn't be hindered. But it's doubtful that Obama is capable of getting such sanctions off the ground. And American officials are worried that flimsier measures will provoke Israel to rev up its engines in readiness for a military strike on Iran.

But along with the risk of a crisis, there is also an opportunity here. The expectations for the proximity talks are zero, which leaves room for a diplomatic initiative to take over the agenda. Netanyahu is torn. Ehud Barak, Ambassador Oren, cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser and others say that he must take the lead rather than be dragged along. The most likely initiative would be one that establishes a Palestinian state with temporary borders, similar to the plan put forward Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz. The Palestinians are opposed, but why shouldn't Israel be the one to display some openness and let them be perceived as the obstructionists? The Obama administration is ready to listen to the idea of a state with temporary borders, if it is possible to ensure that this is only a stage on the way to a final status accord.

Another camp in Israel, headed by Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, would rather focus on the Syrian channel, but this idea has no traction in Washington at the moment.

The opposing camp, personified by political adviser Ron Dermer and Netanyahu's right-wing partners, is calling on the prime minister to wait for the Congressional elections in November. The Republicans are expected to win a majority in the House of Representatives, and the offended president, who will be starting to fight for his own reelection, will go easy on Israel. This approach says an excuse needs to be found for extending the freeze until November; to remain standing during yet another round and then to win the fight on points and remain in power without ceding a millimeter.
My guess is that Netanyahu waits until the middle of the summer and then announces that the 'proximity talks' are going well, and that therefore he is extending the freeze until sometime in November.

What could go wrong?


At 4:20 PM, Blogger Broomer said...

Netanyahu will keep the freeze until November elections results. If many Dems loses their seats, the freeze and proximity talks are over. I can only hope that Israel is preparing for this.

At 4:22 PM, Blogger Broomer said...

Forgot to add that Emanuel admitted that they screwed, but we don't know how much they knew they screwed up. The fact that one Rabbi isn't buying it tells me there's a possibility that many aren't buying as well but are not saying much. I'm sure the Rabbis heard much from their congregants and it's percolating to the surface.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Juniper in the Desert said...

I don't believe a word Rahm Emanuel says. I hope the rabbis don't fall into the trap of believing what he says.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi carl.
No he needs the Jewish votes in November that's the truth.The guy is full of lies.
He still won't do a single thing to help Israel,but he will do all he can to help Palestine!

At 8:34 PM, Blogger יונתן said...

"Screwed up the messaging" just means they chose the wrong marketing strategy for the same load of hor$e$hit. This "apology" means nothing.

At 8:41 PM, Blogger yzernik said...

I wish that the Obama admin didn't have so much "passion" about Israel.

At 9:58 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

I think you're right about the entire charade continuing until November. But its important for Netanyahu to remember that while a friendly Congress won't pressure Israel with a cut off of military aid, the good news is the President makes foreign policy independent of Congress. And Israel faces at least two more years with Obumbler in charge of the White House.

What could go wrong indeed

At 10:41 PM, Blogger Kae Gregory said...

There are two possible things that this shows, in my opinion and that is that the Obama administration is positioning itself to reacquire the Jewish vote for this year's election, and the other is that they are seeing the results of 'smart diplomacy' not only with respect to Israel, and they aren't good. Turkey is becoming islamist and the rest of the region is becoming a powder keg. Iran is thumbing its nose at Obama. Russia obviously holds him in contempt. Emerging rogue and totalitarian regimes in Asia and South America are subjugating people with impunity and openly challenging Obama. And Obama is acting as if none of this is happening and that all is well. I think that Obama is impotent and may be backtracking on Israel because he sees the stupidity of 'smart diplomacy'. But then again, it may all be for the election in which case 2011 will be unpleasant.

At 11:33 PM, Blogger g2loq said...

Meanwhile, one of Mr. Emanuel [Jewish] colleague:
We, the United States, have been having human-rights talks with China. Our side is apparently led by Michael Posner, an assistant secretary of state. I will quote from an Associated Press report:
Posner said in addition to talks on freedom of religion and expression, labor rights and rule of law, officials also discussed Chinese complaints about problems with U.S. human rights, which have included crime, poverty, homelessness and racial discrimination.
He said U.S. officials did not whitewash the American record and in fact raised on its [their?] own a new immigration Law in Arizona that requires police to ask about a person’s immigration status if there is suspicion the person is in the country illegally.


At 11:42 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

1)The US Dept spokesperson Mr. Philip J. Crowley pointed out that though Israel has a right to defend itself, military action would not solve the Middle East conflict, therefore Israel and the Palestinians Authority need to engage in direct negotiations.

Mr. Crowley is absolutely right, consequently I respectfully suggest, a
Complete withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan, Pakistan, because
Military action would not solve the Middle East conflict therefore Obama needs to engage in direct negotiations with Bin Ladin.

2)I believe Emanuel is selling us
the next election. I don't believe one word he says.


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