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Monday, November 01, 2010

But will he speak out once elected?

Shmuel Rosner interviews Dan Seals, the Democratic and currently leading candidate for Congress in the 10th district of Illinois (the district is currently represented by Republican Mark Kirk who is the Republican candidate for the Senate, so there is no incumbent running in this district).
However, most of the conversation was focused on US-Israel relations and his view of the Obama policy since early 2009. Seals had criticized the administration in the past over the strained relations and suggested that “disagreements between the governments in Jerusalem and Washington are bound to arise, as they would between two close friends, but it is critical that these disagreements are dealt with in private and not aired in public.” He did it long ago, and again a couple of weeks ago, in the debate with rival Bob Dold (“with a D not an E”, as the campaign ad reminds voters). “The Democrat said the Obama administration has made some serious missteps in its treatment of the Israeli government, but acknowledged a change in policy”.

I asked him if the problem he has with the administration is over public policy (differences should be discussed “in private”) or also about the policy. Seals counted three issues on which he thought the Obama team should have done better.
1.The “dust up over settlement” policies should have been “handled behind a screen”. That’s a repetition of the not-in-front-of-the-children complaint. Seals doesn’t have much of a problem with the fact that the US isn’t happy with settlement activities. Obama isn’t happy, but so were Reagan and Bush.

2.The second complaint is somewhat more surprising. Seals told me that the Cairo speech wasn’t smart in the sense that it made the impression that Israel’s raison-detre is the holocaust. Such criticism was voiced by many observers following the speech, but mostly from the right (see Michael Gerson’s article if you need good example).

3.Seals also doesn’t like the fact that the administration is creating the impression that “solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will solve other problems in the region”. He thinks this isn’t true, and also thinks that it “feeds into anti-Semitic views” and is a reflection of “problematic mindset”. Strong words.
But having said all that, Seals also think that the administration is learning its lessons and that relations between the governments “had improved”. He gives Obama “credit for starting early” with peace effort – and do not forget to mention that President Bush started “too late in the game”. He thinks that Obama’s “intent was good but [that] the strategy failed”. One of the reasons for failure: “highlighting the settlement issue and making it the point of focus moved us forward away from peace talks”.
So here's what I would ask. First, while the Obama administration's relations with Israel have apparently improved, in my view that's an election tactic and come next Wednesday we head back toward where we were last March. If that happens, will Seals speak out? Recall that Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), one of Israel's strongest supporters and one of the most senior Democrats, didn't speak out until late April and then only after he was badgered by former New York Mayor Ed Koch. Will a first-term Congressman speak out against his own party's President?

Second, the problem with the demand to freeze 'settlement construction' isn't just that it was made in public. The problem is that it was made at all. No previous administration had ever demanded that Israel freeze 'settlement construction' as a condition to 'negotiations' with the 'Palestinians.' And the 'Palestinians' had never made such a demand a condition to 'negotiations' either. Does Seals understand the distinction and is he willing to acknowledge that reality?

I like his criticisms of the Cairo speech and the linkage myth. But I'd want to hear his answers on other issues.

I also don't know whether Rosner spoke with his opponent.


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