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Monday, November 22, 2010

The only Israeli leaders who believe in peace are... Netanyahu and Livni!?!

Ben Smith was in Israel last week, and met with a number of government officials and media types. He produced this lengthy article, which has three particularly interesting points (Hat Tip: Memeorandum). One is obvious, the other two are less obvious.

The obvious point is that Israelis do not trust President Obama. Well, we knew that already. Anyone who has read this blog knows that Obama's approval ratings in Israel have been in single digits since the Cairo speech in June 2009. But it's not just the Israeli public that doesn't trust Obama - it's members of the Israeli government, including many of Netanyahu's closest advisers who don't trust the President. And at least some of them were willing to talk about it on the record.
“Israelis really hate Obama’s guts,” said Shmuel Rosner, a columnist for two leading Israeli newspapers. “We used to trust Americans to act like Americans, and this guy is like a European leader.”

Many senior Israeli leaders have concluded that Hillary Clinton and John McCain were right about Obama’s naivete and inexperience.

“The naïve liberals who are at the heart of the administration really believe in all the misconceptions the Palestinians and all their friends all over the world are trying to place,” said Yossi Kuperwasser, a former high-ranking military intelligence officer who is now deputy director general of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

Kuperwasser, like other Israelis, bridled at the suggestion that the country’s dislike of Obama draws from the Muslim influences of his heritage – or even his name.

“It drives me crazy. Who cares that his middle name is Hussein? It’s the last thing we care about. [To suggest that] is just anti-Semitism,” he said. “There is one reason why we are hesitant about this guy: he doesn’t understand us.”
Rosner is a columnist - a particularly perceptive columnist when it comes to American - Israeli relations, but a columnist all the same. Kuperwasser, however.... Many of you may not have heard of him, but he's someone who's a real expert on security affairs. I'm more than a little surprised that he spoke on the record and that his criticism was so harsh. But it's spot-on.
The problem is that virtually nobody in Israel who isn’t required by the logic of politics to express public faith in the political process of peace talks has much faith that the talks will lead anywhere. Netanyahu’s coalition is dominated by people with a profound skepticism about not just these talks, but of any negotiated peace.

“The only positive policy is to operate under the realistic assumption that as long as the PLO do not change fundamentally their thinking, no government of Israel can sign an agreement with them,” said Beni Begin, a cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s own Likud party and – like most of the Israeli government – a firm skeptic of the prospects for a Palestinian state any time soon.

The extremist group Hamas’s control of the Gaza Strip, meanwhile, “is not a ‘real problem’,” Begin says, mocking the diplomatic conversation on the topic. “It’s an insurmountable problem. Everyone knows it.”

Netanyahu’s close staff and his government share some of that skepticism.

“It might be that the reason you haven't had peace with the Palestinians is not because you haven’t had changes in policies, not because you haven’t had changes with the American approach, but because the Palestinians haven’t brought themselves to real reconciliation with Israel,” Netanyahu’s closest adviser, Ron Dermer, told POLITICO.
The fact that Begin and Dermer said what they said is not surprising. But what you're missing here is the undertone - let me fill that in. Everyone here agrees that much of the fault for the failure of the 'peace process' for the last two years lies with Obama. What Begin and Dermer are pointing out is one of the things that most annoys Israelis about Obama: He's (acting like he's) living in Fantasyland. He is so consumed with the 'fierce moral urgency' of making an 'historic settlement' between Israelis and 'Palestinians' (maybe because he has not had any other foreign policy successes, but that's of no consequence to people here) that he is pretending that the obstacles to that 'settlement' don't exist. Obama may want to make peace, but by trying to force it at a time when the parties aren't ready for it (and let's face it - they're not) all he is doing is pushing the prospects for peace back. Consider this from Eyal Arad, who led Tzipi Livni's campaign in the last election:
“If Obama wanted to be a transformational figure, he would never have led with the settlements,” said Eyal Arad, the architect of Livni’s campaign for prime minister. He argues – like most Israelis – that Obama inadvertently got talks hung up on a matter of irrelevant principle, rather than engaging the reality that some settlements can stay while others must go.

“The settlements were pushed by a bunch of left-wingers who were out of sync with the realities and were out of government too long,” he said. “The irony is that Obama went directly back to the place where George Bush the father left off.”
Yes, Obama has set the 'peace process' back 20 years to the days of Madrid.

The second particularly interesting point in Smith's article - and one which makes sense but has not been reported in the media here - is that the extra 20 F-35's were requested by Prime Minister Netanyahu in response to the Saudi arms package in order to maintain Israel's 'qualitative advantage' (to which Obama's few remaining supporters in the pro-Israel community often point as proof of Obama's pro-Israel bona fides) and were supposed to be unconnected to the 'settlement freeze' extension. Until now, we had heard how every other element in the Obama package for the 'settlement freeze' had been something that Israel had asked for before or was supposed to get anyway. But the extra squadron of F-35's had seemingly come out of the blue. Now, we know that it didn't. It was requested by Israel to meet a specific need that was not connected to the 'peace process.' It's not just what Israelis would call a chupar (a sweetener). Surprise, surprise, surprise.

The other point I found particularly interesting in Smith's article is that Netanyahu's advisers put him in the camp of being among the few true believers in the 'peace process.' As some of you may have sensed, I've been going back and forth in my own mind over the last couple of months as to whether Netanyahu actually believes in the 'peace process,' or whether he's trying to call Abu Mazen's bluff. Smith makes it clear that Netanyahu - and Tzipi Livni - may be the only true believers that it's possible to make peace with 'Palestinians' in this generation (recall that earlier I cited Eyal Arad - one of Livni's closest advisers - who also apparently does not believe it's possible).
Netanyahu, oddly enough, given his perception around the world (and particularly in Washington) as an unyielding hawk, sounds like a virtual peacenik compared with many of his advisers. Almost alone on the right, the prime minister “thinks (Palestinian president) Abu Mazen may rise to the occasion,” Dermer said.

“The prime minister is not only more optimistic than his staff. The prime minister is more optimistic than his ministers,” he said, adding that unlike Begin, Netanyahu “does not believe that the status quo is sustainable.”

Netanyahu is almost alone in his party in suggesting that the peace process could go somewhere; one of the few others in Israeli public life who insists on that point is his chief rival and critic, opposition leader Tzipi Livni. Peace talks really could advance, she argues, if Israel had a leader whom the Americans and Palestinians could trust, as they did when she served as Foreign Minister when her party, Kadima, ran the government before the rightward correction that occurred just weeks after Obama’s own election.

“I believe it’s feasible, but I don’t have a 100 percent guarantee. What I don’t do is try to undermine the willingness of the other side,” Livni told POLITICO. “When we negotiated there was trust – there’s no trust now.... It depends on the way you negotiate.”

Livni scrupulously avoids criticizing Obama’s conduct of the peace talks, but those around her are blunter.
So Netanyahu actually believes 'peace' is possible, and so does Livni so long as someone other than Netanyahu she is in charge. But no one else does. Can Netanyahu drag the rest of the country along under those circumstances? I doubt it. Arik Sharon dragged the country along on the Gaza expulsion by sheer force of character. Given the results of that endeavor, I doubt even Sharon could drag the country along today. Netanyahu certainly cannot. And Livni is even less likely to do so.

The first rule of doctors is 'First, do no harm.' It's clear to everyone here (I'm not even getting into the 'Palestinian' perceptions because I don't believe they were honest with Smith) that peace isn't going to happen right now. The least Obama could do would be to leave the region no worse off than he found it. At the moment, even that looks unlikely.

Read the whole thing.

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At 7:02 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Yup. Its Obama who messed things up. He's done more to see to it the peace process went nowhere than any Israeli right-winger could have ever done. And he hasn't a clue as to how to get it going again except to press Israel to perform the same gesture that failed to produce results last time.

The definition of insanity is trying the same thing over again hoping that this time the result will be different. May he and Netanyahu and Livni believe peace in the coming year is possible. Its up to them to prove all the skeptics wrong.

What could go wrong indeed

At 8:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's say Bar Mitzva Barry stays who he is and the freezawhatchamacallit remains the don't-ask-don't-tell hundred dollars on the dresser hitzanut in a suit it is--it's hard to see that fans of Pollard would sign onto this regardless in exchange for a sentence commutation. Yes, he would be free but what about the morning after the night before?


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