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Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's a Prime Minister to do?

Tom Friedman goes after Binyamin Netanyahu once again for not doing enough to save Barack Hussein Obama from having to side with the Israelis at the United Nations.
This has also left the U.S. government fed up with Israel’s leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.

Israel is not responsible for the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt or for the uprising in Syria or for Turkey’s decision to seek regional leadership by cynically trashing Israel or for the fracturing of the Palestinian national movement between the West Bank and Gaza. What Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, is responsible for is failing to put forth a strategy to respond to all of these in a way that protects Israel’s long-term interests.

O.K., Mr. Netanyahu has a strategy: Do nothing vis-à-vis the Palestinians or Turkey that will require him to go against his base, compromise his ideology or antagonize his key coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an extreme right-winger. Then, call on the U.S. to stop Iran’s nuclear program and help Israel out of every pickle, but make sure that President Obama can’t ask for anything in return — like halting Israeli settlements — by mobilizing Republicans in Congress to box in Obama and by encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote. And meanwhile, get the Israel lobby to hammer anyone in the administration or Congress who says aloud that maybe Bibi has made some mistakes, not just Barack. There, who says Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t have a strategy?
What Netanyahu does not and could not have is a workable strategy for preventing the 'Palestinian' appeal to the United Nations, and that's because of actions taken by the Obama administration immediately upon assuming office - and compounded thereafter.

Recall that Abu Mazen confidently predicted in a May 2009 interview with Jackson Diehl that he needed to do nothing other than sit back and wait for Obama to deliver the Israelis.
Yet on Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait. He will wait for Hamas to capitulate to his demand that any Palestinian unity government recognize Israel and swear off violence. And he will wait for the Obama administration to force a recalcitrant Netanyahu to freeze Israeli settlement construction and publicly accept the two-state formula.

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won't even agree to help Obama's envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. "We can't talk to the Arabs until Israel agrees to freeze settlements and recognize the two-state solution," he insisted in an interview. "Until then we can't talk to anyone."
And what made Abu Mazen think that 'strategy' was acceptable? Diehl explained.
What's interesting about Abbas's hardline position, however, is what it says about the message that Obama's first Middle East steps have sent to Palestinians and Arab governments. From its first days the Bush administration made it clear that the onus for change in the Middle East was on the Palestinians: Until they put an end to terrorism, established a democratic government and accepted the basic parameters for a settlement, the United States was not going to expect major concessions from Israel.

Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud. "The Americans are the leaders of the world," Abbas told me and Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. "They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, 'You have to comply with the conditions.'"
Nothing has changed in Obama's 'strategy' since that opening gambit and nothing has changed in Abu Mazen's strategy. Obama has continued to pressure only Israel, resisting even Congressional calls to cut aid to the 'Palestinian Authority' and to the United Nations in the event that the 'Palestinians' status at the UN is upgraded.

And for this, Friedman blames Netanyahu. Netanyahu is an untenable position and all he can do is hunker down and hope that Obama (who finally sent a third-level State Department functionary last week to say that he would exercise a veto when he should have done so months ago) will do the right thing and cast a veto in the Security Council.

Soccer Dad points out why Abu Mazen might have been able to rely on pressure continuing to fall on Netanyahu and not on him. Note the emphasis below:
In 1997 a "final status" map was leaked to the media. Given that then Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu had campaigned against Oslo, this would seem to have been a pretty big deal. In All Map, No Vision, Thomas Friedman wrote:
A huge tree fell in the forest of Israel the other day, and nobody heard it. And therein lies a story.
The falling tree was that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented to his Cabinet the rough map of what he would offer the Palestinians in final-status talks, if they ever happen. Although his map calls for Israel to retain control of Greater Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and a wide security belt of territory along the 1967 Green Line that encompasses Jewish settlements, all main highways and all sources of water, it would assign the rest -- a patchwork of roughly 40 percent of the West Bank -- to the Palestinians. Given Mr. Netanyahu's long opposition to territorial compromise, that was a pretty big tree to fall without so much as a ''Timbeeeeerrrrr.''
The muted reaction in Israel to Mr. Netanyahu's map tells you all you need to know about the peace process today. To begin with, it got so little attention because it was meant for local consumption. What motivated Mr. Netanyahu to come out with it now -- when there is no prospect of final-status talks -- was not to lure Yasir Arafat to the table. If that were his motivation, he would have shown it to Mr. Arafat, which he didn't.
This was just months after Netanyahu and his cabinet agreed to withdraw Israel from most of Hevron. But to Friedman, Netanyahu despite this concrete action, was doing nothing for peace.

Friedman's negativity prompted Martin Peretz to respond with "Off the map." (The New Republic July 7, 1997) (emphasis mine)
In his June 13 Washington Post column, Charles Krauthammer points out that--for all their obsessive coverage of Israel--the major American news media have ignored what may be the most important political development out of Jerusalem in years. This is Benjamin Netanyahu's decision, reported a few weeks ago in the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, to pursue a "final settlement" that would hand over much of the West Bank to a Palestinian state. This is a transformatory abandonment of ideological principles by the Israeli right. It could set a new, and promising, framework for future negotiations--if people in American government and media take it seriously. How strange then that American editors--who recently devoted space to a story about interest among Israel's ultra-Orthodox in the messianic significance of a red heifer--have largely passed on the story.

My friend Tom Friedman, opining in The New York Times, answered Krauthammer's complaint, and agreed, in part. "A huge tree fell in the forest of Israel the other day, and nobody heard it," Tom wrote of the reception accorded to Netanyahu's plan. But Tom's reason for the odd silence is the usual reason--it is Netanyahu's fault: "the main reason Mr. Netanyahu's map was spurned by the Arabs was that it was totally unconnected to what he's doing on the ground." I see a different reason: I think the main reason Netanyahu's map was spurned by the Arabs is that the Arabs know they can count on attitudes like Tom's to prevail in the American press. They can count on a press that deeply dislikes Netanyahu to dismiss even a substantive proposal from him as cynical posturing.
Things haven't changed much since 1997 or since 2009, have they? Like his predecessor, Abu Mazen can still rely on the likes of Tom Friedman to carry the ball for him regardless of what he does. And the Obama administration continues to withhold support for Netanyahu that could have avoided this whole scenario in the first place.

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At 6:28 AM, Blogger Moriah said...

Don't do it America!



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