Obama and Arab-Israeli diplomacy

There has been a lot of speculation in Washington these past weeks about the content of the Arab-Israeli stance we might expect to see from the Obama administration. I have followed this speculation as closely as just about everyone, and have the following observations to make:
1. It is still far too early to make any concrete predictions at all. All we know so far is the content of the top-level appointments he announced on December 1, to his foreign affairs and national security team, and the prominent mention he made in that announcement of the need to find “a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
2. What we still do not, very significantly, know is how exactly the responsibilities will be divided between Hillary Clinton at State, and Gen. Jim Jones as NSC adviser. All we know is that Hillary asked for, and got, an assurance that she would have direct access to the Prez whenever she needs it. Which is not at all the same as saying that she will over-rule Jones, who will have direct access to the Prez as a matter of course and who is expected to play a strong role as NSC adviser.
3. One of my working assumptions is that Hillary might be expected to be more accommodationist than Jones to whatever government is in power in Israel, and more reserved than him about articulating the United States’ own strong interest in the conclusion of a final, conflict-ending, and claims-ending peace in the region. I might be wrong. But she has been a close and good friend of AIPAC for a long time now. Jones, meanwhile, gained important, firsthand experience into the (previously often dysfunctional) dynamics of the US-Israel-Palestine triangle during his work on revamping the PA’s security apparatus in Jenin. He is a high-level military man with considerable leadership experience, not someone whom Hillary can easily roll right over. (Also, his military experience and stature will be an important asset to Obama as Obama tries to figure out how to deal with the Israelis.)
4. Dennis Ross has worked hard to get himself “mentioned” as possible Arab-Israeli diplomacy czar in many publications in the US, Israel, and elsewhere (including, today, here.) Dennis has been a staunch Clinton-ite ever since he opportunistically jumped ship straight from George Bush I’s failed re-election campaign in ’92 to the Clinton camp. He did a workman-like job on Israeli-Arab diplomacy so long as he was closely supervised by Sec. of State Jim Baker, but once he rose higher on the feeding chain his own preferences were always for (a) lengthy delay in the conclusion of a final peace agreement– argued for in the name of “ripeness theory” and the need for very lengthy “confidence building” before the final negotiations even start; and (b) trying to split the Arab parties off from each other and play each off against the others in a classic “divide and rule” way.
5. However, despite all this “mentioning” and other forms of speculation, we still really do not know anything about how Obama intends to pursue his stated goal of a speedy move toward a final Israel-Palestine peace. And I suspect much of that “mentioning” might backfire.
6. We will not know the content of the policy until we hear additional substantive statements from the President-elect and/or see the next echelon down of Middle-East-relevant appointments being announced, with the lines of their responsibility also clearly established.
7. Given the urgency with which Obama spoke about the need for a final Israel-Palestine peace he may well have hoped to have more pieces of that policy (as in #6 above) in place by now. But the economic crisis has been overwhelming everything else on his agenda in the past couple of weeks. We still have 37 days to go before the inauguration. I am sure we will learn more before then.

8 thoughts on “Obama and Arab-Israeli diplomacy

  1. Don Bacon

    Isn’t it a shame that in this supposed democracy, where the people are supposed to determine domestic & foreign policy through their representatives, a nation of laws we are told, we have to be content to be on pins and needles waiting for any sign of what the new Decider will decide on one of the key issues of our times.
    If “they” hate us for our freedom then their hatred is misplaced, at least as it regards foreign policy where we are slaves to the whims of a Decider and his minions. Only the names change.
    Why do we have a Congress anyhow? Or, better, what can we do to engage with the Congress and help them to do something constructive? (Well, I got that off my chest.)

  2. Scott H.

    I appreciate the overview and reminders Helena. Re. the role of DR, his recent essays have been among the most hawkish in thumping Iran (w/ emphasis on sticks — and verbiage likely to kill any feigned negotiations)
    Soheila Vahdai, an Iranian-American human rights activist, speaks for many in being concerned about HC re. Iran policy. In the following commentary, Vahdati:
    http://www.womensenews.org/article.cfm/dyn/aid/3853/context/archive
    praises Clinton in her advocacy of women’s rights, yet also focuses attention of HC’s extraordinary use of the word, “obliterate”….
    “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran,” Clinton said in an interview in April 2008 when asked what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”
    For Clinton’s Iranian female spectators–many of us who had fond feelings toward her from her days as first lady–being subject to this threatened obliteration was a nasty jolt.
    While we are well aware of the furor caused by Iran’s enriched uranium program–and the weight of opinion behind the suspicion of it being for nuclear weapons–we were nonetheless shocked by the reckless and violent threat….”
    (SH — ok, the quote sourcing is a bit off. But imagine if say A/N had used the word “obliterate” to describe Iran’s promised reaction if say, Israel would attack Iran…. ? Or was that the point, one “map wiping” threat deserves another? )
    I have yet to hear HC clarify or back-off such incendiary, disproportionate threats…. I would hope during her confirmation hearings, she is given the opportunity.

  3. Helena

    H’mm. Here on this blog, references to “HC” can be confusing. (To make it worse, if I were to use a middle initial, which I don’t, it would be R.) I take it, Scott, you’re referring to Sen. Clinton…

  4. Bill Samuel

    You did not mention Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, who obviously will have frequent daily contact with the President. He is allied with the worst elements in Israel. He was a part of the Israeli army and is an Israeli citizen. His father was part of a terrorist group at the time the state of Israel was established, and he was named after another terrorist.
    Emmanuel is passionate about an Israeli military “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He can be counted upon to forcefully oppose any proposed policies that would seriously move toward a peaceful solution.

  5. Bill Samuel

    You did not mention Obama’s Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, who obviously will have frequent daily contact with the President. He is allied with the worst elements in Israel. He was a part of the Israeli army and is an Israeli citizen. His father was part of a terrorist group at the time the state of Israel was established, and he was named after another terrorist.
    Emmanuel is passionate about an Israeli military “solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He can be counted upon to forcefully oppose any proposed policies that would seriously move toward a peaceful solution.

  6. Jean Rogers

    As to Hillary Clinton, since leaving office, Bill has done business with Arabs. That is a very good sign. I’m sick of hearing talking heads refer to them as our enemies. Then why was Bush over there begging for more oil last year?
    As to Bill, after all, his worse scenario was the Lewinsky woman. She was introduced to her “job” by anti-Arab contributors to Clinton. Perhaps Hillary will have a more unbiased view on the current horrors by occupiers in Gaza? Let’s hope. Of course, the bottom line is “it’s the occupation, Stupid.” Nothing will happen as long as Bush is in office, because he is guarded by the so-called neoconservatives, most of them with conflicts of interest.
    Praying might help bring a peace with justice for the brutally occupied victims fighting for their very existence in their own land. As we call it when one of ours falls, the ultimate sacrifice. The Arabs call theirs martyrs. Same thing.

  7. Jean Rogers

    Oh my goodness. I think Hillary might fool us on the M.E. After all, Bill was taken down by anti-Arab supporters who introduced Ms. Lewinsky to her “job.” Can he forget that? Since leaving office, he has done business with Arabs. Good for him. I’m tired of having the talking heads refer to Arabs as our enemies! Meantime, Bush was over there begging for more oil and the US has borrowed from the UAE! We borrow from Communist China as well while we criticize their government. Are we hypocrits?
    So, Hillary is smart and just maybe she’ll come through to work for peace with justice instead of more brutal occupations. Palestine needs to be governed internationally, not by an illegal occupier or any occupier. Jerusalem needs to be governed with three religions in mind, not one. Continuation status quo means more war for the warmongers who profit while the rest of us suffer.
    So pray for peace and pray that Obama will make changes as he promised, including stopping special interests from putting bribe money into the pockets of our politicians. That very situation has caused the loss of taxpayer billions as well as their voices. There should be no special interest groups allowed to contribute to our politicians. There should be no dual citizen people from any country to serve in our government in any capacity. That is wrong. I wonder how others handle those situations? Does the UK have dual citizen people serving in their government? it’s fool hardy. An opener for spying.

Comments are closed.