- 1. We really are at a tipping point.
AIPAC and its allies have really gotten their undies in a twist over last week’s confrontation between Netanyahu and Biden (and Sec. Clinton, too.)
Next week, AIPAC has its big, power-demonstrating policy conference in Washington. The list of confirmed speakers is topped by Clinton and Netanyahu. How will that go? Will it be a love-fest or some discreet form of a continued confrontation? Will one or the other find a reason not to attend? Whatever happens, it’s going to be important.
Meantime, Petraeus– along with, presumably, others in both the brass and the suits sides at the Pentagon– have started to discreetly weigh in on the real dangers Netanyahu’s current policies pose to the lives of U.S. soldiers… And in the commentatoriat even Tom Friedman has come out strongly critical of the Netanyahu government’s arrogance over Jerusalem.
AIPAC and its attack-dog allies have been fast, focused, and relentless. I’ve been receiving a stream of emailed news releases from the attack-dog group “The Israel Project”, whose head, Jennifer Mizrachi has also been robo-calling me on my cellphone to urge me to contact legislators and the Prez to urge them to reaffirm their support for Israel and back off from confronting Netanyahu over Jerusalem. The press release AIPAC itself issued Sunday publicly called on Obama TO WORK TO IMMEDIATELY DEFUSE THE TENSION WITH ISRAEL (their screech, not mine.)
And where have the alleged “counter-AIPAC” organizations like J Street, Americans for Peace Now, or even that sad little group the Council for the National Interest been all this time? Notably AWOL, compared with AIPAC, TIP, etc. J Street hasn’t put anything on their website on the Jerusalem-settlements issue, or on their email list, since March 11; APN hasn’t done anything on it March 10. And you can search CNI’s website and find nothing about it at all. Nor has the End the Occupation website.
This matters, because steering or dominating the narrative is really important in moments of crisis.
But anyway, the intense frenzy of activity from AIPAC, TIP, etc shows us that they think we are at what could well be a crisis for them. (And they are far from stupid.) After all, is the President simply going to wave away the concerns that have now, verifiedly, been voiced by the leader of Centcom about the dangers that Israel’s policies pose to the lives and wellbeing of American troops? I do not see that he can.
2. In electoral politics, it still is ‘the economy, stupid.’
The present confrontation between an administration in Washington and a settlement-addicted Likud government in Israel harks straight back to the period in 1991-92 when Pres. George H.W. Bush and Sec. of State James Baker got into a similar confrontation with Likud leader (and lest we forget, former terrorist gunman) Yitzhak Shamir. We need to remember the political lessons from that incident– and remember them correctly.
The short version of what happened in that clash was that Bush and Baker drew their line in the sand against use of U.S. loan guarantees (however fungibly) to support the construction of settlements in the West Bank. During the Israeli elections of 1992, that principled U.S. stance persuaded Israeli voters, ever mindful of the need for good relations with Washington, to vote Shamir out and replace his government with a Labor-led coalition that enjoyed far better relations with Washington.
In the U.S. elections of later that year, however, Bush lost. The big question for us in the U.S. today, is why exactly did he lose?
The lobby people would have us believe the story that they and their allies have been spreading ever since Bush’s defeat in November 1992: that he lost precisely because he had had the temerity to confront a government in Israel. That understanding of November 1992 came to dominate many narratives and “elite” political understandings– in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
But it ain’t so!
I was here in the U.S. during that election. It was the first or second general election I voted in. Go back and read the news accounts of the time. Bush lost– and Clinton won– because of the immense power of Clinton’s slogan that “It’s the economy, stupid!” It was the terrible state of the economy then that dominated voters’ thinking– much more importantly than anything about the Middle East, including Bush’s previous set-to with Shamir. (And after all, most Jewish Americans were very happy to see Shamir replaced by Rabin.)
In the mid-term elections of November 2010, and in the presidential election of 2012, it will similarly be the state of the economy and of domestic governance in general that dominates voters’ thinking. Inasmuch as the Middle East intrudes on voters’ thinking at all– which would anyway be very trivial–only a small proportion of voters are going to end up having their behavior swayed by the screechy arguments that AIPAC and Co. make about distant Jerusalem. Many more could be persuaded by organizations or opinion leaders who take trouble to spell out the kinds of arguments about the true interests of the American people in the region, as spelled out made by Gen. Petraeus (and also, as it happens, back in November by myself.)
So we do need to underline to the President and his political advisers that they absolutely should not be be blown off course by any arguments AIPAC and and its shills might make about “Hey, don’t mess with us: Look what we did to Bush I back in 1992.” It still really is “the economy, stupid!”
3. What Obama could do.
The administration has decided to delay, for an unstated length of time, the visit to Israel and Palestine that peace envoy George Mitchell was due to start yesterday. That’s good for starters.
The administration’s position, as described here by the WaPo’s Glenn Kessler, is that it is pressing Netanyahu to do three things:
- a. reverse last week’s approval of 1,600 housing units in a “disputed” [i.e. occupied] area of Jerusalem,
b. make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, and
c. publicly declare that all of the “core issues” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of Jerusalem, are on the agenda in the upcoming talks.
Kessler doesn’t say this, but I understand that the administration’s position is that unless Netanyahu does these things, then Mitchell won’t be launching the promised “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians any time soon.
Notice there, by the way, the degree to which these proximity talks are being treated by Washington as a boon or reward for Israel, which can be delayed or withheld by Washington as part of its diplomatic bargaining with the Netanyahu government. But actually, Netanyahu might in the abstract be very happy not to have the proximity talks. Why does it need them? Does Washington need them, actually, more than Israel? Maybe.
There are a lot of other things the Obama administration could do as well if it really wanted to demonstrate its commitment to achieving a fair and sustainable peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis. In no particular order of doability or anything else it could do any or all of the following, and should consider doing at least some of them.
- A. Announce the launching of an administration-wide review of all U.S. policies that have any relationship to the Israeli settlements including policies affecting economic links and trade preferences being extended to settlements as well as to Israel proper; the activities and tax status of U.S. entities, including non-profit entities, that have dealings with or in the settlements. The terms of reference of this review should explicitly spell out that its purview includes the settlements in Jerusalem as well as elsewhere (including Golan.)
B. Announcement of a similar review of policies and entities related in any way to Israel’s illegal Wall.
C. Commit to a series of steps aimed at speedily ending the illegal and anti-humane siege that Israel maintains against Gaza and restoring all the rights of Gaza’s 1.5 million people.
D. Sen. Mitchell should be empowered to talk to representatives of all those Palestinian parties that won seats in the 2006 PLC election which was, let us remember, certified by all international monitors as free and fair. Obama and Co. should also inform the Egyptians and all other parties that they want and expect them to be helpful rather than obstructive in the Palestinian parties’ efforts to reach internal reconciliation.
E. Move speedily toward giving the other four permanent members of the Security Council more real role in Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking. They all have a lot to offer and can help the U.S. get out of the very tight spot it currently finds itself in, in the Greater Middle East region.
4. Finally, beware of ‘dirty tricks’.
We should all be very aware that Netanyahu and the even more militantly settlerist parties who are in his ruling coalition (and now well entrenched in the leadership of many of his security apparatuses) will not necessarily “play fair” in any continuing confrontation with Washington. No doubt many of these forces are already thinking up a variety of “dirty tricks” they might employ to try to reduce Obama’s power domestically and internationally, to make him look weak, and to “punish” him for daring to stand up to their plan to Judaize the whole of Jerusalem while America looks impotently on.
Let’s remember the history of, for example, the Lavon Affair in 1954, in which, according to the well-sourced Wikipedia entry,
- Israeli military intelligence planted bombs in Egyptian, American and British-owned targets in Egypt in the summer of 1954 in the hopes that “the Muslim Brotherhood, the Communists, ‘unspecified malcontents’ or ‘local nationalists'” would be blamed.
A country whose leaders could in relatively recent history act as cynically as that, including against British and U.S. targets, might well today have leaders who might think along similar lines.
Including, perhaps, even an action as explosive as launching some kind of military provocation against Iran, whose counter-attack would almost certainly engulf far more of the Americans who are on the country’s borders, than of Israelis?
The U.S. military, obviously, need to redouble their efforts to prevent any such provocation. But other Israeli “dirty tricks” against the U.S., in a wide variety of arenas, are also very possible in the period ahead.