On the current tipping point

    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.
It could,

    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.

19 thoughts on “On the current tipping point

  1. lucille sheldon

    Much as I love your columns,how come you never mention that only REAL way to influence Israel policies-stop the MONEY. You can talk from today to infinity about how to handle the insulting present situation, but NOTHING will stop illegal behavior like withdrawal of much of the billions of dollars we send them each year, aside from the private gifts people are allowed to deduct from their taxes. Nothing speaks as loud as MONEY. So, big deal, someone might not show up for a conference- meanwhile, the building goes on. STOP THE MONEY!

  2. Salah

    I don’t believe and I doubt it there is “On the current tipping point”.
    The case of US/Israeli relation is far taken as relation between two countries.
    I repeat my words Israeli State Number 51 for US in fact Israel and US same face for same coin.
    You could agree or not this is reality and the 60 years passed approved there is no doubt that US/Israeli are same face. Iraq another case you should think about it were US democracy dream in ME project they filled it with lies and frauds and put the blame on Iraqi themselves rather on the the US hiding poisonous plane for ME driven by Zionist fake dream of Big Israel from Neil to Euphrates reverse that map was on the wall the Israeli Knesset were lifted after Oslo agreement.

  3. Roger Thomas

    I think there are several logical flaws in your argument.
    First, you underestimate the strong almost blind bipartisan support for Israel in this country. Imagine the reaction if the VP had been insulted in this way by any other country. Congress and the commentariat would be up in arms. There would be talk of aid cancellation, revocation of MFN. Sarah Palin might be calling for war.
    Second, you overestimate the desire for serious peace talks on the Israeli side. The West Bank project needs four or five years to finish. The piece talks (that’s not a misspelling) will commence after sufficient irreversible facts on the ground have been created.
    Third, the fragmented nature of Israeli politics means that any replacement to the current Israeli government will pursue policies that are only marginally different to Bibi’s – perhaps with a bit more PR savvy. Much as the current USA administration is a basic continuation of the previous.
    Fourth, I think you should rethink your comment that US policy towards Israel does not have an impact on US elections. It has in two ways. First, many a blue district is only marginally blue. A slight movement in support can tip it red. Single issues drive sufficient numbers of the electorate to make a difference. Second, politics is not about what’s true but what people think is true. Mr. Netanyahu has chosen his battle, its timing and his opponent very wisely. The upcoming defeat in November will turn back anti Israel sentiment in the Administration and Congress and enhance AIPAC’s influence. Following the Senate defeat in Massachusetts, the Obama Administration and the DNC have been in a panic. Imagine the bed-wetting fear after the losses next November. A market opportunity for Depends.
    Fifth, neither the Israeli Government or its supporters have to engage in any tricks or stratagems to make the current US Administration look weak. The current Administration can handle that quite nicely all on its own, thank you.

  4. bevin

    A pretty good idea of the way Israel will react to this mild hint of the possibility of future criticism, is to be seen in the decision to open a synagogue in east Jerusalem, not far from the Al Aqsa mosque.
    This seems designed to roil the Arab masses, and will almost certainly lead to the deaths of, among many others, American soldiers.
    The effect of such provocations in India, Pakistan, among all the factions in Afghanistan and even in Indonesia could very quickly lead to a major deterioration of the US Empire’s strategic position.
    Holding hands with Sampson can get tricky.

  5. delia

    I’ve had 2 emails from J Street during the last few days, the second one only this morning. Are you somehow droppt off their list, Helena?

  6. Don Bacon

    You just can’t trust AIPAC, or the Israeli ambassador either. There is no rift
    Washington (CNN) — Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismisses the view that relations between the United States and Israel are in crisis after a row between the two countries over settlements.
    “Oh, I don’t buy that,” Clinton told reporters Tuesday at the State Department. “We have an absolute commitment to Israel’s security. We have a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American and Israeli people.”

  7. scott

    I too have been receiving multiple messages from J-Street, urging me to “stand with Obama.” (including this one today)
    Tensions between the United States and Israel remain high ever since Israel’s government stunned Vice President Biden and supporters of the peace process by announcing major new construction in East Jerusalem during his visit to Israel last week.
    Some hawkish pro-Israel activists are seizing the opportunity to attack the Obama Administration over Israel, urging the Administration to slow down and back off.
    The pro-Israel, pro-peace movement is stepping up strong. Just yesterday, J Street, the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans, delivered over 18,000 signatures to White House officials – demonstrating the many Americans who agree with the Vice President that sometimes friends need to tell friends hard truths, and urging the Administration to turn this crisis into an opportunity for progress on two states.
    Now that the White House has heard us loud and clear, we’re setting our sights on the U.S. Congress.
    Click here to contact your representatives to voice your support for the Administration’s strong stand and urge them to turn this crisis into an opportunity.

  8. Erik

    Look for things to pile on here. I’ve been called an “Anti Semite” by other commentators here, not because I have anything against Jews at all. In fact I care naught for Jews or any other ethnic or religious group against another. My real complaint is Jews thinking they should be so “special” as to be entitled to a nation of their own where they can have unique privileges others cannot…
    The “peace process” is one of the astounding hypocrisies of our time. What it really is has everything to do with “process” so that the Likudniks (The true face of Israel since cotton was a monkey) can assimilate all the occupied territories until facts on the ground make it “Arabenrein”. At this point any talk of a “2 state solution” is only talk. All the locals can hope for is the long range influence of demographics towards a “one state solution” which will result in the end of a racist zionist state.
    Some may say I’m an anti semite, but this has no more to do with that than for one to be “anti
    white” for being in favor of divestment during the apartheid regime in South Africa…it is identical.
    Real American interests in the world have nothing to do with Israel and in fact our interests are harmed by our tilt. It has become a cultural habit now…

  9. Joe in Australia

    A pretty good idea of the way Israel will react to this mild hint of the possibility of future criticism, is to be seen in the decision to open a synagogue in east Jerusalem …
    1) In the Old City, not East Jerusalem per se. I know that people frequently conflate them, but every partition plan has treated them separately.
    2) They didn’t “decide to open” it: it’s been under construction for the last decade and I presume the actual dedication ceremony has been planned for some time.
    3) It’s not a new synagogue: it’s a reconstruction of one built in 1864 that was destroyed in 1948.
    4) These are bad things: killing people, impoverishing them, denying their human rights. This is not a bad thing: building a place of worship.

  10. John R

    You might be mistaken on the Bush I loss to Clinton. No one seems to remeber the millions of votes Ross Perot got in the election….look at the numbers….Clinton should thank Ross for staying in!
    Look close at the data of that election and it may change what you just referenced
    Ross ran on a balanced budget platform….was that not the “read my lips” balanced budget amendment that hurt George becuase he signed it and that hurt him dearly?
    Where are the balanced budget hawks now when we need them? We could start by cutting aid to allies that do not get it!! Hey Isreal?

  11. Michael Murry

    In support of what John R says above, the PBS commentator, Mark Shields, once remarked on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer:
    “Two words explain Bill Clinton’s election in 1992: ‘Ross Perot.’ Two words explain Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996: ‘Newt Gingrich.'”
    Actually, five words explain Bill Clinton’s re-election on 1996: “Ross Perot AND Newt Gingrich.”
    President George H. W. Bush committed the right-wing heresy of raising taxes. He had to do so to help pay off Reagan’s gargantuan deficits. Nonetheless, the rabid right wing of the Republican Party decided to teach him a lesson and so bolted en-mass for Ross Perot who wound up getting 19% and 9% of the national vote in 1992 and 1996, respectively. Bill Clinton, no matter what his slogans, only received 43% and 50% in his two campaigns for the presidency. Bill Clinton never got a majority of the electorate to vote for him.
    The Apartheid Zionist Entity and its America-second supporters in America had nothing to do with President Bush, Sr’s failure to win re-election in 1992. True, Americans did, by and large, consider him out-of-touch on the economy, but that only earned Clinton, as noted above, 43% of the national vote in 1992. The Republicans defeated their own incumbent candidate, and they did it because he raised taxes on the richest Americans. The younger Bush got the message and made reducing taxes on the weathiest Americans — his “have more” base — the centerpiece of his two awful presidencies.
    Deputy Dubya’s lickspittle subservience to the Apartheid Zionist Entity had mainly to do with pandering to his rabid evangalical Christianist supporters who voted him into office (with some critical help from the Supine Court) so that he could cut the taxes of the wealthiest Americans. Pandering to the Christianists cost Dubya and the Siezure Class nothing economically and — in any event — who in their right mind would suppose that American Jews can’t wait to “return” to the A.Z.E. just so that Jeebus won’t have to go searching for them to convert to Christianity (or else fry them in hell for refusing) when he “comes back” real soon now? Sophisticated American Jewish supporters of the Apartheid Zionist Entity have no problem cynically toying with the “End Times” Christianists who effectively help them intimidate American politicians on behalf of the A.Z.E. As far as I understand the various forms of Single Spook Animism, Jews do not believe in Jeebus and haven’t the slightest anticipation or fear of his “return.” Should the gullible Christianists ever wake up to this cynical disdain, however, who knows what might happen then?

  12. Sweet Sue

    Nice posts guys, as usual. Incoherent, bizarre, frantic and full of that old voodoo that you do so well. If Helena ever decides to publish a collection of her own totally off-the-wall writings about her obsession with Israel — and I, for one, am eagerly awaiting it — you guys are sure to be prominently featured in a
    companion volume of scholarly commentary on her work. I anticipate the two volumes together will weigh in at about ten lbs., meaning that they will appeal to people in the market for doorstops as well as to haters of Israel.

  13. world peace

    We are not suffering like those living on the other side of the wall . We are in 21 st century and the occupation is in its 43rd year. Your likes who are defenders of a state that boasts to be the only Democracy in the Arab World while applying two set of rules, one on the occupiers the other on the occupied is a disgraceful State .
    You bet, volumes will be written on Israel’s brutal conduct on a hapless people, namely the Palestinians . However, it will not surpass the volumes written on the Holocaust and its victims, namely the Jewish people by the Nazis .
    “It is inconsistent to struggle for human rights, social justice and equality in one’s own country, and to be doing this from a Jewish perspective while at the same time ignoring very disturbing trends in Israel. We should apply one set of values both there and here.”
    Think, reflect it is never too late . The Germans admitted their atrocities .

  14. Henry from Toledo

    I’ve been noticing that the responses to your posts have been getting more and more repetitious. With all due respect to Erik, Bevin, Delia and Michael –who I grant you are still performing valuable services for world peace on behalf of CAG (Clowns Against Israel), don’t you think it might be time for some new blood?
    Here’s a suggestion: Sponsor a weekly contest on your website for the most most venomous anti-Israel post that is submitted. Obviously, the competion would be stiff for one of these Cobban Awards,and there could be considerable disagreement as to which is really the best. But you are a recognized expert on these matters, so I think there would be a considerable amount of popular support for your choices. I sincerely believe that a contest of this type would attract more readers to your website, and that they
    will be an audience eager to engage with you.If you are agreeable to this, I would be happy to contribute something to a contest fund to reward the weekly winners.It occurs to me that a really nice prize to offer might be a pair of tickets to the U.S.Holocaust Museum. If enough contributions come in, you might even be able to reward the best poster of the year with round-trip bus fare to Washington!

  15. bevin

    Henry the next time you visit a war museum, pay attention. As an American you should know that the war didn’t end in 1941. The Nazis lost and they did so, in considerable part, because their cause was so manifestly wrong. Violence only takes an unjust cause so far.
    The Israeli policies that you support cannot be sustained, the world is waking up, reluctantly, to the realisation that there can be no peace in the world without justice in Palestine.
    Its part of the upside of globalisation, which ought to be a relief in Toledo.

  16. epppie

    Ridiculous. This is only a turning point in that Petraeus political move has opened a window, one that won’t last long, to get real talk about the Middle East into the political establishement and media. But you CONTINUE TO INSIST on your pollyanna vision of Obama, that he REALLY wants to do the right thing. Bull. WE HAVE TO FORCE HIM TO DO THE RIGHT THING. You always find some way to make the argument for hopeful passivity, and that is a terrible thing to do, especially now. No, damnit, we need angry activism, and we need to push through the opening that has been made, so that it cannot be closed again.
    Already Obama is walking this confrontation back, and quickly. And you can be damn sure that at AIPAC, there will be a huge focus of attention on Iran. In order to placate right wing Israel and right wing Israel supporters, Obama will cross a point of no return towards war with Iran. Count on it Helena. You will see this at AIPAC. Already today Obama was talking up the Iran ‘threat’ while walking back the supposed confrontation with Israel.
    This was a purely political move by Petraeus. It will result in no change in US policy or even in US public discussion, but it WILL result in a giant step towards the Iran war.

  17. PolandSpring

    Could you and Bevin go on ahead without me and
    push through your narrow window of sanity?
    Unfortunately, I got a dentist appointment
    this afternoon.

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