Is this the showdown?

Someone has leaked to Haaretz "at least four steps the United States expects Netanyahu to carry out to restore confidence in bilateral relations and permit the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians." The steps were on a list that Secretary of State Clinton read to Prime Minister Netanyahu last Friday.

If true – and if the Obama administration is serious this time – fulfilling the demands will be a stunning humiliation for the present Israeli government, perhaps even causing the heavily oriented right-wing coalition to collapse. 

1. Investigate the process that led to the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo construction plans in the middle of Biden’s visit. The Americans seek an official response from Israel on whether this was a bureaucratic mistake or a deliberate act carried out for political reasons. Already on Saturday night, Netanyahu announced the convening of a committee to look into the issue.

2. Reverse the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.

3. Make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians enabling the renewal of peace talks. The Americans suggested that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners be released, that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and transfer them to Palestinian control, that the siege of the Gaza Strip be eased and further roadblocks in the West Bank be removed.

4. Issue an official declaration that the talks with the Palestinians, even indirect talks, will deal with all the conflict’s core issues – borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water and settlements.

Netanyahu for the moment is staying defiant. On Monday, the Prime Minister stated, "Construction will continue in Jerusalem as this has been the case over the past 42 years." Even more strident was last week’s bogeyman, Israel Interior Minister Eli Yishai. He declared that "there is no construction freeze in Jerusalem, nor will there be one. We’re sorry the Americans found the timing offending, but there is no freeze in Jerusalem."

While Netanyahu tried to give the appearance that all was normal during the weekly Cabinet Meeting on Sunday, Israeli consuls in the United States rushed to tell Haaretz their latest marching orders. Evidently, Netanyahu ordered the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, to tell the consuls

"to lobby congressmen, Jewish community leaders and the media to convey Israel’s position. He said the message to be relayed was that Israel had no intention to cause offense to Vice President Biden and that the matter had stemmed from actions by junior bureaucrats in the Interior Ministry and was caused by a lack of coordination between government offices. "It should be stressed that [our] relations with the United States are very important to us."

According to the consuls, Ambassador Oren "sounded extremely tense and pessimistic." Oren was quoted as saying that "the crisis was very serious and we are facing a very difficult period in relations [between the two countries]."

Not reported was whether the ambassador and consuls were told to demand that the Israeli Lobby get the Obama administration to back off. If the interview Abe Foxman, head of the ADL, gave to Haaretz this morning is any indication, those were exactly the orders. Foxman blamed the situation on a failed U.S. policy. You really must read the full interview to believe it. Here is a sample:

"The continuation of the crisis is the fault of the U.S. Whatever happened, the prime minister apologized publicly and privately, issued a statement, the interior minister issued a statement, Israel did an al-het, [Biden] even accepted it. And then to wake up in the morning and to find [State Department spokesman P.J.] Crowley saying these terrible words – and this is not only the secretary of state, this is the president – and what’s worse, – with this linkage is also a belief that you can appease the Arabs, that all you must do is to placate them by giving them settlements."

Dennis Ross’ home away from home and Israel’s favorite American think tank, WINEP, has already chimed in to the Jerusalem post. WINEP’s head, Robert Satloff gave this analysis,

"[T]he U.S. administration needs to avoid demands that undermine the very purpose of the Biden visit, that resurrect the overreach of the first six months of the administration, and that threaten the reordered strategic priorities that have been a salutary course correction for Obama administration Middle East policy. It would be shortsighted for the administration to use this episode as an opportunity to reward the Palestinians — who, after all, have been unenthusiastic about American requests for negotiations for months — or to accept Palestinian arguments that "proximity talks," rather than direct negotiations, are an appropriate forum for substantive give-and-take. And it would be an analytical blunder for the administration to believe that this incident is an opportunity that could precipitate Netanyahu’s political demise: after all, this government — or another with him at the helm — is an accurate reflection of what Israeli politics these days is all about."

After the experience over the last year, it is hard to believe that the Obama administration will actually go through with a showdown. Some of us have argued for a long-time that a tough President, standing up to Israel, would be a political winning strategy. Hopefully, we will finally get a chance to see this thesis tested. As others here have pointed out, the U.S. military has made its view known, and it seems their clout has given Obama an impetus to change course.

About Bruce Wolman

Bruce Wolman is a citizen journalist who has lived in Norway and the Washington area.
Posted in Israel Lobby, Israel/Palestine, Israeli Government, US Policy in the Middle East, US Politics

{ 36 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. potsherd says:

    It’s almost inconceivable that Obama would take this position now without intending to stick to it.

    Petraeus’s report emphasized that the US is perceived as weak because Obama backed down from his original demands on Israel. For him to return to this position and back down again would be devastating to the position of the US in the world.

    I think we have to assume that he means it and that he intends to carry through.

    • In my book, Obama has been a showcase of inconceivable decisions. So, backing down wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

      But this time I think the backdown might be a little more nuanced, with more of the famous PR of Obama 2008. For example, Leiberman resigning would be the polish to shine up the special relationship one more time.

      And let’s not forget, the squabble is the main thing now, not the substantive decisions that led to it.

    • Citizen says:

      Wonder what Rahm is telling Obama regarding Biden’s summary conclusion that
      tough love is what a real friend does? Axlerod?

      Going to be a real treat studying the circular language to be employed from now through the AIPAC meeting, which type of languare Phil noted in another article here very recently.

    • The annual Aipac confab is coming up soon. And what a better venue for the announcement of some reformulation of the Netanyahu administration than that.

      There will be tearful hugs and whimpers of “we didn’t mean it” all around. And glowing declarations and vows of the indivisibility of Israel-US.

      And there will be some “concessions” made publicly, none of which will be taken seriously by Israel, but will allow Israel to blame Palestinian intransigience. Of course, this will buy Israel another couple of years of dawdling.

    • Pamela Olson says:

      But there’s also this fact — that Israel is a Cold War ally that has simply out-lived its strategic usefulness. And the lobby’s power won’t last forever.

      link to timesonline.co.uk

      Meanwhile, though… man, it sucks to wait while Israel still has its blank check. But the Palestinians aren’t going anywhere, and the blank check won’t last forever. Let’s hope BDS and other methods speed up the crumbling of the edifice before the next major conflagration…

      • yonira says:

        How many generations of Palestinians are you willing to waste Pamela, that is my question for you.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Gee, you’re right, yonira. It’s only fair that the Lebanese and Syrians and others shoulder the burden for the ethnic cleansing wrought on the Palestinians by militant Jewish extremists, just like the Palestinians have had to shoulder the burden for the ethnic cleansing wrought on Jews by militant German extremists. It’s only fair!

  2. RE: “…The Americans seek an official response from Israel on whether this was a bureaucratic mistake or a deliberate act carried out for political reasons…” – from “demand” #1, as per Wolman
    MY COMMENT: I’m willing to bet that Elliott Abrams had advance knowledge of the announcement (in the middle of Biden’s visit) that Israel’s Interior Ministry had authorized the construction of another 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Elliott Abrams orchestrated it.

  3. Mooser says:

    If you want to know what kind of decisions are inconceivable for Obama, just look at his campaign speeches and rhetoric, and then look at what he has done in office.
    The only inconceivable thing for Obama is moral courage and boldness.

    And it doesn’t matter what Obama decides, there an out of control military which can cancel or supercede his decisions any time they want.

    I think Obama may have some wirtd proclivities. I never saw a guy who so enjoyed having his hands tied.

    • cvillej says:

      “I think Obama may have some weird proclivities. ”

      He does smoke Marlboro Lights.

    • Yes, Mooser, there will be an “inconceivable” backdown–of some sort.

      The election of Obama has certainly revealed the absolute highest art form of political image-making. I never for the life of me thought that US politics could become even more putrid than it has been for decades. But Obama wildly exceeded my already high threshold for political b.s.

    • Bruce says:

      It was the military that stopped Bush-Cheney from bombing Iran.

      The military may be the ones that push Obama to do something serious on I-P. He has bowed to them each time so far.

      It is still difficult to know how much the military have flipped on Iran, as Bush culled the officer ranks in his last years. And who thinks their Afghan strategy can work? But maybe to move along other plans, they do want the Israeli Lobby put in its place. This may open up some political opportunities, assuming we don’t end up on the road to Tehran.

      • Donald says:

        I still half-expect something like what pineywoodslim predicts, but the military position is a whole new variable AFAIK–I don’t recall that happening before. It’s disturbing in a way–having the military having so much influence on the one hand and on the other hand, having their influence be on the pro-peace side sometimes. (Though as you say, not on every issue).

        It’d be nice if there were civilian movements that had this much clout in our politics–I mean, other than AIPAC.

        It’ll also be a test of the Chomsky vs. Israel Lobby thesis. Chomsky has always said that if the (for lack of a better term) military industrial complex in this country see Israel as a burden, they’d put Israel in its place. There’ve always been non-radicals, people who aren’t exactly human rights types, who see our kneejerk support for Israel as a problem for the rest of our foreign policy. If they’ve become a majority at the Pentagon, we might have a test case of the Chomsky thesis occurring now. (At the moment it seems to me the two sides are evenly matched).

        • Donald says:

          “It’d be nice if there were civilian movements that had this much clout in our politics–I mean, other than AIPAC.”

          I mean this much influence on the I/P conflict–there are plenty of lobbies out there with a lot of influence on other issues.

        • Donald says:

          Though on the other hand, maybe Gabriel at JSF is right–

          link

        • Chu says:

          Good luck in finding one. The Zionists reached for control of the State Department, with respect to the Middle East policy, in the 40′s-50′s. The ZOA and later AIPAC were key to controlling the levers at that time. I read this from Edmund Wright in 1974. It’s a long read, but provides one interesting perspective , since he could speak & translate arabic.
          link to trumanlibrary.org

          “…I had lived in the Middle East. I was interested in it, especially the religious background. I have studied Islam a great deal, I have studied Arabic, and I wanted to get the whole Jewish point of view. I took three courses under Dr. Salo Baron, who is perhaps the outstanding Jewish scholar in America. He is the author of a seven-volume history of the Jews.

          What I wanted to do was get this religious background. I’m convinced that religion underlies much of our language, though we don’t recognize it.

          In other words, the themes and dogmas of religion underlie the way we see the world. If you would understand especially the Middle East, which never had a renaissance, you simply have to know this religious background. I
          majored in the religions, culture, and history of the Middle East. “

        • Mooser says:

          “having their influence be on the pro-peace side sometimes.”

          ROTFL! And maybe next Petreaus will propose to a joint session of Congress that the military be downsized and the military budget chopped in half!

          Petreaus just thinks, hell, he knows that he can do a better job than Obama, and every good General knows it’s apropriate to undercut your C-in-C.

          Petreaus is not an answer to anything, except a lack of peace.

        • Mooser says:

          “If you would understand especially the Middle East, which never had a renaissance”

          ROTFL! Yup, when I want to demonstrate my education and erudition, I always trot out the most basic Oriental-isms, and say them with wide-eyed ingenuousness.

          I’m surprised he didn’t look over his shoulder for spies, lean in close and whisper “Did you now those Middle Easterners never had a renaissance! I mean, can you believe it? ” And then he lifts his eyebrows to indicate that you and he, heirs to Michelangelo and Da Vinci, and big pizza-fans, understand the awful implications of this renaissancelessness.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          “If you would understand especially the Middle East, which never had a renaissance”

          Indeed, Mooser. It’s amazing just how strongly racism against Middle Eastern people has been institutionalized by our political elite.

          Of course, they never had a Dark Ages, either. New formulation: “If you need to produce a Renaissance to catch up, you’re on the wrong side (of history).”

        • Donald says:

          “ROTFL! And maybe next Petreaus will propose to a joint session of Congress that the military be downsized and the military budget chopped in half!”

          Get off the floor, Mooser. It’s dirty down there. Also, you’re not really making much sense. Cynicism about Petraeus’s motives is fine with me and I’ve never been a fan, but if he has political ambitions, and maybe he does, he’s picked a funny way of expressing them. Aspiring Presidential candidates don’t usually kick off their campaign by taking on the Israel Lobby.

          Anyway, it has nothing to do with the military wanting their budget cut. They want the their budget raised, but they don’t necessarily want to fight in every conceivable war or chase away allies in the wars they do want to fight. Even from an imperialist perspective what Israel is doing isn’t necessarily in the interests of imperial America. Why would the fanatical ambitions of the settlers be helpful to America’s desire to have control of Mideast oil, for instance?

          I don’t know what people’s ulterior motives might be in all this, and neither do you, though you might find it fun to act like you do.

        • Among others, Major General George B. McClellan and General of the Army Douglas MacArthur were politically influential senior officers who didn’t read the memo on how to successfully undercut your c-in-c.

      • Mooser says:

        “they do want the Israeli Lobby put in its place. “

        No, just Obama. Obama made the stupidest political mistake possible; he left the military and government stuffed with Bush people who are desperate to avoid an accounting for the Bush years, and fanatically devoted to the idea that Obama must fail even more miserably than Bush.
        I think it will all add up to just another curve ball aimed at Obama.
        But the idea so eagerly seized upon that more American military involvement will lead to peace or even solutions? Absurd. If the American Army goes there, they go for a war, that’s what they do. Do you think they will be fighting for the Palestinians, against the Israelis? I doubt it.

        • Donald says:

          “bama made the stupidest political mistake possible; he left the military and government stuffed with Bush people who are desperate to avoid an accounting for the Bush years,”

          Obama made it clear early on he doesn’t want an accounting for the Bush years. Why would he? Start holding one President accountable for war crimes and you set a bad precedent, from his perspective.

  4. cvillej says:

    “You are a stiff-necked people. Were I to go up in your company even for a moment, I would exterminate you. “

  5. Bruce says:

    Gabriel is more right than most.

    “But trust the commentariat and the blogosphere to read it as some kind of cosmic battle between Israel and the U.S., Netanyahu and Obama, the Lobby vs. the Army, Cpt. America vs. The blue-white Hulk.”

    I’m not responsible for the title of the posting, but I did wait until a comment to say “This may open up some political opportunities, assuming we don’t end up on the road to Tehran.” In other words, even if there is a change in policy, the most one can expect is to get some time and space to drive political possibilities further to an acceptable solution for the Palestinians. One can hardly expect any reasonable solution from this administration or government.

    And if I may provide another quote from Gabriel,

    “The US will not risk serious damage to Israel, unless it is pushed really hard by its Arab clients. They, in their turn, couldn’t care less, except occasionally when they fear that things have gone too far and they need to get a bone that they can hang on their breast as proof to their people that they are not totally venal but can get some respect from Washington.”

    When I said almost the same thing a few days, except I extended it to all nations, I was accused of applying JSF #4. Does Gabriel himself get the same scoring?

    • Mooser says:

      When I said almost the same thing a few days, except I extended it to all nations, I was accused of applying JSF #4. Does Gabriel himself get the same scoring?”

      I guess he should know, since Gabriel wrote the article “How to Make the Case for Israel- And Win! which proposed the 1-4 numbering.

      But I agree with you. I think it’s just Petreaus throwing crap at Obama. Gosh, is somebody going to say next that the military spent long hours tryuing to argue Obama into releasing them from the Bush wars and policies, but Obama wouldn’t listen? That’d be a kick, and fulfill all my prognostications.
      Poor Obama, the hour is supposed to produce the man, but I guess in this case there was only a half-hour, or a few minutes.

  6. MRW says:

    David Patraeus is a politically astute military commander. He knows what his Commander-in-Chief is thinking; how many times did they meet during the past 14 months here and in Iraq, I’ve forgot. If this info, given in a briefing to Admiral McMullen, was so explosive that it should not see the light of day, it wouldn’t have.

    The Democratic congress, at AIPAC’s urging and instigation, insulted Obama after his Cairo speech. They wrote that braying letter to him saying ‘lay off Israel’, and 65 of them jumped on planes last August to make speeches in Israel about how the US and Israel are joined at the hip.

    The only group that can spin Congress around is the military.

    Yesterday, Shelley Berkley (sp?) (D-NV-01) came out charging for Israel against Biden. (All right, I’m taking some liberties, but you know what I mean.) Berkley is in Las Vegas, which is Tel Aviv West. The RUIM operate there, Adelson has eight ex-Mossad as constant bodyguards, Israeli property giants have bought up half the foreclosed commercial properties, they’re buying failing businesses for a song, the place was founded by the Jewish mob. Las Vegas is Jewish and Mormom (Christian mafia).

    However.

    Nellis Air Force base is on the NE edge of Las Vegas. There is a huge military presence in Vegas that feeds not only Nellis but Area 51 to the north; planes leave constantly from 6 Am to 7 AM every day taking workers to Area 51 in unmarked planes from a secondary terminal at McCarran Airport. The local, non-Strip, bars and neighborhood casinos in North las Vegas and Henderson and East Las Vegas are filled with retired vets (no state taxes…a drier Florida west?), their spouses, and military grunts, many of whom moonlight as bartenders to pay the monthly nut. Berkley may be one of the biggest recipients of Jewish campaign dough in the country, but if this military objection to Israel takes hold throughout the ranks, Berkley has a problem. You can do anything you want in Vegas except diss the military. And military men and women vote.

    • MRW says:

      And Mormons vote for the military. No questions asked.

      • Chaos4700 says:

        Don’t ask, don’t tell. Heh.

        In all seriousness? I think you may be right. The real culture clash isn’t between the Western world and the Middle East — it’s between social/ethnic/religious divisions in our own country. And it doesn’t revolve around Muslims, who were marginalized even before they had a foothold (remember that most Muslims in the US are still, in fact, African Americans).

        Sooner or later, I think, this mere “clash” is going to erupt into a full-out war, or some variety.

  7. potsherd says:

    Has anyone seen another Dem speak out on this issue? Nothing from Pelosi afaik.

  8. potsherd says:

    This will help a lot!

    Rightists prepare banner declaring Obama as ‘PLO agent’
    By Chaim Levinson, Haaretz Correspondent

    A group of far-right activists on Tuesday announced their plan to hang hundreds of posters across the country depicting U.S. President Barack Obama under the headline “agent of the PLO.” The banner is already on display in the office of National Union MK Michael Ben Ari.

    “The poster is within the limits of the country’s freedom of speech act,” said Ben Ari’s aide, Itamar Ben Gvir.

    “I pity those who clapped during [U.S. Vice President] Joe Biden’s speech,” said Ben Gvir, referring to Biden’s address to the Israeli people at Tel Aviv University last week.

    “By the end of Ben Arie’s term we will teach those Leftists what democracy is,” he added. “Obama is anti-Semitic, pro-Arab, an agent of the PLO and we stand behind what the poster says.”

  9. Avi says:

    2. Reverse the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.

    It figures that the US would ask that. What about the other 50,000 units?

    3. Make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians enabling the renewal of peace talks. The Americans suggested that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners be released, that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and transfer them to Palestinian control, that the siege of the Gaza Strip be eased and further roadblocks in the West Bank be removed.

    Apparently the White House thinks that the Palestinians are gullible enough to fall for this ploy. Every Palestinian is familiar with the “revolving door” policy regarding prisoner detention; Israel frees 400 political prisoners one week, the very next week the Israeli army moves in and arrests 600 somewhere else and in some cases even rearrests the same freed prisoners.

  10. Pingback: Gulp! (Don’t Back Down Again) « بنسبة لنا

  11. Tuyzentfloot says:

    Satloff will speak at next week’s AIPAC convention.