The price tag for Israeli intransigence

on 19 Comments

The day before Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Israel — supposedly on a mission to help kick-start peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians — the Netanyahu government made its contempt for the Obama administration clear by approving new settlement construction.

They were quick to take offense — they being the Israelis!

“While we welcome Vice President Biden, a longtime friend and supporter of Israel,” Danny Danon, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, told the Washington Post, “we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.”

Washington on the other hand had no interest in creating a fuss about settlement growth — its impotence on that particular issue has already been amply demonstrated. Pushing for a real settlement freeze is passé. The new game is proximity talks and shuttle diplomacy.

After 17 years of direct talks it’s now time to talk from a distance and have George Mitchell like an Energizer bunny going back and forth between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Irrespective of how much life there might be in his batteries, the Arab League has thankfully imposed a four-month deadline on this charade.

If the latest “initiative” seems like an exercise in atmospherics, an Israeli official was straightforward enough to confirm the fact when he told Ynet that resuming talks with the Palestinians “would create an atmosphere in the Arab world and the international community that would allow the world to focus on the real threat – Iran.”

George Mitchell is going to allow the Israelis to talk to the Palestinians so that the world can focus on Iran.

It’s not a novel idea. It came up three-and-a-half years ago in Washington when Philip Zelikow, Special Counselor to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, caused a stir by making a similar linkage between the threat from Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The controversy in Zelikow’s suggestion was that it hinted that the Bush administration might defy Tel Aviv and remove the peace process from its preservative, but Zelikow’s concern was the same as that of the Israelis now: how to mount pressure on Iran. This depended, he said, on strengthening an anti-Iran coalition.

What would bind that coalition and help keep them together is a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed, that they see a common determination to sustain an active policy that tries to deal with the problems of Israel and the Palestinians. We don’t want this issue … [to] have the real corrosive effects that it has, or the symbolic corrosive effects that it causes in undermining some of the friends we need [as] friends to confront some of the serious dangers we must face together.

Note that Zelikow was not pushing for anything so grand as a resolution to the conflict, merely that an effort be made to create “a sense” that the issues were being addressed.

Initiatives, summits, and dark-suited earnestness with a liberal sprinkling of handshakes — we all know the routine. “What will they ask Israel to do? Meet with Abu Mazen? – so you’ll meet with Abu Mazen,” one Washington hand told Haaretz at the time.

That was 2006. Now in 2010 the Israelis don’t even need to inconvenience themselves by sitting in the same room as the Palestinians, even though Netanyahu would be happy to be granted the photo-op of face-to-face talks — talks that he can be confident will be fruitless.

The anti-Iran coalition might still be rather shaky but there is another coalition that has proved to be durable and near universal: the coalition of states who remain content to pay lip-service to the Palestinian issue; the political leaders who gladly shake hands with Mahmoud Abbas as though having Ramallah’s jaded political leaders received in global capitals was all the Palestinians could ever have aspired for.

But when it comes to dealing with the Israelis no one has a better understanding than the Israelis themselves. Jewish settlers in the West Bank insist that if they are uprooted, others will be forced to pay the “price tag.”

President Obama on the other hand insists that for Israel “the status quo is unsustainable” but neither he nor any of the other political leaders who profess some level of concern for the Palestinians have been willing to exact a price for Israeli intransigence. Until a price tag is applied effectively, Israel can remain confident in the durability of the status quo.

This is a cross-post from Woodward’s site, War in Context.

19 Responses

  1. Avi
    March 10, 2010, 12:59 am

    we see it as nothing short of an insult that President Obama himself is not coming.”

    They — that is the Israeli government — know how to play you — the US. Suddenly these war criminals actually WANT Obama — who incidentally is a war criminal too — to grace them with his presence. Sure! Color me skeptical, but I doubt they actually hoped the Kushi would visit them.

  2. Avi
    March 10, 2010, 1:03 am

    It seems Israel is adamant to bring about either a third Intifadah or a regional war. If the yahoo doesn’t attack Iran, he’ll use a weaker foe for a punching bag, namely Lebanon or the Palestinians.

    • Chaos4700
      March 10, 2010, 1:26 am

      Those aren’t mutually exclusive options. My guess is Netanyahu will strike Iran, expect us (as in, US) to clean up after that mess, and then proceed to resume the slaughter of Lebanese and Palestinians that have been temporarily halted (or slowed, anyway).

      • Avi
        March 10, 2010, 1:45 am

        I don’t see Israel fighting on three fronts. You have to know Israelis to know that it’s an unlikely scenario. Every time rockets start flying into Israel in response to Israel’s attacks, half the residents of the Galilee move to live with relatives in Tel-Aviv or Eilat. Missiles from Iran, rockets from Gaza and Lebanon would mean that the only Israelis staying in Israel will be those who can’t afford the airfare.

      • Chaos4700
        March 10, 2010, 1:49 am

        Avi, the Israeli government needs that panic. And they need the “fog of war” to finish “cleansing” Gaza and Lebanon.

        Israel won’t be fighting Iran. They’re counting on making us fight Iran for them. And nobody in Israel or the US government seems to care about how many fronts the US opens up in the “war on terror.”

      • MRW
        March 10, 2010, 2:28 am

        Chaos, if that happens, it’s WWIII. The consequences of Israel attacking Iran will be catastrophic for Israel, the US, Zionists and Jews worldwide. It wont be a matter of the US cleaning up anything. Nukes will reach these shores, and Americans will be imperiled and massive numbers of them dead. Our troops and National Guard are not here to protect us. Israelis, and by extension Jews, will be reviled globally for their pre-emptive gall. It will be the worst, the most horrible case of anti-semitism that Jews will ever have encountered in history; the rage will be unstoppable; there aren’t enough Jews on the planet to render their existence paramount over the lives of others. Israel ignores these consequences at its peril; if your guess is correct, then Israel’s leadership is too stupid and cravenly idiotic not to anticipate these results.

      • Chaos4700
        March 10, 2010, 10:35 am

        I think you underestimate the hubris and utter denial of reality of the average Zionist.

        Three words for you: Look at Witty.

      • potsherd
        March 10, 2010, 10:09 am

        AIPAC is pressing for stronger action on Iran, and this incident will probably not deter their efforts.

        link to

  3. wondering jew
    March 10, 2010, 1:09 am

    The Israeli foreign ministry these days seems to specialize in stepping on toes.

    Yet I think that Obama’s speech in Cairo should have been followed up (if not immediately then within a month or so) with a visit to Israel. Telling the Israeli Knesset or an audience at some university about the sacrifices necessary for peace would have been much more effective delivered in person. Even if he personally dislikes Netanyahu such a move would have served him well in the long run with the Israeli public.

    • Chaos4700
      March 10, 2010, 1:29 am

      Because the whole goddamn world revolves around Israel, huh? Well, I suppose American politics invariably do.

      There is no evidence that the Israeli public will ever be satisfied. Obama already backed down on the settlement issue. Seriously, I think Obama could personally fly an F-16 over Gaza and help Israel pepper it with more bombs, and Israel would still be bitching that he’s not doing enough for Israel. Obviously, they weren’t happy with just the free jet fuel, spare parts and the shipment of shiny new bombs Obama handed Israel, no questions asked.

      • sherbrsi
        March 10, 2010, 1:40 am

        Because the whole goddamn world revolves around Israel, huh? Well, I suppose American politics invariably do.

        Yup, it’s not enough that every US president has to bow down before the AIPAC and pledge their undying allegiance to the Zionist state, the Israelis are now offended that he didn’t visit them in a trip to the Middle East.

    • potsherd
      March 10, 2010, 10:53 am

      This was Shas, in Interior, not Lieberman’s gang.

  4. Colin Murray
    March 10, 2010, 8:26 am

    links from the Lebanese newspaper “The Daily Star”

    Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar made the defiant statement after signing a security agreement in Doha with Qatar – a major ally of his country’s arch-foe, the United States. …
    Turkey, which has good relations with its neighbor Iran, has offered to host an exchange of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) for 20-percent-enriched uranium supplied by world powers to Tehran as part of a UN-drafted deal. Iran and world powers are locked in a stalemate over the deal which envisages shipping out Iran’s LEU to France and Russia for further conversion into higher-grade uranium to power a research reactor in Tehran.

    from Defiant Tehran gets backing over sanctions, China, Turkey insist only diplomacy can end nuclear standoff

    Israel will not launch an assault on southern Lebanon but will retaliate indiscriminately should it be provoked, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday. …
    Barak and other Israeli ministers have repeatedly warned that any perceived aggression from Hizbullah would be met with widespread airstrikes. Barak warned that Lebanon’s infrastructure would not be spared should a conflict similar to the 2006 summer war arise again.

    from Barak: Israel will hold all of Lebanon responsible for any Hizbullah attack

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