Roger Cohen, dreamer

on 15 Comments

Yesterday in the New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen said that it’s time for “break-through” diplomacy by Obama in Israel and Palestine, leading to a two-state solution. He dismissed my one-state friends, saying:

“there are a lot of pie-in-the-sky citizen-diplomats out there these days blathering on about dreamy one-state solutions for Israel-Palestine and the like.”

But maybe the two-state solution is pie in the sky? Here are some of Cohen’s confident prognostications about the two-state solution at the Doha Debates 3 years ago, when he argued that the U.S. under Obama had become the “honest broker” and had ceased to be Israel’s lawyer and could make peace in the Middle East in Obama’s first term. Cohen essentially dismisses the power of the Israel lobby in the U.S., and says that Obama will firmly oppose settlements and then punish Israel if it continues to build settlements by not opposing a UN resolution condemning Israel for such conduct. Obama in fact later vetoed just such a resolution. Excerpts: 

ROGER COHEN : The idea that Barack Obama is too weak to achieve Middle East peace does not stand up. Too weak? This man has spent his life overcoming impossible obstacles, breaking barriers. Remember he was too black to become President, had too many Muslim family members to win a post 9/11 White House, was too much of an outsider to beat the Clinton machine, and then the McCain machine, was too cerebral, too hesitant, to pass healthcare, and then what happened? He did all those things. Obama’s toughness has trumped the naysayers again and again. Why should it not be the same in the Middle East? This President, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a tough realist. A lot of idealism has been projected onto Obama, but it’s the US interest, the US objectives, that drive him. And he’s now identified as a vital US national security interest to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine. This is a huge strategic shift; it’s a shift from being Israel’s lawyer, which is more or less where the United States was in the Bush administration, to becoming an honest broker. And, as you know, negotiations can only succeed when you have an honest broker. Now this has happened not, because in my view President Obama woke up one morning and thought to himself, ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be nice to have peace?’  But because US soldiers have told him, have said: ‘Mr. President, if you’re serious about your outreach to the Muslim world, and if you’re serious about these two wars in Muslim countries and if you’re serious about taking on the Jihadist threat, all these things are undermined by festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broad perception of Palestinian victimhood’.

President Obama is strong, and he is a change agent…

Moderator Tim Sebastian: But Roger Cohen, in a year of President Obama the process, the Middle East peace process, has ground to a halt, there are now no negotiations at all, even under Bush there were negotiations.
Well I have some news for you Tim, the negotiations, the proximity talks, are going to begin again next month..

AHMAD MOUSSALLI (American University of Beirut)
I think we are not judging the intention of the president, I think there is an agreement that he has good intention and I don’t think we should tell the audience that Obama loves us, we love him, therefore we love each other. That’s not the problem. The problem is the following: when Netanyahu was with Obama in The White House, Israel declared that they are going to build 20 housing settlements in Jerusalem. Of course the president was angry with him, but nothing happened.
But did you see what happened when Netanyahu was in Washington? It was a whitewash, he was invisible. And why? Because the President was furious…

I am arguing that President Obama is a man who delivers, he can deliver, this is what his whole political career demonstrates, and I am not here to defend the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu, I am here to say that Obama has a vision, he is moving toward it, he’s not going to be distracted or diverted from it, not by Iran, not by anything…

I don’t think President Obama is waiting for a second term, I think he’s determined to move ahead as fast as possible and of course with 62 years of history going against the notion of a peace settlement it’s hard to argue that this man, now, somehow will pluck from the air what has eluded everybody else. Nevertheless I would submit to you that there has been a very fundamental change. After 9/11 what happened? President Bush in essence said: ‘I’m standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel against the Jihadists’, and that was it. Now President Obama has completely reformulated the equation, he has said: ‘I want to reach out to the Muslim world, I want reconciliation, we’re in intractable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and what is a powerful terror recruitment tool? What makes it so difficult to reach out to the Muslim world? It’s precisely the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So he is turning things around, he’s looking at it from a different angle…

when these proximity talks begin there is going to be no more building, that is going to be firmly laid down by the White House. If Israel engages in another provocation of the kind we saw when Joe Biden was in Jerusalem there are going to be consequences.

What do you see those consequences being?
Well we might see a United Nations resolution condemning the Israeli action that the United States does not oppose; for example, traditionally United States has vetoed that kind of thing. There will be more and more pressure.
What about the aid, because that’s the big pressure point isn’t it?
Yeah, that you’re not going to see, I don’t believe, certainly not in a first term anyway.
Why not?
I think it’s too sensitive.
But if he’s serious?
Well he’s serious, but he’s also a politician who has to make careful calculations.
And he’s worried about annoying the Israel lobby even further.
He’s firm, he’s moving forward.

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15 Responses

  1. pabelmont
    January 22, 2013, 11:04 am

    Cohen: “Well we might see a United Nations resolution condemning the Israeli action that the United States does not oppose; for example, traditionally United States has vetoed that kind of thing. There will be more and more pressure.”

    From his lips to Obama’s ear. consider UNSC-465 (1980) calling (without sanctions, sadly) for removal of all settlers AND dismantlement of all settlements (buildings). How’d that get past the beady eye of Uncle Sam? Well, “never again” AIPAC must have said, because it never happened again.

    But we can hope!

    • talknic
      January 22, 2013, 1:35 pm

      “we might see a United Nations resolution condemning the Israeli action that the United States does not oppose; for example, traditionally United States has vetoed that kind of thing.”

      Actually the US has abstained from Chapt VI resolutions condemning Israel and reaffirming already determined Law, the UN Charter and relevant conventions (all of which are binding BTW). The US has vetoed Chapt VII resolutions, calling for action.

      e.g., UNSC res 465 was a chapter VI resolution condemning and reminding Israel of the already determined legal parameters Israel agreed to uphold. It would be illegal for UNSC members to veto or vote against resolutions reminding the parties of already determined/codified laws, UN Charter and conventions, not determined by the UNSC. It would be akin to saying existing law is irrelevant and/or can be broken. They can only abstain from that type of VI resolution.

      They can vote against or veto Chapt VII resolutions (as the US has) calling for action to be taken. The action is not pre-determined. The decision to act and what the action will be IS determined by the UNSC.

  2. iamuglow
    January 22, 2013, 11:18 am

    Around the same time Cohen was saying this, I met Chuck Schumer at a fair in upstate NY.
    When I asked him about ‘Palestine’ he essentially said the same thing: ‘Don’t you worry, there will be two states within a year.’

    Its the same shtick. When people ask about Palestine, make it sound like change is just around the corner but then refuse to support anything specific that could force a solution as being ‘too sensitive’.

    Calling him a dreamer is too kind. He has taken on the role of defender of Israel as seriously as Schumer has. In his recent article he sanctimoniously declares that Palestinians must give up their legal right of return to Israel. All so that Jewish immigrants from the US can preserve their birthright to move to a state with a Jewish majority? Ludicrous. He is no dreamer, he’s an apologist.

  3. Klaus Bloemker
    January 22, 2013, 12:25 pm

    I have been reading Roger Cohen’s columns in the IHT for years now.
    I remember two quotes that are essential on the matter of Palestine:

    1. Palestine is “the most contested piece of real estate in the world.”
    2. Criticism of Israel, anti-Zionism is “camouflaged anti-Semitism.”

    – 1.
    He implies that the contesting claims are morally, politically etc. equivalent.
    It’s ridiculous to put a ‘biblical and historical right’ equivalent with a worldly one.
    – 2.
    As most Jews (in fact most people), he tends to think that the motivation of an
    Israel-critic decides about the truth/validity of an analysis and criticism.

  4. dbroncos
    January 22, 2013, 12:26 pm

    “Obama’s toughness has trumped the naysayers again and again. Why should it not be the same in the Middle East? This President, Ladies and Gentlemen, is a tough realist.”

    LOL! And Cohen accuses one-state supporters of being “pie-in-the-sky…blathering” dreamers. Great catch, Phil. Let’s see how Cohen’s “tough realist” President handles the newly minted, balls out fascists in the Knessett.

  5. Krauss
    January 22, 2013, 2:35 pm

    There is a special dementia setting in among the ‘liberal’ Zionists. As Israel becomes more and more racist they have to keep telling themselves – and it is mostly about themselves – more and more brazen lies. It’s about self-delusion.

    The same was true when Bibi formed the ‘massive’ cabinet back during the summer of 2012 with Kadima. You had J.J. Goldberg at the Forward – who has far more liberal attitudes than the notorious ‘other Goldberg’ pretends to have – basically going on endless rants about how “Bibi was no unshackled”. This is the old ‘disappointed leftist’ myth. Basically, Bibi is a ‘moderate’ and he is ‘held captive’ by his allies. So, explain to us, did someone actually force Bibi to create a coalition with the far-right?

    Roger Cohen at this point may not be a fanatic but he cannot let his own Zionism and bigotry drop – he’s wedded to ethnic nationalism full-stop. And in order to avoid the painful – and inevitable – hard discussion with himself if he’s actually a liberal or just pretends to be one, he will have to lie more and more brazen lies in order to soothe and deceive himself.

    The problem is that there are people out there, well-meaning liberals, who cannot see this for what it is. Roger Cohen needs to be pushed aside. He’s an ethnic nationalist on the wrong side of history. And he will be.

    • Annie Robbins
      January 22, 2013, 5:19 pm

      The same was true when Bibi formed the ‘massive’ cabinet back during the summer of 2012 with Kadima.

      krauss, you’re thinking of w/Yisrael Beiteinu, lieberman’s party, not kadima.

      • piotr
        January 23, 2013, 1:04 am

        No, for a fleeting moment Kadima joined the coalition.

        The fiasco of that idea could be a major contribution to the success of Lapid. The issue then was the privileges of the ultra orthodox which are defended by two parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism. Netanyahu reneged on verval agreement with new leader of Kadima, Mofaz, and the expansion of the coalition collapsed, and that undermined Kadima (clever, Mr. Netanyahu!) and Likud/Israeli Beitenu (perhaps pretty stupid, Mr. Netanyahu?).

        In the same time, the attitude “expand settlement and our Jewish consciousness to the next level” polled well for a while and flopped, hence the combined vote of Israeli far right — Likud and two derivatives, one re-absorbed — declined quite a bit. Various components of the left became stronger.

        What will be the consequences it is hard to tell yet because the kingmaker Lapid is both vapid and mercurial, and the right wing can attract some individual deputies from the centrist parties.

  6. James Canning
    January 22, 2013, 2:36 pm

    I too think Obama must try to force Israel to get out of the West Bank. But I think he will lack the confidence and good advice necessary to accomplish this.

    • Citizen
      January 22, 2013, 9:52 pm

      @ James Canning
      If Hagel gets the job, he will have to ignore him? How important to Obama now is Axlerod? Schumer will urge change so Obama can have a third term? Some Zios are already at work drumming up that–they will get more serious if Obama keeps mouthing hasbara with or without Hagel.

  7. James Canning
    January 22, 2013, 2:39 pm

    In November 1967, the British Ambassador to the UN made a speech there about UNSC 242. It is available for hearing, online.
    Calls for Israel not to annex territory occupied during the June war.

  8. Shingo
    January 22, 2013, 5:44 pm

    Another superb post Phil,

    Your reporting and arguments are getting better and better.

    I have to hand it to you. Back in the days of Witty, your case for allowing him not to be banned was that he represented liberal Zionists. I didn’t accept that at the time as didn’t believe liberal Zionists could be as incoherent, inconsistent and wrong about the issues, but as we have seen from Cohen and other otherwise very intelligent thinkers, liberal Zionists are indeed completely at a loss when it comes to arguing their position.

    I have always respected Cohen, but the fawning confidence in Obama’s ability to solve this issue is truly mind boggling. Even more absurd, is his insistence that Obama would achieve it without laying a glove in Israel or pressure them in any way, let alone impose any punitive measures.

    Cohen sounds like a spokesman for JStreet.

    • Citizen
      January 22, 2013, 9:55 pm

      The hasbara of liberal democrats is a code, akin to a prayer; there’s never any followup or meat in it–just repeating the secular prayer–so long as our “journalists” and tv talking head news-entertainment anchors don’t press the issue, we will get more of the same.

    • piotr
      January 23, 2013, 2:01 am

      More charitably, this type of fawning is a form of telling what the President should do. Still, it really went too far to maintain the claim “Cohen as very intelligent thinker”.

      Interestingly, there was a hint that the second term can be a good time for punitive measures. And Washington consensus seems to be that Obama is entitled to his pound of flesh given Netanyahu’s contumely during American elections. Unlike justice for Palestinians, these are terms that the Establishment instinctively comprehends. Small prediction: Lapid will be a Cabinet minister, will visit White House and we will see love scenes on national TV.

  9. Klaus Bloemker
    January 22, 2013, 8:23 pm

    Roger Cohen replaced William Pfaff at the IHT when the IHT was taken over by the NYT and became her global edition.
    Pfaff was/is a Catholic gentile who was critical of “messianic Israel” (he said so) and also said that Israel’s hand was more or less controlled by the American Israel lobby.

    I think that was beyond the pale of the NYT.

    I sort of like Roger Cohen, but the elephant in the room is that he is Jewish but pretends to look at Israel as if he were an America-first observer.

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