Tuesday, December 23, 2014

stopped pretending

Obama stops faking Israel policy
The Obama administration is not the first to stick itself into an Israeli election ‎process. During the Clinton administration, when for a short period there was a ‎direct election of the prime minster, the White House was happy to send over its ‎most savvy and experienced campaign team, including pollster Stanley Greenberg, ‎James Carville and Bob Shrum, to help Labor Party leader Ehud Barak oust Benjamin ‎Netanyahu in his re-election bid in 1999. The White House had also favored ‎Shimon Peres in his race against Netanyahu in 1996, which ‎Netanyahu narrowly won.‎
Demonstrating that Democratic U.S. presidents continue to want Netanyahu out of ‎the way, some of the same campaign team from 15 years back, including Stanley ‎Greenberg, are again descending on Israel to help the current Labor Party leader ‎Isaac Herzog try to oust the prime minister in the March 17 elections. Of course, American ‎campaign operatives are free agents, and have not been ordered to report for duty ‎in Israel by either President Barack Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. But the ‎campaign messaging as to the favored party from the American perspective is ‎nonetheless pretty clear. There was a time when both Democrats and Republicans ‎by and large supported Israel's elected leader, whether that leader was from the ‎Right or the Left, and kept out of Israel's elections. It was generally a bit tougher for ‎American administrations if Israel's leader was from the Right, but today any ‎pretense of equal treatment is long past. The same splits and partisanship which ‎now divide American politics have carried over to how American officials try to ‎participate in and influence Israeli elections.‎
Both Obama and Netanyahu came into office in 2009. They had vastly ‎different agendas and expectations of each other. Netanyahu wanted America to ‎focus first on stopping Iran's nuclear program, which it considered an existential ‎threat. Obama wanted Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians and stop ‎settlement construction. In essence, Obama wanted to bring American policy more ‎into line with that of the Europeans and the "international community," which was ‎always ready to blame the absence of peace on Israel, and in particular on Israeli ‎building in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Obama also wanted something much ‎bigger than a halt to Iran's nuclear program -- but rather a new American and ‎Western relationship with Iran, creating a strategic partnership with the mullahs, ‎much as say Henry Kissinger accomplished with China in the early 1970s. ‎
Obama argued that progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks would make it easier ‎for the United States to build a coalition of nations ready to work on addressing ‎Iran's nuclear program. And to achieve that progress in the peace process, first ‎Israel had to stop settlement activity of any kind in the "occupied Palestinian lands." ‎The Obama team, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made clear that ‎they were opposed to settlement activity even in areas that President George W. ‎Bush, in his letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004, had effectively conceded would remain ‎part of Israel if a peace deal between ‎Israel and the Palestinians were reached. ‎
The Obama policy on Iran has been worse than advertised. Every sanctions bill ‎adopted by Congress was weakened after Democrats responded to White House ‎pressure, with generous waivers granted to the administration. Unbeknownst to ‎members of Congress, except a few who were participating in the subterfuge such ‎as then-Senator Kerry, the Americans were busy chasing after Iran to achieve ‎that desired thaw in relations. Of course, the multiyear negotiating process ‎between the P5+1 and Iran has not been pretty to watch, as Kerry and Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs ‎Wendy Sherman have continued a steady drip, drip, drip of weakening resolve in ‎what seems like a desperate effort to sign a deal of some kind, even one that ‎preserves Iran's nuclear capability and processed uranium, ignores Iran's missile ‎program, backtracks on inspections, relaxes sanctions, and at best extends the ‎time frame for a nuclear breakout by a few months. The Obama administration's ‎desire to make old enemies friends has now been extended to Cuba. The policy of ‎reducing ties with long-term allies such as Israel can be seen as either deliberate ‎policy or a necessary consequence, given the other overriding policy objectives ‎such as warming relations with former foes like Iran.
This weekend, the Obama administration let slip exactly how it was working to help ‎its favored candidates in the Knesset elections. After meeting with and talking to ‎candidates from the left-of-center Israeli parties, Kerry indicated that ‎consideration of a new Palestinian Authority-drafted resolution by the Security ‎Council, demanding a complete withdrawal of all Israeli forces from all territories ‎beyond the Green Line by the end of 2017, was a bad idea, since it might harden ‎attitudes among Israeli voters, and lead to more support for Israel's hard-line parties, including Netanyahu's Likud. ‎
"The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because ‎the luncheon was confidential, said that Kerry explained that ‎Israel's liberal political leaders, Shimon Peres and Tzipi ‎Livni, had expressed concern that a Security Council move to ‎pressure Israel on the eve of election would only strengthen ‎the hands of Israeli hardliners, including Prime Minister ‎Benjamin Netanyahu, and Naftali Bennett, an implacable foe ‎of a Palestinian state and leader of the right-wing Jewish ‎Home [Habayit Hayehudi] party. Netanyahu is also fiercely opposed to the ‎Palestinians effort to secure Security Council backing for its ‎statehood drive.‎"‎
Of course, there may be more going on here than the article ‎reveals. The United States did not want to be forced into ‎using its veto at the Security Council to block the resolution, ‎if the PA were able to secure nine votes, an effort that at the ‎moment seems to be falling short. The Obama administration ‎has been reluctant to line up on the opposite side of its ‎European and Third World allies on issues relating to Israel at ‎the U.N., and there is little doubt that the Europeans in ‎particular are anxious at this point to turn the screws on ‎Israel, backed by increasingly strident anti-Israel and even ‎anti-Semitic voices in their own countries, both Muslim and ‎non-Muslim. Having a resolution blocked by the United ‎States at the Security Council would at least give the ‎Europeans an E for effort in their home countries on the one ‎foreign policy issue on which the Continent seems united -- ‎bashing Israel. But delaying consideration of the resolution ‎has a more important purpose, the Americans are telling the ‎Europeans -- preventing Netanyahu from making political hay ‎from it.‎
In essence, Kerry is using the advice he is receiving from ‎Peres and Livni to persuade the Europeans to join with him ‎in pressuring the Palestinians not to push the resolution until ‎after the Israeli election, when, hint, hint, a new government ‎friendlier to their demands may be in place in Israel. The ‎other implied promise or threat depending on the outcome of ‎the Israeli elections, is that the United States might not use its ‎veto after the elections to block the same or a similar ‎resolution in the Security Council, especially if the Israeli ‎right-wing parties are returned to power. ‎
There has been a stridency in Obama's approach to ‎governing the last few months -- running roughshod over the ‎will of Congress on immigration reform, environmental ‎issues, and Cuba policy to name a few, and seemingly ‎America's voters as well, based on the rejection of his policies ‎in the midterm results. It would be foolish to believe that ‎trouble does not lay ahead for Israel whatever its election ‎outcome, given Obama's minimally concealed contempt for ‎the Jewish state, and in particular its current prime minister. ‎Recent Israeli polling suggests that with almost three months ‎to go (a long time in Israeli politics), the odds favor another ‎government led by a coalition of right-wing parties, probably ‎joined by religious parties. ‎
Israelis elect Israel's leaders, not the White House. The ‎Obama administration, however, seems to be betting that ‎Israelis may be concerned enough about deteriorating ‎relations with Washington, not to give Obama an excuse to ‎be even nastier his last two years -- we will slap you around ‎less if you retire Netanyahu. My guess is that message will not sell. ‎Israelis, like most Americans, have taken the measure of the ‎man who leads America, and increasingly people in both ‎countries don't trust him. The belief is he will slap around ‎anyone who gets in his way, and appeasement is always a ‎bad strategy with bullies.‎

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