Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Please! Some Sanity in Evaluating U.S.-Israel Relations

There has been huge misrepresentation and misunderstanding of both Israeli and U.S. policy. I have written about this here and here. But it goes on. Rather than cite examples let me get to the point:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his team are not foolish or—as a group—extremist. They have come up with a program that meets Israeli interests and which I think is going to be acceptable to the current U.S. government. I won’t go into detail at this moment but will write in detail about this in a few days.

But there is a lot of nonsense being said about Netanyahu government positions. He isn’t going to annex any territory or stop negotiating with the Palestinians or condition talks on the Palestinian Authority accepting Israel as a Jewish state, or condition diplomatic efforts on solving the problem of Iran’s nuclear weapons’ program. And he isn’t going to attack Iran next week. And he isn’t going to reject the magical words: “two-state solution.”

All of this is simply not real.

What he is going to do is to work on both the Iranian and Palestinian fronts. His government, like just about every other Israeli leader when they are talking off the record, doesn’t believe there is going to be an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. Neither do the Palestinian leaders.

What he will do—with the support of Defense Minister and Labor party leader Ehud Barak—is something very simple. He is going to assert that Israel must get concessions if it is going to give concessions. The government endorses the Road Map, and the Road Map puts obligations on the PA which Israel wants to see the PA meet.

Equally, the Obama administration does not believe it is going to get a comprehensive solution in a few months. Nor is it going to bash Israel or break completely with historic U.S. policy. (It may be making bad mistakes on other issues but that’s not the point here.) Senator Mitchell, the U.S. envoy, is basically going back and forth carrying messages between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The Obama administration has also been misquoted. For example, it did not endorse the Saudi plan as a program for peace but merely said it was a basis for productive discussion. Often, when the Obama officials say something attributed to them as a sharp break with the past, they are actually only restating Bush administration positions. Even the one case where the administration appeared to be making a big change by easing opposition to a Fatah-Hamas coalition, it quickly pulled back.

What the administration wants is some perception of progress so it can claim success and—it mistakenly supposes—then get on with the work of making buddies of the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

We will have to await Netanyahu’s visit to Washington and his meeting with Obama to find out more. people have gone far too far in extrapolating the alleged course of events from assuming that the supposedly “hardline” Netanyahu and the supposedly “Israel-hating” Obama are going to engage in an unprecedented clash between the two countries.

So, please let’s have less speculation and more facts. If there is some U.S.-Israel clash or strongly anti-Israel position by the Obama administration, I promise to be among the first to point it out.

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