American foreign policy Americans for Peace Now Israel Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian Authority Palestinians

Questions about the “p-word” (pressure)

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus, in part because of work commitments, in part because I have nothing original to say, in part because of utter despair about The Situation.

When poking my head out and reading the musings of friends and fellow travellers, I sensed the gloves slowly being taken off when it comes to Obama and his team. That is good. A reliance on the hope that Obama, Mitchell, Clinton et. al know what they are doing has not been rewarded, to say the least.

MJ Rosenberg opines that “Obama needs to either engage seriously — and that means pressure on both sides to negotiate honestly — or he should call George Mitchell home.” Americans for Peace Now wants Obama to get much tougher and “play hardball” with both sides, although it carefully avoids articulating the precise nature of the “real costs” it wants Obama to impose:

This is not a call for the US to threaten aid to Israel or the PA. Playing hardball should not and must not mean taking steps that threaten Israel’s security or further hurt the Palestinian humanitarian situation. To the contrary: the US must assure both sides that as they move toward peace, America and the international community would work tirelessly to enhance their security, international legitimacy and well-being.

At the same time, the US has other forms of leverage which it can to bring to bear. This includes diplomatic signals of displeasure and shifts in tone on sensitive policy areas. The Obama Administration also has the ability to impose real costs on the parties, without cutting US assistance, both with and without Congressional approval. The Obama Administration should make a comprehensive assessment of its leverage options vis-à-vis all parties, and it should make clear to the parties that it is ready to use this leverage, if required.

The idea that Obama needs the political wiggleroom to lean on both sides rather than just one side was an article of faith in my book. I interviewed Israelis who provided examples of diplomatic leverage that the U.S. could bring to bear with Israel, short of cutting aid. For example, the U.S. need not automatically veto every UN resolution that castigates Israel. The U.S. could express its displeasure with arms deals Israel makes with other countries (like India), which have little to do with Israeli security and everything to do with supporting Israel’s military industrial complex. There are economic agreements with Israel that can be called into question.

But I hereby confess that I dodged an important question: “What can the U.S. do to “pressure” the Palestinians? It has already handed out plenty of economic and political carrots to Abbas and Fatah in the West Bank, bolstering their relative moderation with both economic aid and security training. Of course the U.S. could threaten to withhold it. But the prospect of losing currently available carrots has not prompted Abbas to climb down from his counter-productive position that no negotiations can commence until there is a total settlement freeze.

What more pressure could the U.S. exert? What “real costs” could the U.S. impose? Make Palestinian lives even more miserable than they are now? The Israelis have tried that with their cruel boycott of the Gaza Strip and it has not dislodged Hamas from power. When there is such an assymetry of both economic resources and military power, the U.S. actually has little leverage with the weaker party and a great deal with the powerful one.

Saying there must be “pressure on both sides” is the politically correct mantra of my political camp. But how can it be put into place with the Palestinians? Beats me.

12 thoughts on “Questions about the “p-word” (pressure)

  1. The insistence on a settlement freeze is the right position to take. It indicates the intent of the Israeli state to continue expansion indefinitely disregarding legal issues of sovereignty and title.

    Gaza is a quandry. Israel and Egypt are turning the screws on Gaza, and noone is proposing or accepting any compromise. Hamas is entrenched and encouraged by solicarity from the left, even as Hamas is a very conservative movement and the vast majority of their positions would be offensive to the left.

    Where they are willing to turn their eyes away from Hamas’ militantly conservative approach, they condemn Israel’s right-wing similar approach.

    I continue to believe that progress can only be made in hearts and minds, in efforts to humanize the other.

    The political definition of the other, is of a machine, an ideology, an algorhythm.

    Not many voices of “we want peace”, and both peoples have been so traumatized that any basis of potential goodwill is far far away.

    Harshness, called justice. A steep continental divide.

    Israel can’t relax as there is so much anger in the Palestinian world. So, it is forced to harshen.

    Bold, to what end?

  2. Glad to see some realism on your side, Dan. Over at I asked Lara Friedman what pressure the US can put on the Arab side, considering how dependent the US is on recycling the petrodollars the Arab oil states have, plus businesses dealings. She has not answered me.

    I maintain that having HAMAS take over Gaza was the best thing that ever happened to Abbas/Fayyad and the Palestinian Authority. It opened the pocketbooks of the US and EU and now they can tell the US that if the US and EU should threaten to cut the aid they give, which the PA is totally depdendent on for its operating budget, it will undermine the PA/FATAH “moderates” and bring HAMAS to power in Judea/Samaria. The perfect excuse for not doing anything the US wants.

  3. Sorry to hear the matzav has got you down, Mr. Fleshler. Let’s see: terrorism is down to a very tolerably low level; the cease-fire between Israel and the various terrorist groups is more or less holding; despite the blockade on Gaza (whatever one thinks of it), Gazans are at least surviving, and not at the point of starvation; Israelis have removed roadblocks in the West Bank as a result of the relative stop to terrorism; the West Bank is flourishing economically, so that even Abbas says that they’re doing really well there. So, yes, the situation is quite bad – Palestinians and Israelis still refuse to join hands and sing together in perfect harmony – but I wouldn’t quite call it intolerable.

    You’re right that the US can’t get anything by pressuring the Palestinians. But that’s largely because there isn’t much left to get, beyond the current informal tahadiyeh or whatever you want to call it. Palestinians can be pressured to temporarily halt terrorism, but they can’t be pressured to make substantive concessions to Israel. Anyone who grants concessions under pressure is eo ipso a lackey of America-Israel and a traitor to his people. So there’s another reason to be cheerful: as you correctly suggest, it wouldn’t have mattered if your camp had tried to put pressure on the Palestinians anyway.

    “Pressure on both sides” is the mantra of your camp, you say. “Conflict management, not peace” is the mantra of mine. One of the mantras actually seems to be working, for the moment at least.

    Have a nice day.

  4. Conflict management makes some sense.

    Expansion underneath conflict management, making conflict resolution impossible, doesn’t.

    How can Israel claim to be moderate, self-controlled, if it annexes territory and expropriates property? How can it call itself moderate, civilized, Jewish even?

    How can Israel claim to be a good citizen, a good neighbor, if it does so by permanently making it impossible for its neighbors to live well.

  5. How can the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab world say they want peace by having their official organs of communication spew out endless lies about Jews and antisemitic propaganda? How can the HAMAS and HIZBULLAH work for peace by endlessly arming themselves with rockets which are nothing more than weapons of mass terror? How can they work towards peace by financing this armament at the expense of the welfare of the local population and by terrorizing it?
    How can the Palestinian Authority claim it is working for establishing a state while refusing to build the infrastructure (financially, legally, etc) for it? How can they say they are working for peace when they refuse to indicate any modification of their demands for the Palestinian “right of return”? How can they say they are working for peace when they refuse to take any steps indicating that they are actually willing to live in peace with Israel, that they recognize that the Jewish presence in Eretz Israel is a permament fact and while they stigmitize any Arabs that work for normalization of relations with Israel?

  6. Rich:
    I see that your buddy’s little sidekick, Adam ( the nebbish ) Horowitz was right on point with the holocaust. Basically that the Germans have got a raw deal in this thing compared to the Palestinians, who has we all know are saints. Is this pillow talk between Phil and Adam. The world wonders.

  7. BTW Rich, Dan, I went to a Republican Jewish coalition event yesterday. Evidently we had literally the FIRST event for Scott Brown after he won the Republican nomination. I know that this has really got to piss you two off but I just thought I’d mention it. For “Big nose Phil Weiss” This is the stuff of nightmares. Just like the very existence of the state of Israel or for that matter Jews anywhere.

  8. What’s your thing Bill? Respectfully, as to your Republican Jewish coalition event yesterday, it must be exceedingly distressing for those in attendance to understand that behind Brown’s victory there remains a rock solid, extraordinarily large majority of Jewish Americans who will continue to vote for the Democratic Party. And I am the child of a Jewish Dad who is a registered Republican (but who voted for Obama–he thinks when he votes, strange eh? :)).

    Of course, I think the whole political party argument is beside the point because what Dan is writing about has nothing to do with Republicans and Democrats. The fact is, support for the State of Israel among elected officials in both parties remainst strong and unwavering. The real question is how we use that support to help guide the Israel we all love (who really cares about Adam Horowitz except for people on either fringe spending too much time on the internets) to a peaceful resolution of its dispute with the Palestinians.

    Indeed, the election of Scott Brown, and the attendance of folks at a Jewish Republican shinding, is kind of an odd thing to interject in response to Dan’s post. But whatever rocks your boat dude.


  9. Not really Bruce, Dan, particularly if you read his post. and Witty, are dying to have congress become less pro-israel. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if they are for the Hussein Obama program. Which is lets tilt to the Arabs. I’m leaving aside Phil ( Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss. And his little buddy Horowitz. So, here you have a stalwart pro-israel republican who just pulled off the political upset of, well, a long time. They have to be unhappy about it.

  10. Jewish republicans have to be an odd bunch.

    Massachusetts (my home state) is an irony. The healthcare bills weaving through Congress are largely modeled after the Massachusetts healthcare law, that was negotiated and signed by republican governor Mitt Romney, including a public option along similar criteria as is proposed nationally.

    The only real reason that Brown won, is because Coakley was cocky and didn’t believe that she had to campaign. (I got three robocall from Brown campaign, and only one at 5:00 pm the evening of the election urging me to vote. I voted, but that is negligently late.)

  11. Well–I’m in MA too and considering that Brown ran almost singularly on the health care issue…that AT LEAST plays a role in his election. (universal health care is killing the middle class here in its current form)

    I’m an independent btw–but this idea that Jews and republicanism are mutually exclusive is like saying black conservatives are a freak of nature.

    Things change.

  12. How about the Zionists who collaborated with the Nazis, like Shamir? The Zionists argeed with the Nazis that liberalism was the enemy and that Jews would forever be aliens in Germany and elsewhere.You are good at offering the official lobby line, but it is full of misstatements and distortions. Your position comes down to: If the Palestinians would capitulate in grand theft and other rights violations that occurred and are continuing, there would be peace.Your position conflicts with individual property rights, freedom, and justice. The state you defend has violated rights in every way from the start. Then when the victims resist, you cry foul. It is shameful. “We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?” –Ben-Gurion.”The slogan ‘Jewish state* (or commonwealth) is equivalent, in effect, to a declaration of war by the Jews on the Arabs.” –Judah Magnes, founder, chancellor, president, the Hebrew University, Jerusalem Readers: Check this all out for yourselves. Don’t do history a priori.

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