American foreign policy Americans for Peace Now Arab-Israeli conflict Benjamin Netanyahu Israel Israeli settlements Palestinians

Will the Americans drive Bibi “crazy?”

Troll around the Web and you will find many, distinctly different ways of looking at Bibi Netanyahu’s recent announcement of a ten-month settlement freeze. Here are four that interest me:

1) IT COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE, GREATER ISRAEL FANS. Netanyahu has been telling the right wing that the freeze is only temporary and that construction will resume after 10 months, it has been widely reported. But one story from Yediot Aharonot indicates he also used another argument to pacify the settlers: “Netanyahu was also quoted as saying that `the Americans drove me crazy, they wanted (a freeze) in Jerusalem as well.'”

2) IT WILL ACTUALLY HELP THE SETTLEMENT MOVEMENT. According to another report in Yediot by Itamar Eichner (available in translation from Israel News Today, but not accessible on-line):

Netanyahi said in his speech yesterday that the security cabinet decision…would be beneficial for the settlement enterprise. During the…Olmert government, he said, there was a freeze in practice. Since the Netanyahu government was formed eight months ago, this has continued and, all in all, construction in Judea and Samaria has been frozen. The new freeze is limited to only another 10 months, after which construction will begin again. In other words…, the decision is good for the settlers because it sets an end date to the freeze, in contrast to the situation that was in place, in practice, of a freeze that was unlimited in time.”

3) IT WILL BE EXTRAORDINARILY DIFFICULT TO ENFORCE. says Talia Sasson, in an interview with Ori Nir of Americans for Peace Now:

Enforcing the moratorium on settlement construction, Sasson points out, requires a documenting effort, an ongoing monitoring effort, a security effort (protecting the government inspectors who will fan out in the West Bank to enforce the new orders), a judicial effort (preparing and pursuing indictments against violators), as well as a political effort. Prime Minister Netanyahu will have to confront the settler leaders, many of whom are members of his Likud party.

Listening to the full interview, I got the sinking feeling that it won’t just be difficult; it may well be impossible. The settlers are already mounting a petty resistance campaign, and while the army under Ehud Barak may win major battles, the odds are they will probably lose this war. The only way to change this circumstance is for Bibi to show more courage than any Israeli Prime Minister since Yitzhak Rabin. It is just as likely that I will be the shortstop for the Boston Red Sox.

4) ON THE OTHER HAND, MAYBE THIS TIME, THE AMERICANS WON’T BACK DOWN. The usually perceptive Shimon Sheffer opines:

Let’s assume that in 10 months the international community is still unable to curb Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities. Israel’s need for US assistance in thwarting the “existential danger” vis-à-vis Iran, as Netanyahu refers to it, will be even greater. Is it even thinkable that the Obama Administration will then allow Israel to resume construction in the territories? Does anyone think that Netanyahu will dare resist the American demand to continue the freeze?

…The question that remains is whether Netanyahu will decide to clash with the Americans…

I estimate that he will persist with his attempts to maneuver among the various bad options, his rightist voters will continue to slam him, and the Americans will hint that if he resumes construction they will allow the Europeans to pass Security Council resolutions that in essence recognize a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

In other words, the only hope is for Obama to demonstrate more courage on this issue since any American president since George Bush pere. But we already knew that, didn’t we?

29 thoughts on “Will the Americans drive Bibi “crazy?”

  1. Here are a couple of views of the situation:

    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1132434.html

    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1132436.html

    Can Bibi be the next Sharon? Sharon was a genius. He completely disarmed the opposition to the destruction of Gush Katif…spreading a little money around and some false promises he totally neutralized any organized opposition which could have seriously impeded the IDF’s sweep through Gush Katif. Yes, Sharon did say that he was giving up Gush Katif in order to save the rest of the settlements in Judea/Samaria…to “put the peace process in formaldehyde” or whatever, but he reversed this immediately afterwards and announced he intended to carry out another large scale withdrawal.

    Begin did the same with the Sinai….he told the settlement movement that “he was giving up the Sinai in order to save the Judea/Samaria/Gaza settlements. Now Bibi is trying the trick for the third time…he is giving up Judea/Samaria in order to save Jerusalem , which is supposedly not part of the freeze.

    The docility of most Israelis in the face of repeated betrayals by the government of policy and even the very security of their lives is what works to the advantage. In spite of what you may think, this passivity is particularly strong among the leaders of the settlement movement…they are considered super “mamlachtim”-“statists”, patriots, good citizens, willing soldiers, Zionists. Thus when someone who supposedly had excellent credentials as a “hawk”, “patriot”, and “warrior” like Sharon told them to commit suicide, they gladly did it.
    One of the most legendary religious leaders of the settlement movement came to my town a few weeks before the destruction of Gush Katif. He said “we must pray, but we can’t take any steps to stop it…no protests, no civil disobedience, nothing”. I interrupted him and said “we are not just trying to save Gush Katif, we are trying to save the IDF and the country….rockets will reign down on us if we leave..this is not just a struggle for ‘the settlements’ it is a struggle for the very future of the state”. He was so stuck in his archaic views of things he couldn’t understand what I was saying.
    I hope that Israel Harel in his article is correct, that the young generation will not stand for this, that they will start thinking like free men and women and break with this sick docility that has infected so many Israelis. Just as the Arab states use the “Zionist threat” to justify and excuse their own corruption, repression and abuse of their own people, the Israeli gov’t does the same….they use the security situation to prevent protests against their bad policies, even when Israelis were being killed by terrorist attacks every day. How did Sharon excuse his inactivity ? “I gave my word to the President of the United States that we would show restraint”. And Israelis view “his word to the President” as overriding his obligation to his own citizenry to protect their lives. And people accepted this!

    Bibi is not Sharon. He doesn’t have the same credentials. Can he do like Ari Shavit says and carry out yet another suicidal withdrawal?

  2. So long as the settlements are in Israeli temporary jurisdiction, they will be frozen.

    If/when they shift to Palestinian, then settlers will have the option of living in them as Palestinian citizens, or moving back to Israel.

    A free settler will choose the legal (respect for title determined independantly of nationality), and choose to make peace with neighbors on a basis of mutual aid. A fanatic, ideologically driven settler (not free in his/her mind, but compelled by a land lust even if stated as not for him/herself) will choose the opportunistic.

    Again, the ideological will grow the body (like Sharon), but kill the soul.

    Enough is the basis of peace, justice, Torah.

    Israel will not get to keep East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan, for very much longer.

    I both envy and pity those that feel so motivated to put their bodies on the line. I envy the feeling of certainty, that something is known. I pity that the basis of that certainty is a spiritual gamble, and with others’ lives.

  3. There is an aspect to modern times that Israel needs the continuing social unrest in Iraq and Afghanistan, the far left, and the continuing real threats from Iran, in that they do distract attention from the real political abuses that the settlements and expansion represent.

    Israel then has the out from addressing its legal, moral, and political questions.

    Relative to the far left, it would seem that they are the enemy of Israel, but to the extent that they make irrational and functionally hateful demands, their words are easily dismissable.

    They keep the game as one of hotheads, rather than of sober well-meaning people.

  4. What’s unthinkable is the idea that Obama will do ANYTHING about Iran.

    Rich, any settlers living under Palestinian rule are dead meat,you know that. What does intrigue me is that you don’t care about putting the western wall under arab rule. Doesn’t the fact that Palestinians trash Jewish religious sites bother you at all, just a little?

  5. To me, the only way to look at this brouhaha is whether it advances the peace process or it doesn’t. So, here’s what we have:

    1. President Obama, through HRC and Mitchell, demands a unilateral freeze on existing settlements that allegedly evinces the tough love we say we need by going farther than agreements with the prior Administration.

    2. Tough love proponents are excited because Bibi is challenged, and for Abbas, who has his own problems in terms of having the authority to negotiate, is presented with what he believes is a rightful condition precedent, with the imprimatur of the U.S., for negotiations to proceed.

    3. Bibi can’t or won’t do it, and we cave and modify our demands.

    4. Abbas is stuck. He thought he had a condition precedent and now everything is mucked up and there’s no way he can come to the table under these circumstances.

    In short, we screwed up and have to fix this. Where are my facts wrong, and how has this led to progress in terms of a settlement? I’m just a poor old country union negotiator with 20 years of collective bargaining experience, so what do I know? Sometimes tough love and 2.25 gets you on the subway and nothing more. I have no problem with tough love, but our gang has to shoot straight when we’re meting it out.

  6. Bruce,

    I think you nailed it. The U.S. screwed up. Eventually we’ll learn how this happened and who was responsible. I had hoped that Mitchell and his people knew what they were doing. Not clear if this is their fault, though, as there are others stirring the pot…

  7. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the US screwed up and deserves way more of the blame than does either Netanyahu or Abbas. Bruce Levine’s comment is correct, but it misses the bigger picture: even if Netanyahu had caved in completely to Obama’s demand, the move most likely would still have been a failure. Not as spectacular a failure as what we have now, but a failure nevertheless. The Arabs wouldn’t have said, “Great, you’ve conceded X, now we’ll concede Y and we’ll go on from there.” As Barry Rubin points out, that’s not how they negotiate on Israel/Palestine. This is evident not just from past experience, but also from the coldness of the Arab reaction to Obama’s first announcement even before it was clear what Israel’s response would be. This was foreseeable – in fact it was foreseen by analysts like Rubin – so Obama’s gambit was a no-win move right from the start.

    The charitable interpretation of Obama’s move is that he never expected Israel to accede to his demand. I think he figured it was no-lose for the US: if Israel (unexpectedly) accedes to the demand, then that’s obviously a win; if Israel refuses, then (Obama reasoned) the US still wins Arab goodwill by showing that it’s willing to confront Israel rather than blindly supporting Israeli policy. I say that’s the charitable interpretation, because if Obama had been consciously betting everything on Israeli compliance, then he wouldn’t just be inept, he’d be insane. So I think Americans can at least be consoled that their President is merely inept when it comes to Middle East policy, not insane.

  8. The insistence on the settlement freeze was the right thing to do.

    MORE than a settlement freeze is needed to realize peace, and a settlement freeze is merely a communication that Israel is committed to peace more than it is committed to annexation.

    The significance of a settlement freeze is that it then allows treaty, after which normalization can occur, and in the environment of normalization the mutual threats reduce and more than the very courageous can confidently exchange and interract.

    Obama is inept at dealing with fanatics.

    Its a virtue actually that he is, that his preferred focus is on accomplishment and collaboration. But, his skillset are private sector skillsets, mediation, motivation for purpose.

  9. Dan and Rich, other then bending over and grabbing his ankles what exactly do you think that Obama is going to do about Iran. Seriously, give me one thing other then cheering them on.

  10. Bill,
    So Obama is automatically required to adopt your agenda? The agenda of the people who lost the election?

    Aaron,
    This is why I advocate a dual-mediation strategy: the U.S. sharing the burden with the Europeans, who will be responsible for pressuring and persuading the Arabs as Washington will be for Israel.

  11. Bill,
    By Israel not acting for peace that would realize normalization with all Arab states and almost all Muslim states, and isolation for Iran, it seems to me that Israel nurtures the threat.

    It is attempting to use the irritation (danger) of Iran for unholy objectives.

  12. What is the agenda Tom, I’m not being sarcastic. Give me the Obama plan, seriously.

    All right Rich, lay it on me. Your saying that the blame lies with Israel. Less stridently then your buddy Phil ( Hitler should have finished the Job ) Weiss. But it’s the same principle. Ok, whats the plan that they haven’t thought of in Jerusalem, or hasn’t been tried. Lay it on me.

  13. Rich, I saw your boy Phil ( Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss explain how he used ZOG in a posting but removed it at the urging of a friend. Not himself. Boy, his mommy, who he still takes money off of must be proud.

  14. I’m saying that the choice remains with Israel, whether it will pursue a policy that most Jews in the world feel some shame about, rather than a policy that pursues reconciliation.

    I don’t know if you read Torah. This week’s Parsha is of Jacov wrestling with the angel, and reconciling with Esau. Some present Esau as uniquely foregiving.

    Another critical part of the story is the objective transformation of Jacov. From a state of wrenching guilt (requiring rationalization and selective ignorance to keep moving forward in the world), he wrestles with his own confusions and offers recompense to Esau in acknowledgement of his own guilt, internalized fears, cowardice.

    The shift was in the attitude of “who rules over who”. The message of Isaac’s blessing was that Jacob would rule over Esau, which Jacob didn’t do by happenstance, and then later by choice. That CHOICE is what gave Esau the room to foregive. If Jacob had lorded it over Esau and community, I doubt that forgiveness would have occurred.

    That theme is repeated often in Torah. Joseph and his brothers for example, another story of wronging or unearned privilege, followed by some humbling events and attitude, return.

    My interpretation of the story of Israel continuing to harm others, is of the not yet transformed Jacob. We haven’t bothered to wrestle with our angel, individually and/or collectively.

    Instead we “religiously” stay on rationalization, rather than on transformation.

  15. And how does the choice remain with Israel. What should they do, what would you do. And when the Arabs say no, what then, what’s the fall back. Enlighten me.

  16. Bill,
    Obama’s plan is to offer Iran negotiations and then Iran fails to take him up on that to secure serious economic sanctions against Iran. To do this through the UN he needs the consent or at least the assent of China and Russia, who both have vetoes on the UN Security Council. So he needs the support of as many Arab and Muslim countries as possible to convince the Chinese and Russians that they will lose support by opposing sanctions rather than gaining support. He cannot do that by pandering to Israel, especially an expansionist Likud-led Israel. So if Israel wants American help against Iran there is a price for it.

  17. The only part of that scenario that is plausible is Obama turning on Israel. The rest of it is absurd. Please explain to me why Russia is going to side with us on Iran. Obama already did his best Neville Chamberlain imitation and kissed Putins feet. ( although he does like to grovel ). And the Chinese, they do big business in Iran and they own us. Although it’s the Russians that sell them their surface to air missiles. And support from Arab countries. You got a better shot at making them use toilet paper and stop dropping money on blond hookers and child camel jockeys. What I do have to give Phil ( hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss is that he is at least out front in his anti-semitism. You, you dance around it.

  18. If you mean by “turning on Israel”, that means opposing settlement expansion to the point of functional prohibition (including in East Jerusalem), I say TURN.

    Israel’s annexations and failure to reconcile with the Arab world as offered twice formally, IS what gives Iran any wiggling room in the world.

    It is IMPRACTICAL to insist otherwise. You think that you are “defending” Israel, when in fact you are insisting that Israel accelerate towards a precipice. Maybe there is a magic turnoff under the cliff that only Israelis know about. I don’t believe it.

    The settler agenda.

  19. Re comment #10: Europeans putting pressure on the Palestinians? Sounds nice, I guess, but why would they do such a thing? In order to get substantive concessions, they’d have to apply some really serious pressure, like threatening to turn off the cash flow. Why get the whole Arab world, including Europe’s own most hot-tempered and violent citizens, angry at them for turning “pro-Israel”? That’s the realist aspect. There’s also the moral aspect: why put pressure on the “oppressed victims” rather than on the “colonialists”?

    What’s the model example of when the Europeans successfully pressured the Palestinians in the past? Offhand, I can think of only one example of real pressure: after the Dolphinarium bombing the German foreign minister reportedly demanded that Arafat stop the terrorist attacks immediately. Suddenly the terrorist attacks stopped, for a while. But that was a minor tactical concession by a strong, popular Palestinian leader. We saw what happened to Abbas when he went along with US pressure on him not to push the Goldstone Report; the guy practically got crucified. Whom, exactly, would the Europeans be pressuring? Abbas? The Fatah leadership? Hamas? The Palestinian people? If you’re suggesting a real shift in Palestinian goals and strategy, then those Europeans are gonna need to apply some awfully heavy pressure. Again, what would be in it for them?

  20. Yes Tom I am. Your quite explicit in your willingness to see a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv has opposed to irritating the Iranians. Look, you can make all the distinctions you want concerning anti-semitism vs anti-semitism all you want but the fact is we live in an age where Israel is the central enterprise of the Jewish people. There are no centers of Jewish learning and culture in Europe anymore and the vast majority of the Jews under 18 are in Israel. Yet Israel should sacrifice itself for what exactly. To appease the Moslem world. That’s what you advocate, that’s what you appear to want. And to me that’s anti-semitism. Not has explicit has Phil ( Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss. But there all the same.

  21. Bill,
    I guess this should be expected from you. You see the world as divided into three groups of people: Kahanists and Likudniks, self-hating Jews and anti-semites. Normally I’d be insulted by your phony charge, but coming from you I regard it as a compliment. Some thirty years ago I was called a self-hating Jew by Ruth Weisse or Midge Decter. You might want to go to Foreign Affairs online and read the article by an Israeli or Israeli-American professor at John Hopkins University entitled “Why Israeli Is Really Scared Of the Iranian Bomb.” It should be real educational for you. But I suppose he’s just another self-hating Jew.

  22. Ok, Tom, a test. Write something critical about the Arabs vis a vis the conflict. Or anything at all. And do it without throwing in something about Jewish treachery that caused it. No moral equivalence. I bet you can’t do it. But try anyway.

  23. Interesting piece from the New York Times regarding Muslim Pakistan…but it is very relevant to Israel’s situation. Note the Pakistani who blames all of Pakistan’s problems on the Jews and their allies. Recall that Israel and Pakistan are geographically far apart and have never fought one another. Now, think about the Palestinians and our other neighbors. They have even harder feelings towards Israel and the Jews. So how can anyone think that Bernie Avishai’s delusions of the entrepeneurial elites
    “pushing aside” the armed FATAH and HAMAS and making “peace” with Israel can possibly come to pass? Not only is the idea of “a prosperous Palestinian state living side by side with Israel” delusional, but any Palestinian state “side by side” with Israel even without normal relations MUST be in a constant state of conflict because the population will object to any friendly contact with Israel, EVEN if a “Palestinian state” exists. A Palestinian state would be a recipe for ongoing war.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/06/weekinreview/06tavernise.html?_r=1&ref=asia

    Recall Michael Slackman’s articles about Egypt in the recent past where he pointed out that Egyptians attribute all their country’s problems to “the Jews” as well.

  24. ” You got a better shot at making them use toilet paper and stop dropping money on blond hookers and child camel jockeys.”

    You use racist language like this and then have the nerve to accuse others of being prejudiced? I am an anti-semite because at a time when the U.S. is already engaged in two wars in the Middle East I don’t want to begin a third? I recently retired from the Army Reserve, I remember vividly a conversation I had back in 2005 or 2006 with another soldier who asserted that the U.S. would soon have to reinstitute the draft. I said that we could hold out until 2008 and then an antiwar candidate would be elected, which occured. So now I’m an anti-semite because I don’t want a third war rather than risk Israel giving up its nuclear monopoly–not its nuclear weapons–in the Middle East?

    In 1995 I was doing the research on sanctions that went into AIPAC’s special paper on Iran that led to the enaction of sanctions against Iran. What were you doing in 1995 to stop Iran? Agitating to eject Israel’s Arab citizens from Israel?

    Go back and look at the posts and you will find plenty of times when I’m critical of the Arabs without criticizing Israel, you just overlook these because you consider them natural. Nor when I criticize Israel do I claim that Israel and the Arabs are morally equivalent.

  25. I’ve been around this forum long enough to know people’s stances. Tom is not anti Israel nor is he anti-semitic.

    I’d say he is sympathetic towards Israel but with a huge does of objectivity thrown in.

    If you only skim a few of his posts then the indignation is understandable. If you are more familiar with his posts then you need to examine why you get so deeply angry at anyone who doesn’t agree with you 100%. That’s unrealistic, to put it politely.

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