Israel, the U.S. and the Arab World
May 7, 2009
Arctic winds are blowing into Jerusalem from Washington these days. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's May 18 visit to Washington fast approaches, the Obama administration is ratcheting up its anti-Israel rhetoric and working feverishly to force Israel into a corner.
Using the annual AIPAC conference as a backdrop, this week the Obama administration launched its harshest onslaught against Israel to date. It began with media reports that National Security Adviser James Jones told a European foreign minister that the US is planning to build an anti-Israel coalition with the Arabs and Europe to compel Israel to surrender Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians.
According to Haaretz, Jones was quoted in a classified foreign ministry cable as having told his European interlocutor, "The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question. We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush."
He then explained that the US, the EU and the moderate Arab states must determine together what "a satisfactory endgame solution," will be.
As far as Jones is concerned, Israel should be left out of those discussions and simply presented with a fait accompli that it will be compelled to accept.
Events this week showed that Jones's statement was an accurate depiction of the administration's policy. First, quartet mediator Tony Blair announced that within six weeks the US, EU, UN and Russia will unveil a new framework for establishing a Palestinian state. Speaking with Palestinian reporters on Wednesday, Blair said that this new framework will be a serious initiative because it "is being worked on at the highest level in the American administration."
Moreover, this week we learned that the administration is trying to get the Arabs themselves to write the Quartet's new plan. The London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi pan-Arab newspaper reported Tuesday that acting on behalf of Obama, Jordanian King Abdullah urged the Arab League to update the so-called Arab peace plan from 2002. That plan, which calls for Israel to withdraw from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights and accept millions of foreign Arabs as citizens as part of the so-called "right of return" in exchange for "natural" relations with the Arab world, has been rejected by successive Israeli governments as a diplomatic subterfuge whose goal is Israel's destruction.
By accepting millions of so-called "Palestinian refugees," Israel would effectively cease to be a Jewish state. By shrinking into the 1949 armistice lines, Israel would be unable to defend itself against foreign invasion. And since "natural relations" is a meaningless term both in international legal discourse and in diplomatic discourse, Israel would have committed national suicide for nothing.
To make the plan less objectionable to Israel, Abdullah reportedly called on his Arab brethren to strike references to the so-called "Arab refugees" from the plan and to agree to "normal" rather than "natural" relations with the Jewish state. According to the report, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was expected to present Obama with the changes to the plan during their meeting in Washington later this month. The revised plan was supposed to form the basis for the new Quartet plan that Blair referred to.
But the Arabs would have none of it. On Wednesday, both Arab League General Secretary Amr Moussa and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas announced that they oppose the initiative. On Thursday, Syria rejected making any changes in the document.
The administration couldn't care less. The Palestinians and Arabs are no more than bit players in its Middle East policy. As far as the Obama administration is concerned, Israel is the only obstacle to peace.
To make certain that Israel understands this central point, Vice President Joseph Biden used his appearance at the AIPAC conference to drive it home. As Biden made clear, the US doesn't respect or support Israel's right as a sovereign state to determine its own policies for securing its national interests. In Biden's words, "Israel has to work toward a two-state solution. You're not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement."
FOR ISRAEL, the main event of the week was supposed to be President Shimon Peres's meeting with Obama on Tuesday. Peres was tasked with calming the waters ahead of Netanyahu's visit. It was hoped that he could introduce a more collegial tone to US-Israel relations.
What Israel didn't count on was the humiliating reception Peres received from Obama. By barring all media from covering the event, Obama transformed what was supposed to be a friendly visit with a respected and friendly head of state into a back-door encounter with an unwanted guest, who was shooed in and shooed out of the White House without a sound.
The Obama White House's bald attempt to force Israel to take full blame for the Arab world's hostility toward it is not the only way that it is casting Israel as the scapegoat for the region's ills. In their bid to open direct diplomatic ties with Iran, Obama and his advisers are also blaming Israel for Iran's nuclear program. They are doing this both indirectly and directly.
As Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel made clear in his closed-door briefing to senior AIPAC officials this week, the administration is holding Israel indirectly responsible for Iran's nuclear program. It does this by claiming that Israel's refusal to cede its land to the Palestinians is making it impossible for the Arab world to support preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Somewhat inconveniently for the administration, the Arabs themselves are rejecting this premise. This week US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the Persian Gulf and Egypt to soothe Arab fears that the administration's desperate attempts to appease the mullahs will harm their security interests. He also sought to gain their support for the administration's plan to unveil a new peace plan aimed at isolating and pressuring Israel.
After meeting with Gates, Amr Moussa - who has distinguished himself as one of Israel's most trenchant critics - said categorically, "The question of Iran should be separate from the Arab-Israel conflict."
Just as the administration is unmoved by objective facts that expose as folly its single-minded devotion to the notion that Israel is responsible for the absence of peace in the Middle East, so the Arab rejection of its view that Israel is to blame for Iran's nuclear program has simply driven it to escalate its attacks on Israel. This week it opened a new campaign of blaming Israel directly - through its purported nuclear arsenal - for Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Speaking at a UN forum, US Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller said, "Universal adherence to the [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] NPT itself, including by India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea... remains a fundamental objective of the United States."
As Eli Lake from The Washington Times demonstrated convincingly, by speaking as she did, Gottemoeller effectively abrogated a 40-year-old US-Israeli understanding that the US would remain silent about Israel's nuclear program because it understood that it was defensive, not offensive in nature. In so doing, Gottemoeller legitimized Iran's claim that it cannot be expected to suspend its quest to acquire nuclear weapons as long as Israel possesses them. She also erased any distinction between nuclear weapons in the hands of US allies and democratic states and nuclear weapons in the hands of US enemies and terror states.
The Israeli media are largely framing the story of the US's growing and already unprecedented antagonism toward Israel as a diplomatic challenge for Netanyahu. To meet this challenge, it is argued that Netanyahu must come to Washington in 10 days' time with an attractive peace plan that will win over the White House. But this is a false interpretation of what is happening.
Even Ethan Bronner of the The New York Times pointed out this week that Obama's Middle East policy is not based on facts. If it were, the so-called "two state solution," which has failed repeatedly since 1993, would not be its centerpiece. Obama's Middle East policy is based on ideology, not reality. Consequently, it is immune to rational argument.
The fact that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, all chance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and Israel and the Arab world will disappear, is of no interest to Obama and his advisers. They do not care that the day after Hamas terror-master Khaled Mashaal told The New York Times that Hamas was suspending its attacks against Israel from Gaza, the Iranian-controlled terror regime took credit for several volleys of rockets shot against Israeli civilian targets from Gaza. The administration stills intends to give Gaza $900 million in US taxpayer funds, and it still demands that Israel give its land to a joint Fatah-Hamas government.
REGARDLESS OF the weight of Netanyahu's arguments, and irrespective of the reasonableness of whatever diplomatic initiative he presents to Obama, he can expect no sympathy or support from the White House.
As a consequence, the operational significance of the administration's anti-Israel positions is that Israel will not be well served by adopting a more accommodating posture toward the Palestinians and Iran. Indeed, perversely, what the Obama administration's treatment of Israel should be making clear to the Netanyahu government is that Israel should no longer take Washington's views into account as it makes its decisions about how to advance Israel's national security interests. This is particularly true with regard to Iran's nuclear weapons program.
Rationally speaking, the only way the Obama administration could reasonably expect to deter Israel from attacking Iran's nuclear installations would be if it could make the cost for Israel of attacking higher than the cost for Israel of not attacking. But what the behavior of the Obama administration is demonstrating is that there is no significant difference in the costs of the two options.
By blaming Israel for the absence of peace in the Middle East while ignoring the Palestinians' refusal to accept Israel's right to exist; by seeking to build an international coalition with Europe and the Arabs against Israel while glossing over the fact that at least the Arabs share Israel's concerns about Iran; by exposing Israel's nuclear arsenal and pressuring Israel to disarm while in the meantime courting the ayatollahs like an overeager bridegroom, the Obama administration is telling Israel that regardless of what it does, and what objective reality is, as far as the White House is concerned, Israel is to blame.
This, of course, doesn't mean that Netanyahu shouldn't make his case to Obama when they meet and to the American people during his US visit. What it does mean is that Netanyahu should have no expectation that Israeli goodwill can divert Obama from the course he has chosen. And again, this tells us two things: Israel's relations with the US during Obama's tenure in office will be unpleasant and difficult, and the damage that Israel will cause to that relationship by preventing Iran from acquiring the means to destroy it will be negligible.