Sunday, February 20, 2011

From Israel: What the Hell Is Going On?

Arlene Kushner
Arlene from Israel
20 February '11

On Friday the US vetoed the resolution that had been advanced in the UN Security Council by Lebanon, on behalf of Palestinian Authority, that would have condemned the Israeli "settlements" as illegal; the other 14 members of the SC voted for this -- which, according to Abbas made his venture a success.

OK. Good. Better that it was vetoed. Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed appreciation to President Obama. Certain members of Congress, who had called on the president to cast that vote, did the same.

But from me Obama gets no thanks. He wasn't doing this to support us. The US government has made it clear that it is opposed in principle to the "settlements." It's just that it is still committed to getting parties to return to the negotiating table.

As US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, put it, "This draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides. It could encourage the parties to stay out of negotiations, and, if and when they did resume, to return to the Security Council whenever they reach an impasse."


Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the very best friend we have in Congress, put it most aptly:

"The administration's display of angst and its hesitation to use its veto is a major victory for those extremists elements who relish in demonizing Israel. And for the administration to go as far as calling the choice to veto regrettable is simply shameful."

Oh, right on, Ileana!


What I want to examine is that American "angst" and the fallout that has ensued.

Obama had begun by making an alternative offer to the Palestinian Arabs. He had his reasons for not wanting to declare the "settlements" illegal in the Security Council, but his alternative proposal contained a good number of items that would have been troublesome: A statement by the Quartet, a statement by the President of the Security Council, an official visit to Judea and Samaria by the Security Council.


Definitely not a position that was friendly to us. And with regard to Obama's relation to Israel, this is what must be kept in mind:

In a time of severe unrest in the area, with Obama professing support for the people in the street who are ostensibly seeking democracy, Israel, the only genuine and stable democracy in the Middle East, is being undercut by America.


When the alternative offer was rejected by the PA, with the backing of the PLO, Obama placed a phone call to Abbas, which, I have read, lasted the better part of an hour. Reportedly, he told Abbas that he had done more for the PA than any other American president. Sounds about right.

But what we're seeing is that even this didn't carry the day with Abbas. So little is Obama's influence.


The PA news agency Sama has additionally carried a report from a senior member of Fatah saying that Secretary of State Clinton threatened to cancel aid to the PA if Abbas didn't withdraw the resolution.

Didn't make a dent with Abbas, either. He simply said he had to act for the good of his people.


What we are seeing, my friends, is a US that has lost all clout, an America that is going, going down.

It's a painful, pathetic sight, with manifold implications and repercussions -- none positive.

But it is hardly unexpected. Being "nice" does not work with the Arabs. Remember how Obama called Abbas first after becoming president?

All of it is for naught, if you're not tough. The more you give, the more they expect, and ultimately, the more disappointed they are.


Israeli MK Ibrahim Sarsour, a member of the United Arab List, wrote a letter to Abbas yesterday. It gives us an idea of what the Arabs are thinking:

"After the exposure of lies from the US, we must say frankly to Obama,'You no longer scare us and you can go to hell.' Obama cannot be trusted...The time has come to spit in the face of Americans....

"[The veto] proves for the thousandth time that Obama is worse than his predecessor Bush in his loyalty to Israel, his bias...and in ignoring the ongoing crimes against the Palestinian people, land and holy places."

Incredible! Bush never demanded that settlements be frozen, and Bush, whatever his failings, was certainly more supportive of Israel and tougher with the PA than Obama. There's the lesson.


Nor is this the end of it:

The PA has threatened to reconsider its position on negotiations. Abbas is saying he may bring a similar resolution to the General Assembly.

While yesterday Palestinian Arabs were calling for a "Day of Rage," to take place next Friday, to express anger at the US for the veto. This was proposed by Tawfik Tirawi, a member of the Fatah Central Committee.

A PA "Day of Rage" against the US. Imagine...


And then, in news just out, we have this further wrinkle: PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad has approached Hamas with a unity deal. Don't know that it's much of a deal, actually. What he proposes is that the PA continue to rule in Judea and Samaria, with Hamas -- pledged to maintaining a cease fire with Israel -- continuing to rule in Gaza. The two parties would then work out a way to place both areas under one governing body.

But the devil really is in the details. Hamas demands for control have been such that there has been no understanding with the PA forthcoming despite multiple efforts towards unity. Until this were to be worked out, there would be no "unity," no matter what the parties might choose to call it.


So far, there has been no comment from Hamas. And it is far too soon to speculate on the obviously negative impact some unity deal would have on "the peace process."

The PA is constantly doing a dance between the two poles of the US and Hamas. On this occasion, as I see it, Fayyad is thumbing his nose at the US, by demonstrating intention to waltz towards Hamas. Likely more gesture than reality. But we'll see...


We'll never hear about it, but could it be that Obama is so furious at the conduct of the PA that he has smoke coming out of his ears? Or is he thinking about how he can offer more concessions to appease them and bring them around?

Does it dawn on him at all that a party as intransigent as the PA is not going to sit at a negotiating table and make the compromises requisite for peace? Is he planning to keep on pushing for the impossible? Or has he silently thrown up his hands in resignation?


The only thing that makes sense at all is a tough stance with the PA now -- which, in any event, is what we are least likely to see from Obama.


Closer to home, what matters most is that Israel should stand tough:

No making concessions to Obama, to show "gratitude" for his veto.
No backing off on our rights to live and build in Judea and Samaria in order to "help" jumpstart negotiations.

I understand that Netanyahu felt it necessary to thank Obama. And I even understand that he has resorted to his role-playing: his efforts to show the world how eager Israel is to make peace, while the PA remains a stumbling block.

But did he have to say this: "We seek a solution that will reconcile the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations for statehood with Israel's need for security..."

Ouch! There is nothing legitimate about Palestinian Arab aspirations.


But there is another approach that brings with it the comforting prospect that Israel will stand strong:

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is considering a bill that would apply Israeli civil law to all communities in Judea and Samaria, where military law now applies. (This is not annexation.)

It should have been done many years ago, for as matters stand, Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria have all the obligations and responsibilities of citizenship without the full benefit of the civic system. This would make clear that all people who are Israeli citizens are to be treated the same, and would send a powerful message.

Most significantly, the authority to approve, or fail to approve, construction would no longer fall to Defense Minister Ehud Barak -- this would be within the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Housing and Construction and would pretty much preclude a freeze on building.

The bill is being sponsored by National Union; the 27 MKs who support it come, as well, from Likud and Yisrael Beitenu.


I'm not terribly optimistic that this will pass. As I understand it, the sponsors of the bill are realistic about its slim chances of succeeding.

But it is an important beginning: putting issues on the table and demonstrating a position of strength.


Tomorrow is another day...


© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.

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