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The 43 Minute Phone Call

March 14, 2010

As everyone who hasn’t been living under a rock or vacationing in Antarctica knows, Bibi Netanyahu spent 43 minutes on the phone with a rather displeased Secretary Clinton as she reiterated the administration’s anger, disappointment, etc. with the the Israeli government’s decision to embarrass the U.S. administration announce settlement expansion in East Jerusalem just as the U.S. succeeded in convincing the Palestinian Authority to take part in indirect negotiations with Israel.

Unfortunately, it seems that Bibi wasn’t totally listening because according to Haaretz this weekend, Bibi is acting just oh so astonished that this controversy is still ongoing even after he apologized for the timing of the settlement announcement, but not the substance of it- which is actually kinda the main point- ongoing settlement construction just as the stalled peace talks were going to resume, was monumentally stupid, inconsiderate, arrogant, you name it. Unless of course the point was to sabotage those talks…

In fact, Bibi is actually now claiming that this whole controversy is being “orchestrated” by the U.S. Apparently this guy doesn’t know thin ice when he’s walking right on top of it!

There has been much speculation about what exactly took place during the 43 minute conversation with Secretary Clinton and if Haaretz’ sources are correct, she laid out US demands for Israel to demonstrate it was truly committed to the peace process:

Clinton harshly criticized the announcement last week of plans to expand the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in East Jerusalem while U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel.

Haaretz has learned that Clinton’s list includes at least four steps the United States expects Netanyahu to carry out to restore confidence in bilateral relations and permit the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians.

1. Investigate the process that led to the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo construction plans in the middle of Biden’s visit. The Americans seek an official response from Israel on whether this was a bureaucratic mistake or a deliberate act carried out for political reasons. Already on Saturday night, Netanyahu announced the convening of a committee to look into the issue.

2. Reverse the decision by the Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee to approve construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo.

3. Make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians enabling the renewal of peace talks. The Americans suggested that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners be released, that the Israel Defense Forces withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and transfer them to Palestinian control, that the siege of the Gaza Strip be eased and further roadblocks in the West Bank be removed.

4. Issue an official declaration that the talks with the Palestinians, even indirect talks, will deal with all the conflict’s core issues – borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water and settlements.

[snip]

Four consuls discussed the conference call with Haaretz. Some noted that in previous conference calls with Oren, the ambassador took pains to make clear that relations with the United States were excellent. This time, however, Oren sounded extremely tense and pessimistic. Oren was quoted as saying that “the crisis was very serious and we are facing a very difficult period in relations [between the two countries].”

Oren told the consuls to lobby congressmen, Jewish community leaders and the media to convey Israel’s position. He said the message to be relayed was that Israel had no intention to cause offense to Vice President Biden and that the matter had stemmed from actions by junior bureaucrats in the Interior Ministry and was caused by a lack of coordination between government offices. “It should be stressed that [our] relations with the United States are very important to us,” Oren reportedly said. [emphasis mine]

It’s interesting that Israel is choosing this route of trying to repair relations- rather than dealing with the underlying cause of the dispute, they are continuing to insist it was merely a diplomatic mix-up regarding a poorly-timed announcement. While it was certainly a slap in the face to Biden to make the announcement during his trip, the fact is, it seems that the US is trying to make the point that ANY announcement about settlement expansion in E. Jerusalem while the U.S. is trying to jump-start negotiations, would be equally unacceptable even if Biden had not been there. Sure, it was much worse that they did it while he was there, but that’s only part of the issue.

I also find it interesting that the Israeli government is apparently choosing to undermine work around the administration by going to the US media and certain members of Congress to plead their case. In other words, Netanyahu seems to be hoping to get members of Congress to take his side in this diplomatic scuffle, as opposed to them [Congress] standing by the President of their country. Quite frankly, under the circumstances, that sounds equally inappropriate to me and rather ballsy. While obviously Bibi has staunch supporters in Congress, now might not be the best time to play the triangulation card.

Maybe what Netanyahu should do instead, is take Secretary Clinton’s advice and work towards moving forward with final status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and rather than doing his usual triangulation game of Bibi vs. the POTUS vs. the Congress to try to divide and conquer, he should talk directly with Pres. Obama, Secy Clinton, Joe Biden, etc. in an open, honest way- you know, the way friends do so that there is no more damage done? The U.S. is and should continue to be a great friend of Israel but friendship goes both ways and it’s time for Israel to demonstrate that it can be friend of the U.S. and not just the other way around.

Israel and the U.S. have always been extremely close and despite this current major snafu we will continue to be close allies but the games have to stop. All sides have to come to terms with the fact that there will have to be concessions all around but that ultimately it will pay off in the long run because Israel, the US and the Palestinians will face a more peaceful, secure future.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, the reaction from AIPAC has been released and it is tediously predictable. Who does AIPAC come out and condemn- the nation [Israel]which purposefully embarrassed their country or the country which was treated with such disrespect [USA]? Naturally, they circle their wagons to protect Bibi:

A major pro-Israel US lobby group has warned that recent US administration remarks about bilateral ties with Israel were “of serious concern,” and urged the White House to ease tensions.

Remarks by President Barack Obama’s administration “regarding the US relationship with Israel are a matter of serious concern,” said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in a statement issued Sunday.

“AIPAC calls on the administration to take immediate steps to defuse the tension with the Jewish State,” it added.

[snip]

“The administration should make a conscious effort to move away from public demands and unilateral deadlines directed at Israel, with whom the United States shares basic, fundamental, and strategic interests,” AIPAC added.

Do you like how they blame the U.S. and refuse to hold Israel accountable for anything? This is their pattern and as I said, it’s become tediously predictable.

Keep in mind that SOS Clinton is the speaker at the upcoming AIPAC conference early next week. That should be interesting.

And what does the Jewish Anti-Defamation League have to say? It’s all Obama’s fault- the administration is “over-reacting”:

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, a liberal Jewish group with strong ties to the Democratic Party, said the American administration was guilty of ‘a gross overreaction.’

‘The administration should have confidence and trust in Israel whose tireless pursuit for peace is repeatedly rebuffed by the Palestinians and whose interests remain in line with the United States,’ said Foxman.

The Anti-Defamation League does a lot of really good work but I totally disagree with them on this. The notion that the only way one can support Israel is by refusing to EVER criticize ANYTHING their government does, is misplaced. That’s not loyalty, it’s a dangerous form of nationalism which breeds corruption and abuse on the part of government officials. It’s the type of rhetoric we heard during the Bush years- anyone who questioned the Iraq War or Bush’s terrorism policies was considered per se un-American. And that’s total BS. No government is perfect- not ours, not Israel, etc. We the people have to hold governments to account.

UPDATE II: Netanyahu makes it clear he will keep building settlements irrespective of what the US says. He clearly has been emboldened by seeing his strategy of getting high profile people to defend him (ie. undermine the US administration) all across the US media yesterday and today (and probably tomorrow and the next day and the next…), work like a charm. This is why nothing ever changes with respect to Mideast peace- because quite a few people in the US don’t want the status quo to change. So frustrating!

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. HillaryFan permalink
    March 15, 2010 5:30 am

    That’s interesting. I hadn’t seen a recap of the phone call in any coverage I’ve seen so thanks for posting this.

    I think Netanyahu is overplaying his hand. His constant need to play the victim and make everything everyone else’s fault is tiresome and reflects poorly on his government. I have followed some of the links in your post to Haaretz, which I’ll admit I have never really read and I can see why you like it as a source for Middle East info- it really does put the American media to shame in terms of substantive coverage and debate. Also, I was surprised at just how many Israelis are really, really ticked off at Netanyahu over how he treated the Vice President. That could actually be the straw that broke the camels back in all of this.

    • March 15, 2010 5:51 am

      HF- yes, and what’s interesting is that in Israel there is much more tolerance for questioning the government than there is here in the US. Many Israelis from both the right and the left of the political spectrum have criticized Bibi but here in the U.S. so-called “pro-Israel” groups constantly lash out at any administration which dares to question Israel’s policies. And I find the fact that Bibi uses groups like AIPAC to undermine the administration to be really offensive. No other foreign country would get away with using some of the tactics Israel uses to try to sway public opinion against the POTUS.

  2. Steve permalink
    March 15, 2010 5:58 am

    As I’ve said over and over again, the actions AIPAC takes just reinforces the belief on the part of some that “Jews control the government, the media etc.” As a Jewish person, I find AIPAC to be repugnant and I consider them to be lobbyists of a foreign county- they clearly have decided to place the interests of Israel above all else. I hate the way AIPAC throws its weight around and I can’t stand how members of Congress grovel before them. There are so many very serious controversies surrounding members of AIPAC buying influence, violating US national security by stealing state secrets for Israel etc. that they should be persona non grata in Washington but for some reason, it’s just the opposite. Just wait until the AIPAC conference next week- it will be a disgusting grovel-fest and liberals like Anthony Weiner, Chuck Schumer, Howie Berman etc. will be lining up to condemn the administration’s “over-reaction” and making it clear that the administration better stand down and refuse to hold Bibi accountable for sabotaging the peace process.

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      March 15, 2010 8:13 am

      Hillary is addressing them, isn’t she? Somehow doubt she’ll be doing much groveling.

      • March 15, 2010 8:57 am

        Yes, I believe she’s giving her speech on the last day of their conference. Bibi will of course be there and I’d give my right arm to go. Sadly, my invite seems to have been lost in the mail ;).

        Hillary won’t grovel but what she will likely have to do is a delicate balancing act where on the one hand she has to try to repair some of the damage (regardless of who inflicted it) while also not backing down on the administration’s underlying message- that BOTH the Palestinians and Israelis have to show good faith efforts towards progress and negotiations if they actually really *do* want long term security.

        I’m sure she will reassert the very strong bond between Israel and the US- as she should- the US and Israel have nothing positive to gain from these increased tensions in the relationship. But she also is probably acutely aware that the Arab League and the PA will also be listening to her remarks, albeit from afar and if she’s perceived as backtracking on the initial statements Biden and she made then that could be equally problematic. I don’t think she is going to take any one to task given she’s already made herself pretty clear on the issue- she’ll probably focus on moving forward and I expect there will be a lot of tough talk on Iran talk, since that seems to make AIPAC happy and it’s an area where the US and Israel are pretty much in agreement (except perhaps with respect to unilateral military action on the part of Israel).

        Ultimately, friendship goes both ways and lately it seems like Israel thinks that it is only the US that must constantly prove it’s loyalty and friendship to Israel and never the other way around. I’m hoping she finds a subtle and diplomatic way of pointing that out.

        I’m sure she will pull it off brilliantly and I don’t expect any fireworks.

  3. Steve permalink
    March 15, 2010 2:08 pm

    Thanks for the updates Stacy- I’d like to say I am surprised that Bibi is sticking it to the administration again but really, I’m not. He did this sort of thing all through the Clinton admin. Not that Yasser Arafat was was wonderful to deal with.

    And you are right- you noted that Amb. Oren was given his orders to rally members of the Congress and do a full defense of Israel all over the media and sure enough, AIPAC, ADL, John Bolton, Spencer Abraham, blah, blah blah are all out in force in the editorial pages, on the blogs etc. today condemning the US for DARING to speak to what is an entirely legitimate criticism. Again, I think it just reinforces the very negative view that Jewish Americans are more loyal to Israel than to their own country. And most of us aren’t. That said, a lot of so-called liberal Jewish advocacy groups become very hawkish whenever the word “Israel” is uttered out loud.

    The only group that has stood behind the administration is J Street.

    • March 15, 2010 5:11 pm

      Jillforhil- I saw something similar to that over on foreignpolicy.com and it really is a huge story- albeit totally ignored by the MSM. It helps explain why Biden’s (and by extension, the administration’s) reaction was so swift and critical- the military had just been briefed about how this continues to be an escalating security risk for our troops in the region.

      For what it’s worth and particularly in light of Netanyahu’s statement today saying he’s going to continue settlement construction irrespective of what the US thinks, if I were Obama I’d send Admiral Mullen, Sen. Mitchell (who apparently is on his way to the Mideast) and Hillary Clinton to the Hill to have behind-the-scenes meetings with key members of Congress to try to encourage them to support the admins position. I think it’s the only way to get control of the situation at this point. If Obama backs down AGAIN then the peace process is done, at least for the foreseeable future because the US just appears to weak to be in charge of mediating this- there is no way the PA will be able to sign on to negotiations without enraging Palestinians and others in the Arab world.

  4. March 15, 2010 4:31 pm

    New York Times

    Israel Offers Regrets but No Shift
    JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told his cabinet on Sunday that the ill-timed announcement of new housing plans for a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. last week had been “regrettable” and “hurtful.”

    Article

    This drives me nuts. It is not about the announcement! It is about the building. They play games about timing, like the 10-month freeze that wasn’t really a freeze. If the bricks go up, it does not matter when. So now this! It’s unfortunate that the announcement was made while the VP was there? No! It is unfortunate that they continue laying the bricks. Changing the timing of the announcement does not change the fact that they continue building.

  5. ajay permalink
    March 16, 2010 2:39 pm

    AIPAC Lashes Out at Obama for Supporting US Interests in Middle East

    http://wp.me/pIP1s-3s

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