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Shock and Awe: My Reaction to Events in Jerusalem *updated*

November 1, 2009

58790577I am both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian and I believe that in order to achieve a renewal of the Mideast peace process the US administration is going to have to make some changes in their approach, even if that means upsetting the status quo in Israel, the Occupied Territories and yes, even here at home. I wrote about this yesterday prior to the Secretary of State’s comments in Jerusalem.

As I look around the internet for reaction, I was a bit surprised to see not only more left-leaning blogs and opinion-writers criticize the administration’s change in stance, but also a quite a few moderate and conservative sites as well. And of course, not surprisingly there are many right wing blogs and media outlets applauding the administration seemingly putting the Palestinian Authority in an extremely difficult position.

This is just an excerpt from Secretary Clinton’s press conference with Benjamin Netanyahu- I can’t find a video of the whole thing yet:

Here is another video about the press conference:

Suffice it to say, I was shocked by Secretary Clinton’s statements- at how effusive she was towards Israel which was in marked contrast to the news coming out of Abu Dhabi when she met with the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas. I can’t help but think the Obama administration’s backtracking in order to squelch any dissent coming from Israel and from their more hawkish supporters here in the US, is playing right into Hamas’ hands. It’s not easy for me to come out and write something this critical of something that Secretary Clinton is involved in- I really believed that Secretary Clinton would be more even-handed in her approach to Mideast peace.

I understand that Secretary Clinton has to be the messenger of President Obama’s message on this issue but everything about her words, her tone and even her body language in both Abu Dhabi and Jerusalem, seemed to send the message that the Palestinians are pretty much on their own. She was so positive and effusive about Israel’s last minute “concession” to perhaps at some point stop building some settlements after they build the 3,000 new homes in the West Bank. But what I don’t understand is why she didn’t provide Abbas with some public gravitas or public encouragement, particularly considering he actually did make some concessions over the past few months? Apparently the US has also given their blessing for the construction of upwards of 3,000 apartments in the West Bank- hardly a concession. Abbas is literally fighting for his political life but despite that it seems that the Obama administration has hung him out to dry.

Further, the Obama administration’s claim that only Israel is making “unprecedented” concessions to move the peace process forward is not, in my view, an accurate reflection of what Abbas has been willing to do for the past several months. Perhaps most damaging to his own political standing with his people, was his willingness to defer consideration of the Goldstone Report at the UN at the urging of the US (and of course, Israel). In Gaza, the Goldstone Report matters a great deal and after Abbas agreed to table it for now, he paid a huge political price and some are saying that as a result, Hamas has been strengthened. In fact, there is a possibility that recent events may have a detrimental effect on the upcoming elections there. All of this is incredibly ironic given both Israel and the US understandably refuse to negotiate with Hamas. The logical question then is, why have the US and Israel repeatedly engaged in diplomatic maneuvers that would ultimately and foreseeably weaken the PA while simultaneously strengthening the position of Hamas? I don’t really have a good answer to that question.


Unfortunately I can’t help but think that much of the renewed hope which we witnessed in the Muslim world after President Obama’s historic speech in Cairo, has been undermined by this administration’s refusal to stick to their original stated demand of a halt to all settlement construction. Some of our allies in the region – Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia for example, seem like they are beyond frustrated with this latest turn of events. The administration had to know that when they first announced they wanted a full settlement freeze it would be controversial and not sit well with Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, so I am not sure why as soon as Israel pushed back, the administration blinked. And of course, the Palestinians should be required to make concessions also but Abbas’ political standing is so weak right now I don’t know how he can make concessions. In fact, it seems like we are back to square one- Abbas is refusing now to sit down with Netanyahu because of the settlement issue and honestly, he’s been painted into a political corner on this one.

I am not sure where the US goes from here but I do know that it is not in the interest of Israel or the US to have this crisis continue as it has for each of the previous administrations. Continuing with the beltway status quo approach has not worked up this point so I am not sure why the administration would suddenly embrace it now. I guess the question is, who is going to have the courage to take some risks and confront the status quo in order to make real progress towards peace?


I came across this editorial in the NYT by Henry Siegman- here is an excerpt:

…According to media reports, the president’s advisers are searching for ways of reassuring Israel’s public of President Obama’s friendship and unqualified commitment to Israel’s security.

That friendship and commitment are real, President Obama’s poll numbers in Israel notwithstanding. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to reinforce that message during her visit to Israel. The presidential envoy George Mitchell has reportedly been asked to make similar efforts during his far more frequent visits to Jerusalem.

The White House is about to set a new record in the number of reassuring messages and video greetings sent by an American president to Israel, as well as to Jewish organizations in the United States, on this subject. Plans for a presidential visit to Jerusalem are under discussion.

Presidential aides worry that the hostility toward President Obama among Israelis can be damaging to his peace efforts. This is undoubtedly true.

But a White House campaign to ingratiate the president with Israel’s public could be far more damaging, because the reason for this unprecedented Israeli hostility toward an American president is a fear that President Obama is serious about ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.


Israelis do not oppose President Obama’s peace efforts because they dislike him; they dislike him because of his peace efforts. He will regain their affection only when he abandons these efforts.

That is how Israel’s government and people respond to any outside pressure for a peace agreement that demands Israel’s conformity to international law and to U.N. resolutions that call for a return to the 1967 pre-conflict borders and reject unilateral changes in that border.

Like Israel’s government, Israel’s public never tires of proclaiming to pollsters its aspiration for peace and its support of a two-state solution. What the polls do not report is that this support depends on Israel defining the terms of that peace, its territorial dimensions, and the constraints to be placed on the sovereignty of a Palestinian state.

An American president who addresses the Arab world and promises a fair and evenhanded approach to peacemaking is immediately seen by Israelis as anti-Israel. The head of one of America’s leading Jewish organizations objected to the appointment of Senator Mitchell as President Obama’s peace envoy because, he said, his objectivity and evenhandedness disqualified him for this assignment.

The Israeli reaction to serious peacemaking efforts is nothing less than pathological — the consequence of an inability to adjust to the Jewish people’s reentry into history with a state of their own following 2,000 years of powerlessness and victimhood.

Former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, whose assassination by a Jewish right-wing extremist is being remembered this week in Israel, told Israelis at his inauguration in 1992 that their country is militarily powerful, and neither friendless nor at risk. They should therefore stop thinking and acting like victims.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s message that the whole world is against Israel and that Israelis are at risk of another Holocaust — a fear he invoked repeatedly during his address in September at the United Nations General Assembly in order to discredit Judge Richard Goldstone’s Gaza fact-finding report — is unfortunately still a more comforting message for too many Israelis.

This pathology has been aided and abetted by American Jewish organizations whose agendas conform to the political and ideological views of Israel’s right wing. These organizations do not reflect the views of most American Jews who voted overwhelmingly — nearly 80 percent — for Mr. Obama in the presidential elections.

An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has eluded all previous U.S. administrations not because they were unable to devise a proper formula for its achievement; everyone has known for some time now the essential features of that formula, which were proposed by President Clinton in early 2000.

Rather, the conflict continues because U.S. presidents — and to a far greater extent, members of the U.S. Congress, who depend every two years on electoral contributions — have accommodated a pathology that can only be cured by its defiance.

Only a U.S. president with the political courage to risk Israeli displeasure — and criticism from that part of the pro-Israel lobby in America which reflexively supports the policies of the Israeli government of the day, no matter how deeply they offend reason or morality — can cure this pathology.

And this from the BBC:

When he travelled to Cairo at the beginning of June this year being president must have seemed much easier than it does now.

He gave a speech there, in a grand lecture theatre at the university, that was intended as a key foundation stone for his presidency.

It was supposed to begin to repair the damage done to America’s standing in the Muslim world, and especially in the Arab Middle East by his predecessor.

Most importantly of all, it was to accelerate the president’s push for Middle East peace.

The speech in Cairo raised hopes that he was going to go use his presidency to change matters for the better in their part of the world.

My notes record more than 35 interruptions for applause, that went from mild to shrieks and cheers. At one point someone in the hall shouted out: “We love you!”.

The Cairo speech made a Palestinian friend of mine nervous.

“Arab expectations are way up now,” he said. “And when they come down again, it is going to be with a very big crash.”

The crash that he predicted is happening.

Only a relatively short part of the speech was about the Israelis and the Palestinians.

He tried to pick out the fundamental issues in America’s relationship with the Muslim world.

Mr Obama is great with words, but audiences tend to remember best the bits they like.

When Mr Obama spoke about America’s “unbreakable” bond with Israel, and when he called denial of the holocaust “baseless, ignorant and hateful” the audience in Cairo was silent.

But they applauded loudly when he turned to the occupied Palestinian territories, and said that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements”.

The Cairo speech was precisely phrased, intended to rebalance rather than revolutionise US Middle East policy. But the US president’s Arab audience took away an impression that he would be tougher on Israel than his predecessor had been.

And at the time his new administration gave every impression that changing Israeli behaviour in the occupied territories, starting with freezing settlement building, was its intention.

In return, he was hoping for some minor diplomatic concessions from Arab countries.

The foreign minister of one of America’s closest Arab allies told me that a settlement freeze was necessary to defuse Arab anger after the Gaza war and to deliver them into a new peace process.
Palestianians watch Mr Obama’s Cairo speech from a barber shop in the old city of Arab east Jerusalem (file image)
During the Cairo speech, Mr Obama made it clear settlements should stop

But Barack Obama’s problem is that he has not been able to deliver the Israelis. They refused to stop building in Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

A couple of days before the Cairo speech, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defined what Mr Obama meant by a “freeze”.

“He wants to see a stop to settlements – not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions,” she said after a meeting with her Egyptian counterpart. She said she had communicated the message “very clearly”.

Mrs Clinton is in the Middle East again this weekend, still trying to get Palestinians and Israelis back around the negotiation table.

The US has adapted its policy to the fact to Israel’s refusal.

But Washington’s failure to deliver the Israelis has caused serious political damage to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

He has done what he has been asked to do by the Americans. His security forces get excellent reports from their American and European advisors and instructors.

Reluctantly, Mr Abbas agreed to a photo opportunity in New York shaking hands with the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu under the gaze of President Obama.

The photo says a great deal: Mr Netanyahu, having scored a victory by resisting the pressure for a settlement freeze, has a wry smile, Messrs Obama and Abbas look tense.

Then Mr Abbas agreed to an American request to delay debate of the Goldstone report into possible Israeli and Palestinian war crimes in Gaza. In the resulting Palestinian political storm, he changed his mind. But the damage was done.

Spencer Ackerman who always gives Secretary Clinton tremendous credit for what she is trying to accomplish at the State Department, seems equally perplexed by what took place in Jerusalem:

…But does the Obama administration get how precarious a moment this is for the Palestinian leadership? Gaza remains a humanitarian disaster, with 1.5 million people living under a blockade that contributes to a lack of economic activity so severe that they’re turning to drug abuse to cope. President Abbas bowed to Obama’s pressure to slow-walk the Goldstone report; he got an onslaught of popular anger so furious he probably won’t run in next year’s election for fear of humiliation. Here’s what that Goldstone deferral, pushed by Obama, means for the election, according to a recent poll:

“When asked whom would they elect as President of the PNA if elections take place in 2010, the poll showed that there would be serious competition as a ratio of 16.8% said they would vote again for President Abbas and a similar ratio said they would vote for Marwan al-Barghouthi while a ratio of 16% said they would vote for Ismaeel Hanieh.”

Ismaeel Hanieh is a Hamas politician. Marwan Barghouti is in jail. If Netanyahu won’t go along with a settlement freeze, does anyone seriously believe he’s going to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority controlled or even influenced by Hamas? And does anyone believe that Obama will force him to, if he won’t enforce the settlement freeze?

Some very smart and very moderate Palestinians — people who want peace, two states and nonviolence — recently explained to me that they get their legs cut out under them if they negotiate while Israel expands the settlements. Abbas said he wouldn’t do it. Now he’s expected to, thanks to Obama, from a position of greater popular weakness? What’s the U.S. giving to Abbas? Netanyahu knows what he’s doing. He’s pressuring an Obama administration that, as Gideon Levy writes in Ha’aretz, coddles Israeli intransigence in the naive hope of getting to negotiations, to create the conditions where negotiations are a non-starter; to say nothing of the nightmare that will befall the Palestinian people caught in between the occupation and the looming fanatical horror of Hamas government in the West Bank.

Netanyahu knows what he’s doing. Does Obama?


7 Comments leave one →
  1. still4hill permalink
    November 1, 2009 4:44 pm

    Our girl Hillary painted not only Abbas, but also herself into a corner, and I am at a loss as to why. As the reviews of yesterday in Jerusalem come pouring in, one after another is negative towards her, and I, for once, have no defense to lodge which is very painful since I love her and actually maintain a blog dedicated to her defense. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, Hillary, what are you thinking? You had to know that you were laying this squarely on your own pretty little shoulders. And I have nothing – no argument – not a weapon in my arsenal – against charges like this: Palestinians accuse Clinton of setting back peace process by praising Israel on settlements.

  2. November 1, 2009 8:41 pm

    Three of our allies, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have responded angrily to the announcement in Jerusalem. One of the things I am reading over and over is how people interpret the administration’s (and by extension Hillary) stated view at the press conference as essentially throwing Abbas under the bus in a very public way. People seem perplexed at this, as am I, because it would seem to do little other than reinforce and strengthen Hamas.

    I just can’t figure this one out.

    I find it all very depressing.

  3. Steve permalink
    November 1, 2009 8:46 pm

    I’ll second that.

    What amazes me is that with a few exceptions, the reaction even here in the US is one of surprise and disappointment. I think a lot of people have started to realize that Israel’s insistence on maintaining the status quo at all costs, doesn’t do jack sh*t for their security- if anything, just the opposite.

    If Obama thinks Jews like myself are going to blindly support this kind of self-defeating, knee-jerk reaction to the right wing Israeli government I think he’s in for a big surprise. This kind of thing may appease AIPAC and people in Washington DC, but it’s a big mistake to think we will all blindly stand behind this. Again, it does NOTHING to make Israel more secure.

    Netanyahu is an asshole and quite frankly, whenever he makes promises, he never keeps them so Hillary’s nuts if she thinks she can trust him.

  4. Sir Jon permalink
    November 1, 2009 9:03 pm

    Oh come on you guys! What kool aid have you all been drinking? Hillary sold out the Palestinian people a long time ago now she’s just sealing the deal. Her Senate run was paid for by the Israel Lobby. I can’t believe all this “shock” at how our wonderful secretary of state just added insult to injury to the Palestinians.

    Hillary Clinton knows only one principle- she’ll do whatever it takes to increase her own power in the eyes of the Big Boys. She has never thought twice about trampling all over the little guy (or girl) if it suits the Clinton purpose.

    The best part is when Abbas is tossed out of office and Hamas is running the show that hypocritical hillary will actually come out and chastise the Palestinian people for “choosing violence” and not working towards peace. Anyone here wanna bet? I’ll be back to see how you all are down a few months down the road when Hamas claims victory and Hillary acts like she had nothing to do with it.

  5. NancyinCali permalink
    November 2, 2009 2:45 am

    My opinion is sometimes things appear to be different, based on reports in the media, then they really are. My take on this is that Israel was reeling from demands made initially by Obama administration to halt all construction. They may have already had an agreement with Bush administration that they could move forward. Obama administration stating they have to stop set the peace process backwards from Israel’s POV. Meanwhile, Hamas was happy with this and got on board – looked like the U.S. was changing it’s “approach” over the previous administration. But this meant Israel was not happy and not willing to come to the table. All Hillary is saying is that Israel has made some concessions (throwing a bone to them) with regards to construction and hamas should not make this the only point/reason for not coming to the negotiating table. Yes, it appears as if she/the administration is doing an about face – but in reality, they are trying to bring Israel into the fold (imo) to set up the negotiations. Hamas may be angry today – but if Israel does, finally, stop the expansion and is willing to come to the negotiating table – then this “show” was probably worth it.

  6. Kate permalink
    November 2, 2009 5:12 pm

    If I understand that correctly Hillary was right when she said that there never were preconditions in order to engage in negotiations before (that makes that one a valid statement) and I have to say that if Israel feels cornered (via preconditions) I can’t imagine that they come to the table.
    As Hillary once said one of the most difficult things about negotiations is to start them. Netanyahu offered to engage in negotiations/peace talk immediatly as long as there are no preconditions. I think thats an opportunity because now that he said that in public he can’t back out of it, when the palestinians agree the negotiations will be on the way.
    And as far as I understand HIllary confirmed once more, that she sticks to what she said a few months ago, that she would want all settlements to be stopped.
    I think the US-administration is doing the right thing Israel had a lot of bad experiences in the past, they feel threatened and I don’t believe they take one more step forward – it seems it is the palestinians turn now


  1. I Thought Long And Hard… «

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