Can You Feel the Love?
I watched Obama and Netanyahu’s live mini-press briefing and while the chattering classes will be analyzing every word spoken, every gesture, it’s obvious that while there are differences in opinion about strategy, there is no “rift” in U.S.-Israeli relations, as much as some on the right (in both the US and Israel) would like that to be the case.
For those that are looking for Bibi and Barack to hang out, have a beer and do the Middle East hug and two-cheek kiss, get over it. Neither one of these guys are the type but that hardly means they can’t forge a decent working relationship out of necessity, if not out of genuine “like” of each other. It’s pretty obvious that both Secretary Clinton and President Obama seem to have more of a relaxed relationship with Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak, who has a completely different personality than Bibi. And just forget about Avigdor Lieberman, the un-diplomat. There’s a reason you don’t see him in Washington too often despite the fact that he’s Israel’s foreign minister.
Most people are interpreting this visit as a chance for a good photo op and to reassure the nervous nellies in Congress that the Obama administration hasn’t jettisoned the “special relationship”- a preposterous claim to begin with, but one which serves the purposes of some pro-Israel hardliners who seem to enjoy the status quo (ie. the occupation) and try to perpetuate the unwritten rule that to criticize the Israeli government in any way is be “anti-Israel” or worse, a flaming anti-Semite. Again, preposterous. Such unquestioning adherence to any government irrespective of who is in charge or the policies they promote, is dangerous. What American would claim that the US government deserves unquestioning obedience? No one and certainly not the nation’s Founders.
U.S. President Barack Obama voiced hope in a fence-mending meeting on Tuesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that direct Israeli-Palestinian talks would begin before a temporary moratorium on Israeli settlement construction expires in September.
“We expect proximity talks to lead to direct talks,” Obama said as he and Netanyahu appeared before reporters in the Oval Office. The joint appearance was intended to display warmer relations after ties reached a low point in March in a feud over Israeli settlement expansion.
Netanyahu echoed Obama, who said he hoped direct negotiations would get under way “well before” the 10-month Israeli freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank expires in September.
Netanyahu has called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet him and move from the current U.S.-mediated “proximity talks” to face-to-face negotiations on Palestinian statehood.
Obama went on to day that he disagreed with notions of a rift between Israel and the U.S., saying that his support for Israel had never wavered. In response, Netanyahu said that reports of demise of U.S.-Israeli relationship were “flat wrong.”
Netanyahu received a warmer welcome than he did in March, when Obama kept him at arm’s length in what was widely viewed as a snub over settlement policy. Washington views Israel’s expanding settlements in the West Bank, a territory slated for a future Palestinian state, as an obstacle to U.S.-led peace efforts.
This story from the NYT today sheds light on how the U.S. tax code is being used to undermine the U.S.’ anti-settlement policy in the occupied territories:
Twice a year, American evangelicals show up at a winery in this Jewish settlement in the hills of ancient Samaria to play a direct role in biblical prophecy, picking grapes and pruning vines.
Believing that Christian help for Jewish winemakers here in the occupied West Bank foretells Christ’s second coming, they are recruited by a Tennessee-based charity called HaYovel that invites volunteers “to labor side by side with the people of Israel” and “to share with them a passion for the soon coming jubilee in Yeshua, messiah.”
But during their visit in February the volunteers found themselves in the middle of the fight for land that defines daily life here. When the evangelicals headed into the vineyards, they were pelted with rocks by Palestinians who say the settlers have planted creeping grape vines on their land to claim it as their own. Two volunteers were hurt. In the ensuing scuffle, a settler guard shot a 17-year-old Palestinian shepherd in the leg.
HaYovel is one of many groups in the United States using tax-exempt donations to help Jews establish permanence in the Israeli-occupied territories — effectively obstructing the creation of a Palestinian state, widely seen as a necessary condition for Middle East peace.
The result is a surprising juxtaposition: As the American government seeks to end the four-decade Jewish settlement enterprise and foster a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the American Treasury helps sustain the settlements through tax breaks on donations to support them.
A New York Times examination of public records in the United States and Israel identified at least 40 American groups that have collected more than $200 million in tax-deductible gifts for Jewish settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem over the last decade. The money goes mostly to schools, synagogues, recreation centers and the like, legitimate expenditures under the tax law. But it has also paid for more legally questionable commodities: housing as well as guard dogs, bulletproof vests, rifle scopes and vehicles to secure outposts deep in occupied areas…
Yoel Marcus of Haaretz provides a list of 10 things Netanyahu should and shouldn’t do while in Washington. Here are a few of the things he lists:
1. Before you are warmly welcomed to the White House today as part of a pre-planned gathering, I hope you remembered to hide the boastful headline “I won” that appeared in big letters on the front page of the daily Maariv a month ago. Walk into the Oval Office with the goal of opening a new page in your relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama. No bragging of how “I won” or “I subdued him,” but rather with the respect the president deserves – the man who received the Nobel Peace Prize before making peace and the leader we will almost certainly depend on for the next seven years.
2. Obama is a cold, rational figure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and other important leaders have come to learn that he is not a president prone to giving pats on the back (save for the excessive genuflecting before the king of Saudi Arabia ). He is also not a president who hands out free meals and engages in pointless chatter. In face-to-face meetings, he will directly bring up the concrete issues. Be prepared for the fact that you will be expected to give straightforward answers and, for a change, to tell the truth.
3. Don’t be impressed by the moving images of Rahm Emanuel’s visit here, which included a picture of the White House chief of staff shedding a tear while leaning against the Western Wall. One can cry at the Wall and still favor a withdrawal from the territories while advising Obama how best to bring Israel to heel. The president and his adviser are on the same page. Don’t even dream of trying to drive a wedge between them.
5. Do not summon the power of “the Jewish lobby” behind Obama’s back. No one is more sensitive to such attempts to undermine him. If he takes a hit during the midterm elections in November, he will neither forgive nor forget your act of subversion. As long as Obama has not overtly declared his opposition to Israel or harmed its security, there is no need to call in the Jewish cavalry against him.
9. Humbly remind him how vital it is for America to view us as a strategic asset. Remind him how willing we are to answer the call for a peace agreement not just with the Palestinians but also with Syria on condition that we can start with direct negotiations and that a solution for Gaza – a territory we withdrew from yet continues to be a security threat – can be found. Most importantly, you must create a mechanism of direct dialogue between Jerusalem and Washington that would nip in the bud any misunderstanding between the two countries.
10. At the end of your talks with Obama, as the two of you walk to meet with reporters and photographers, whisper into the president’s ear: “Give me a hug.” [emphasis added]
I kind of like #10 myself. That would be too funny.