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Has Benyamin Netanyahu Actually Gone Too Far?

October 1, 2010

I wasn’t going to post about this but after reading this article again, I just couldn’t help myself. Sorry.

Yesterday reports surfaced that the Obama administration had sent Prime Minister Netanyahu a letter which essentially bestowed upon Israel an unprecedented level of economic, defense and diplomatic support in return for a measly two month extension of the so-called moratorium on illegal settlement construction in the occupied territories. The White House had denied reports that a letter was sent, but this morning, Haaretz continues to update the story and is sticking by it, alleging that the U.S. had in fact offered Netanyahu a HUGE list of goodies in return for an agreement on the part of the Israeli government to only partially comply with it’s responsibilities under international law:

The United States is reportedly incensed over Netanyahu’s rejection of a draft letter that would have extended the freeze on West Bank settlement construction, formulated by advisers to the U.S. and Israeli leaders.

The letter, written by U.S. President Barack Obama’s advisers and by Netanyahu’s and Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s adviser Isaac Molho, would have had Israel freezing construction in the settlements for another 60 days in exchange for unprecedented U.S. political and security assistance.

Senior American officials said they were frustrated by Netanyahu’s conduct in the affair.

“We’re not buying the excuse of political difficulties anymore,” a senior U.S. official told his Israeli counterpart.

“The Americans said Netanyahu’s conduct is humiliating the president,” said a senior European diplomat who met with senior U.S. officials in New York last week.

The details of the letter were revealed by researcher David Makovsky on the website of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

According to the report, the letter included incentives crucial to Israel’s security that Netanyahu has been demanding for years. For example, the United States pledged to support Israel’s position on stationing Israeli troops in the Jordan valley after the establishment of a Palestinian state, in order to prevent weapons smuggling.

The United States also would not ask Israel to further extend the building moratorium and would pledge that the issue of settlements would be dealt with only as part of final-status talks with the Palestinians, the letter reportedly said.

The United States also reportedly would veto any UN Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict this year, would upgrade Israel’s defense capabilities after the peace agreement, and would increase security assistance.

This reportedly would include providing Israel with advanced fighter jets and early warning systems, including satellites. The U.S. also would start talks with Arab countries toward a regional agreement vis-a-vis Iran.

Obama adviser Dennis Ross, who is the moving force behind the letter, is believed to have encouraged Obama to change his policy toward Netanyahu in order to come off as friendlier. Ross reportedly worked with Barak and Molho on the letter during the UN General Assembly in New York.

The White House denied that Obama sent a letter to Netanyahu, but did not deny that the United States and Israel had worked on a letter.

The Prime Minister’s Office declined to answer any questions on the subject.

According to a source involved in discussions of the letter, Netanyahu agreed to the talks conducted by Barak and Molho in New York, but began to backpedal in two phone calls with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Saturday night.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said he appreciated the letter but could not accept the American proposal because it included a two-month extension of the construction moratorium, which he said would damage his public credibility.

According to an Israeli source involved in the details of the affair, Ross was very insulted by Netanyahu’s conduct and considered it “treason.”

To head off a possible public confrontation following Netanyahu’s rejection of the letter, Ross and White House Middle East adviser Dan Shapiro met Tuesday in Washington with a large group of Jewish senators and congresspersons to report on talks with Israel and the draft letter.

[emphasis added]

Wow, for Dennis Ross, referred to as “Israel’s lawyer” by fellow former US peace negotiator Aaron David Miller, to be incensed at Israel Bibi must have really crossed a line. Ross is essentially an AIPAC guy.

Lets get something straight, shall we? Israel is required under international law to cease settlement construction in the occupied territories. The notion that requesting Israel to abide by international law and established legal norms is not a concession but rather it is them living up to their legal obligations. Keep in mind that the moratorium had so many exclusions and exceptions that many considered it barely a moratorium. In addition, human rights groups have compiled government documents demonstrating that settlement construction continued in areas supposedly included in the moratorium or “freeze.” Furthermore, the Israeli government ensured that prior to the initiation of the freeze, settlement building permits were being approved at an unprecedented pace in order to make up for lost time during the moratorium period. Not exactly good-faith negotiating and it raises a lot of questions about how committed Israel is to this peace process.

I realize that the President has broad powers, but the notion that the White House would make such sweeping promises to Israel demonstrates that we are desperate and that Israel is not the slightest bit interested in peace. Anyone familiar with Netanyahu’s history knows that he uses peace negotiations for his own personal political advantage, to the detriment of Israel. The very idea that the U.S. should have to entice Israel to take such minimal steps (minimal because they are simply a matter of compliance with the law) is patently ridiculous and at this stage, We The People should have a say in this. As it is, our unquestioning support in terms of weapons systems, billions in aid and total diplomatic cover have resulted in little more than a growing attitude of contempt towards the US on the part of Israel. If anything, the unquestioning support has actually made things worse. Make no mistake, the US has helped create this problem- what did we expect when over the last several decades we have ensured that Israel will never have to be called to account for ANYTHING, EVER? We are supposed to be mediators/negotiators in the peace process but as usual, we’ve been dragged down into the untenable position of playing defense for Israel, something which undermines our credibility with the Palestinians and the Arab world. The EU needs to become more involved, something which Israel does not want for obvious reasons- the Europeans are more objective.

If these reports about the letter and the security, defense, economic guarantees are true, this is a disgrace and an embarrassment to the U.S. Secretary Clinton has repeatedly said that we can’t want peace more than the parties themselves and it has become clear that the U.S. wants peace more than Israel.

And what’s that bit about Ross and Shapiro meeting with Jewish members of Congress? Doesn’t this concern all of Congress? Or is that because some members of Congress are more inclined to support Bibi than President Obama? As I said, it’s a disgrace.

It’s time for some tough love and it’s time for some of Israel’s most hawkish, unquestioning supporters (as opposed to those of us who support Israel but believe that no ally is above accountability or question) to step up to the plate and demand Israel do the right thing.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Hudson permalink
    October 1, 2010 11:22 am

    Don’t forget that each time Obama has tried to stand up to Israel Bibi has slapped him down and the administration has caved. So at this stage Bibi knows he can continue to do this because Congress and the pro-Israel groups in the US will support him and not the POTUS.

    If I were Obama I would end peace negotiations. The Israelis are just waiting for the Repubs to take over anyway.

    We need to cut the umbilical cord with Israel. It has become a relationship based on an false notion of Israel’s security threats and misplaced guilt. We should support Israel just as we support any other important ally like Great Britain for example.

    We should put a hold on aid and pending defense contracts. Of course, if Obama did that he could kiss reelection goodbye because the Israel Firsters would have his head and he knows that.

  2. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    October 1, 2010 2:03 pm

    Why are WE so desperate for peace? Before everyone starts hurling insults at me, let me clarify: what is happening to the Palestinians right now is a humanitarian tragedy (I don’t think Israeli’s are suffering too much at this point, which is unfortunate because violence seems to be the only thing thst gets their attention). I fervently wish that the two parties would negotiate in good faith for a two-state solution. It’s the ethical, right, democratic, humanitarian thing to do. But if Israel simply refuses to come to the table in good faith, why are we so “desperate” to get them there that we’d be willing to fork over billions and make sweeping concessions? To put it crudely, what’s in it for us?

    • October 1, 2010 2:14 pm

      @Carolyn: I think you hit the nail on the head. Before starting these negotiations we should have determined if Israel, and in particular, their right wing coalition government, was serious about peace and if not, then there was no point starting them.

      BTW, if anyone insults you Carolyn, I’ve got your back. 😉

      I think the administration came in with very good intentions and the speech in Cairo and the original demand to halt all settlement construction was evidence of that. Then, Obama and his administration were really stung by the harsh reaction from Israel and US lawmakers and interest groups who tolerate no pressure being applied to Israel. Since then, it’s been all down hill. Now i think the admin. has painted itself into a corner and lawmakers have made clear that they better not blame anything on Israel (hence the letter that was just circulated among lawmakers and sent to Obama, essentially blaming the Palestinians.)

      to play devil’s advocate, I think one thing that is in it for us is that the conflict continues to be a source of anti-American sentiment due to our unquestioning support for Israel. In addition, intelligence and FP experts have said the conflict and ongoing occupation actually empowers Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran because it helps them recruit extremists and gain sympathizers (in addition to other reasons). Gen. Patreaus said that it worsens the security situation for American troops and American interests in the region (which outraged AIPAC etc.). In other words, it does impact us.

      But, as you said, if Israel doesn’t want to negotiate in good faith and rather is cynically using the talks for political reasons or God knows what, it ends up being a pointless exercise and it could even result in more violence.

      It’s all very frustrating.

  3. October 1, 2010 2:21 pm

    One reason Obama has been trying to make peace is because it is clear that our backing of Israel (while they thumb their nose at the world) is a threat to our national security. Although there were fervent denials early on, it is obvious that AQ, the Taliban, and other groups would have less success in recruiting if we were actually evenhanded in the Middle East.

    Across the world, people see tv images of the suffering Palestinians, the aggressive settlers, and our unequivocal support of Israel.

    I personally do not think Israel (or their US friends) will ever get serious about conceding anything of value to the Palestinians until they are confronted by a near-term crisis. And Obama’s anger is not remotely a crisis to them.

    • October 1, 2010 2:35 pm

      Well said. But honestly, unless the media starts to allow a more even-handed debate to take place regarding US policy towards Israel, most Americans will just continue to go “ho hum” and not question anything.

      These negotiations are getting hardly any critical coverage in the American MSM – instead its endless 24-hour coverage of the count down to the midterms, tea party nuttiness etc. etc. To get good info. on what is actually going on you have to go to international news sources and even blogs. And if you want to read about what life is like for Palestinians on a day to day basis then you really have to go searching for that info. because as far as the MSM is concerned, they don’t even exist. I’m not saying the media should pick sides, but rather do it’s job and try to objectively report on the conflict and the negotiations.

  4. SpfcMarcus permalink
    October 1, 2010 5:53 pm

    The Israeli press is going nuts telling Bibi to take this deal and no wonder! Obama has given away a ridiculous amount and for what? A permanent end to illegal settlements for the duration of peace talks? No. Just for a lousy 2 month extension on building with so many exceptions its just for show.

    This is exactly what Bibi wants he’s played this administration like a violin since day one. He wants Obama kneeling before him with his knee pads puckering up. Israel has let the US know they can be bought but at the end of the day after the two month moratorium is over, our promises will apparently go forward forever. There is no time limit that I see to Obama’s little gift bag.

    If ever there was proof that we are getting totally f@cked by Israel this is it. I certainly hope it’s good for Obama, because it ain’t gonna be good for the rest of us.

    Obama better take his reckless gift bag off the table and tell those arrogant f@cks in Israel to give him a call and let him know when they are ready to act like a sovereign nation and not a whiny entitled welfare state. Maybe we should just make them part of the US, at least that way we’d get something out of this ridiculous relationship (ie taxes).

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      October 1, 2010 6:20 pm

      @spfcMarcus – Hear, hear!!

      @stacy – thanks! I’ll wave a white flag when I’ve head enough!

  5. Steve permalink
    October 2, 2010 11:01 am

    THis is appalling. We’re helping Israel cover up yet another murder of an American citizen. If there was any question that the mainstream media is totally biased and helps protect Israel, that question is settled. There has been almost NO coverage of this in the MSM. Isn’t the job of the media to report things and let us decide about what went on? The media, like the politicians, are either deathly afraid of the Wrath of AIPAC or worse, are members of AIPAC. And no, I am not saying the media is controlled by us Jews before someone comes along and accuses me of that. I’m not Rick Sanchez.

    Doesn’t Secy Clinton have a responsibility to speak out against crimes committed against Americans overseas, irrespective of the nations involved? Where is the justice for Furkan Dogan?

    This kind of thing makes all the “gifts” as Marcus calls them, offered to Israel in return for a two month moratorium, all the more ridiculous. I mean, what DON’T we do for Israel at this point? How can we possibly do any more? It also makes the Israeli governments attitude towards the US all the more galling- we are the only nation that voted against this UN report so we could once again protect Israel and what do we get in return? We get a big “fuck you.”

    If Secy Clinton wants the Israelis to start negotiating in good faith, perhaps she should tell them that we may have to start abstaining on these votes. Instead, the US gives Israel a long list of goodies to reward them for their arrogance and intransigence. At this point, we are the ones to blame- so long as we continue to reward Israel not only are they not going to cooperate, but they will just get worse.

    BTW, a new poll shows the US image in the Muslim world is back down to Bush-era levels. Nice job, team Obama.

    • Thain permalink
      October 2, 2010 11:19 am

      I can’t imagine what it must be like to be Furkan Dogan’s parents. Look at all the the positive media attention anyone hurt by Iran gets- Neda, Sarah Shourd, etc. Then poor Dogan is murdered at point blank range, shot multiple times while he lies on the ground and not a word of condemnation or even sympathy from the State Dept. the WH or anyone in the media.

      That must really fuck with your head if you are his parents. It’s like he didn’t even exist and he was only 19- a year younger than me.

      I’d like to find his parents contact information and write them and tell them I am sorry for their loss and to apologize for the inhumane, ignorant response of my government. I’d like to tell them that their sons life actually matters as much as anyone’s life whether or not people agreed with his politics or the idea of the flotilla. I’d like them to know that i never thought there son was a terrorist and that I never thought he or anyone else on that ship deserved to die. In fact I am going to try to look for articles about his parents to see if I can find any information to write to them.

      • SpfcMarcus permalink
        October 2, 2010 11:41 am

        That’s very nice of you Thain. You’re a good kid. Keep being good ;).

        I did a quick internet search and didn’t find contact information but I found this- it humanizes him:

        “Furkan grew up in a prosperous neighborhood and had recently gotten his driver’s license. Having completed his high school studies with outstanding grades he enrolled in a pre-med program to enter Gazi Osmanpasa University, intending later this summer to return to the US to visit his birthplace.

        Professor Dogan told ISN Security Watch during an interview that after his son saw billboards in Kayseri advertising the IHH Gaza flotilla, about a month before it set sail, he found an application form on the internet and then visited the organizer’s offices, where he was told to go home, think about it and discuss his possible participation with his family. Professor Dogan was adamant that his son had no fundamentalist or religious leanings whatsoever, but like many his age, was idealistic and saw his joining the flotilla as a chance to right an injustice, and insisted that the office approve his application. His parents believed that he would not be accepted because there were so many applications and he was not a member of the IHH, but reluctantly agreed to his going after he was accepted. Furkan called them from Antalya but after the flotilla departed had no communications with his family.

        Before the flotilla sailed from Antalya its cargo was thoroughly searched by Turkish government officials and its passengers for weapons, advising the organizers that they were likely to encounter Israeli resistance and to head instead for Egypt. The organizers agreed, a moot point at present as the Israeli navy intercepted the ships so far out at sea and continue to retain possession of them.

        During the voyage, Furkan’s sunny disposition and willingness to help, including working in the vessel’s canteen, endeared him to the Mavi Marmaris passengers, who came to regard him as the ship’s unofficial mascot.

        Professor Dogan and his family followed the live video feed on the internet from the Mavi Marmaris before it was shot down by the Israelis, but did not see his son. After the Mavi Marmara was boarded and nine people were reported killed, Professor Dogan contacted the Turkish prime minister’s office and the US Embassy but received no information about his son. When the lists of detainees, injured and killed were released, Furkan’s name was absent. As such, after hearing that those deported by Israel were being flown to Istanbul Professor Dogan traveled there hoping to see his son. On 3 June, 466 flotilla participants arrived in Istanbul, along with Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, Oguz Celikkol; seven planes were used to deport 527 flotilla participants to both Turkey and Greece.

        At Ataturk airport Professor Dogan did not see his son among those deplaning, where he was told that three Americans had been held in Israel and not allowed to board the flights. He asked the US consulate for information but again received no answer, eventually learning that there were four bodies in the Morgue Department of State Institute of Forensic Medicine in Istanbul awaiting identification.

        Professor Dogan went to the morgue, where his worst fears were confirmed. Furkan has been shot five times, twice in the head. Dr Haluk Ince, chairman of the council of forensic medicine in Istanbul who conducted the initial post-mortems, told Professor Dogan that he had never before seen injuries like Dogan’s, and that the shots that killed his son had been fired from less than 45 cm away at point-blank range. One of the shots was apparently fired after Dogan was already dead.

        Dr Yalcin Buyuk, vice-chairman of the Turkish Council of Forensic Medicine, said that the nine dead men from the flotilla were shot a total of 30 times. Of the other eight dead, medical examiners found that five had been shot in the back or in the back of the head. Dr Ince added that in only one case was there a single bullet wound, to the forehead from a distant shot, while every other victim suffered multiple wounds. British citizen Ismail Patel, who was onboard the Mavi Marmaris, calculated that at the height of the assault Israeli commandos shot one person every minute, leaving besides the nine dead 48 others suffering from gunshot wounds. Two other Americans were wounded during the Israeli attack.

        The US Embassy only phoned Dogan’s parents to offer condolences after Professor Dogan told the Turkish media that his son was a US citizen. Six days later the US Embassy again contacted him and said that it was waiting for the coroner’s report before the Department of Justice would decide whether to take action…”

        So he was just a normal kid. His father was a professor and he wanted to be doctor. He wasn’t some radical like Israel and the US media portrayed all the victims as being.

        Ok, gotta run. Gotta share the internet with about 20 other inpatient people. Later!

      • October 2, 2010 12:50 pm

        I agree Thain, good for you.

        On the issue of settlements I found this little gem in the NYT written by Ethan Bronner, Jerusalem Bureau chief for the Times:

        He actually says that “The settlements, which most countries consider illegal…” Hello? Most countries? How about every single one but Israel. This is the sort of subtle bias that most Americans don’t even notice unless they follow the history of this conflict and read international news sources. To frame the settlement debate in such a way as to imply that the illegal settlements are perhaps not in fact illegal, is dumpster-level reporting. It’s not the NYT job to spread Israeli govt propaganda. The fact is, it is settled law that the settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal under international law. The fact that Israel doesn’t acknowledge that does not mean that journalists should write that “most countries consider them illegal” – that is totally misleading. I just sent an email to Mr. Bronner saying as much. One of the reasons why so many Americans seem to think that Israel has a right to continue building them, is because of this sort of slanted rewriting of history. If people believe that the legality of the settlements are disputed, then many then can then justify settlement expansion.

        One thing worthy of note- for quite a few years now, under pressure from AIPAC, AJC and other Israel hardliner organizations, the US govt has fallen into the disingenuous habit of never referring to the settlements as illegal but rather simply saying “our policy on settlements has not changed.” Sometimes officials go so far as to say “disputed areas”- that’s an outright lie. All because of political pressure.

        Oh, and by the way, Mr. Bronner’s son is in the Israeli Defense Forces. Nope, no potential for bias or questionable objectivity there! Imagine if a NYT reporter who wrote solely about Mideast issues had a son in the Palestinian Authority- he or she would lose their job in a NY minute!

  6. October 2, 2010 1:20 pm

    I’m currently having a very nice, civil discussion with Mr. Bronner as we speak. I really didn’t expect him to contact me in response to my email. I respect him for that.

  7. October 3, 2010 12:08 pm

    Interesting that there is not a peep about this in the MSM. Israel is turning into a police state and the State Dept. just plugs their ears while refusing to call out Israel in any documents which discuss human rights, freedom of speech, nonviolent protest, freedom of the press or the treatment of refugees. It is precisely this sort of hypocrisy that puts us on such unbalanced footing when we come out and condemn other countries for what we see as their sins. Why is that so hard to understand.

    It’s getting harder and harder to justify the Israel as Perpetual Victim narrative when it refuses to differentiate between it’s actual enemies and people exercising freedom of speech, association and all those other niceties Israel use to acknowledge way back when as part of its democratic fabric.

  8. June 22, 2013 1:13 pm

    it is quite interesting.

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