Friday evening in Hollywood and there’s no point in knocking out another column on healthcare reform – the vote will be Sunday and until then it’s one obscure congressman or congresswoman after another popping up on Fox News or CNN with their big announcement, that after much soul-searching, or communing with the spirits of the Founding Fathers, or prayer or Zen meditation or talking to their children or whatever, they’ve changed their mind and will vote yes, or vote no, as the case may be. And as each of them returns to the obscurity he or she so richly deserves – as the saying goes – the talking heads then discuss how the tide is turning, one way or the other, and do so at great length. It’s quite tedious. The legislation will pass, or it won’t. The interesting stuff is going on out of sight and sound – the arm-twisting and promises and threats, and appeals to conscience and patriotism, one must assume. So let it rest. The only interesting thing is how each absurdly minor legislator handles their one moment of national exposure, and probably their last. Some are pretty cool, others strange or silly. It kind of like one of those reality shows, where people have to eat bugs.
But at the same time there was the other major news story that refused to die, hanging around from Monday. Vice President Biden goes to Israel to do the usual we-stand-by-you thing – just so they don’t get nervous and go off and nuke everything they can find in Iran and get our troops in the Middle East killed in the inevitable massive, angry payback, which might also include someone trying to blow up Chicago and Houston and maybe Cleveland. And the secondary message was clear – Israel’s appropriation of disputed lands, where the Palestinians seem to be living, is making any sort of peace talks kind of difficult. And most of the Muslim world – Arabs and Persians and all the rest – find those appropriations really, really irritating. There ought to be a Palestinian state, with real borders and everything – even George Bush said so. Moving toward that, even a little, would lower the temperature in the region quite a bit. So the secondary message was cool it with the settlements – we think we’ve convinced the Palestinians to agree to sit down and talk this over. Could you at least put those on hold for now?
But Prime Minister Netanyahu was having none of that – it was Hi Joe, nice to see you, and by the way, we’ve just started the process of building sixteen hundred brand new apartments in the disputed area of East Jerusalem, no matter what you say, or any UN mandates we said we agreed to, or any previous Roadmap to Peace agreements, and no matter what all the other western nations think – and if you’re worried about the safety of your troops, and the safety of the United States itself, well, that’s your problem, not ours – and by the way, thanks for the billions each month in foreign aid and all the military gizmos, and could we have more, please?
Two days later, Fred Kaplan offered this brief reality check:
It is worth noting, for instance, that every nation or international entity that has taken a position on the issue – except for Israel – regards East Jerusalem, at least formally, as “occupied territory.” Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, but no other country recognized the move. U.N. Resolution 478, passed soon after, declared the annexation to be in violation of international law and thus “null and void.” (The Security Council passed the resolution with no dissent; even the United States merely abstained.)
Kaplan seems to think you might want to review UN Resolution 478 – no one else has, it seems. And he seems to understand why Obama must not, and actually cannot, back down on this matter:
U.S. envoy George Mitchell was on the verge of starting “indirect” talks between Israelis and Palestinians, shuttling between the two, at least initially. The talks were quietly supported by Saudi Arabia, whose rulers want to check the regional ambitions of Iran, which uses (and supplies) Hezbollah and Hamas as its surrogates. A convergence of interests between Israel and Arab moderates – among whom can be numbered Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad -would tilt the regional balance away from Iran. This tilt could help in the campaign to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons – and perhaps solidify support for U.S. and NATO policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
We’re trying to take care of Iran – to box them out – for the good of the world, really. And this doesn’t help, to put it mildly. Secretary of State Clinton publically scolded Israel. And, as Kaplan notes, it was a good plan:
However, this entire chain depends on one critical link: the appearance of a genuine and promising movement toward an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. For their own standing in the rest of the Arab world and among their own potentially volatile populations, no Arab country can afford to get too cozy with the United States, and especially not with Israel, as long as that link is severed.
And, and with the big meeting of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) coming up soon, Andrew Sullivan puts it plainly:
By continuing to expand in East Jerusalem, the Israeli government’s leaders demonstrate that they are not interested in a real peace.
And until they are, the US’s interests globally are threatened. This is where the rubber hits the road. If AIPAC wants to use this weekend to pretend nothing has changed or that this is somehow Obama’s fault, or that we can continue on fighting Jihadism while they keep polarizing the Muslim world, then they need an attitude adjustment. When you’ve lost your European allies, Turkey, and the US president, Clinton, Emanuel and Biden, you need to realize you’ve become your own worst enemy.
And there’s not much ambiguity here, as Lara Marlowe points out in the Irish Times:
There is one fact so obvious in the spat between Israel and the US over housing in east Jerusalem that no one here has bothered to state it: Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law.
They are illegal under article 49 of the fourth Geneva Convention, which states: “The occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” They are illegal under UN Security Council resolution 446, and were ruled illegal in an advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice in 2004.
Well, Duh – and Marlowe says it’s surprising this dispute took place:
After all, Israel has continued colonizing east Jerusalem and the West Bank, day after day, year after year, nearly quadrupling the number of settlers to 500,000, since the “peace process” started with the failed Oslo accords in 1993. When Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a bogus 10-month “freeze” on West Bank settlements last November, secretary of state Hillary Clinton praised it as “unprecedented” – although the “freeze” did not slow construction and excluded Jerusalem.
Why then the expressions of shock and outrage when the Israeli housing ministry announced this? That’s complicated:
David Axelrod, president Obama’s senior adviser, called it “an affront” and “an insult”. (Netanyahu last summer called Axelrod and Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel “self-hating Jews”, according to the New York Times.) Administration sources say they had a private understanding with Netanyahu that although the “freeze” excluded Jerusalem, there would be no provocative moves in the city that two peoples claim as their capital. And because Obama already backed down once on settlements, the Israelis probably thought he’d back down again.
It’s a mess, and not getting any less messy:
Yesterday’s Jerusalem Post published an opinion piece on “Obama’s war on Israel” which condemned the US leader for “treating Israel like an enemy,” for his “onslaught on Israel’s right to Jerusalem” and his administration’s attempts to convince Netanyahu to “relinquish Israel’s right to independently strike Iran’s nuclear installations.”
And this didn’t help – “General David Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command, says the conflict foments anti-American sentiment in the region due to a perception of U.S. favoritism toward Israel.”
Petraeus’ comments to a Senate committee came a day after Biden got kicked in the balls. And that isn’t the half of it, when you realize what Netanyahu was doing the night before Biden came to visit. It was a big party with someone Netanyahu would never dare offend:
A day before Biden’s arrival, Netanyahu appeared onstage with Pastor John Hagee in Jerusalem. The occasion was Hagee’s Night to Honor Israel, an event the far-right Texas-based preacher arranged to tout his ministry’s millions in donations to Israeli organizations and to level bellicose rhetoric against Israel’s perceived enemies.
At the gathering, Hagee called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “the Hitler of the Middle East” and denounced the Goldstone Report as “character assassination by an unbiased and uninformed committee.” Netanyahu welcomed the crowd of 1000 American evangelicals to Jerusalem, a city he described as “the undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people.” Then, he told them, “I salute you! The Jewish people salute you!” In the audience were top-level members of the Israeli government, from Ambassador Michael Oren to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
And you really don’t want to know about the Goldstone Report – the UN report that accused both Israeli Defense Forces and Palestinian militants of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, and recommended that the sides openly investigate their own conduct and, should they fail to do so, that the allegations to be brought to the International Criminal Court. Israel’s position was it was all the other guys. The American evangelical right, which hates the UN because the UN wants to bring in the black helicopters and take over America, agrees.
And again, Sullivan comments:
There’s a reason that Sarah Palin wore a twinned US-Israeli flag-pin to address the Tea Party Convention.
The evangelicals see permanent Israeli colonization of the West Bank as critical to End-times theology; and they are helping fund it with millions. The neocon gamble – that uniting Jewish fundamentalists with Christian fundamentalists is an international project for greater Israel and permanent Republican majorities in the US – is still in play. And it makes a two-state solution impossible.
The plot thickens, and Sullivan says this is why Obama matters as much now as ever:
Only he can save us from this fundamentalist politics and the religious wars it can and will unleash even further unless restrained and blocked. There are increasingly fewer ways for pro-Israel American moderates to stay silent or dodge this question. Lashing out at realists as anti-Semites is not the answer. It is a distraction. They have to take a stand. Or Israel will be as polluted by the fumes of Christianism as the GOP.
Obama is Israel’s last chance to dial back this vicious fundamentalist cycle. And if Israel doesn’t, the consequences for all of us are grave. Petraeus gets this. When will the neocons?
That’s a good question, but everyone is now after Petraeus’ hide, like the head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abe Foxman, who put out a release:
Gen. Petraeus has simply erred in linking the challenges faced by the U.S. and coalition forces in the region to a solution of the Israeli-Arab conflict, and blaming extremist activities on the absence of peace and the perceived U.S. favoritism for Israel. This linkage is dangerous and counterproductive. Whenever the Israeli-Arab conflict is made a focal point, Israel comes to be seen as the problem. If only Israel would stop settlements, if only Israel would talk with Hamas, if only Israel would make concessions on refugees, if only it would share Jerusalem, everything in the region would then fall into line.
General Petraeus obviously doesn’t see the Israeli-Arab “peace process” as a top issue for his command, because he didn’t even raise it in his opening statement. When he was pressed on it, he made a fairly anodyne statement about the need to encourage negotiations to help moderate Arab regimes. That’s it. He didn’t say that all settlements had to be stopped or that Israel is to blame for the lack of progress in negotiations. And he definitely didn’t say that the administration should engineer a crisis in Israeli-U.S. relations in order to end the construction of new housing for Jews in East Jerusalem.
Ah, General Petraeus only strongly implied that, in words, which isn’t saying Israel is making things impossible.
But see Andrew Bacevich noting that David Petraeus has now endorsed a sort of reality-based consensus, that Israel’s strategic interests these days are not always America’s interests:
The United States has a profound interest in redressing the long-standing grievances of the Palestinian people – not with expectation that Islamic extremism will thereby vanish, with Muslims everywhere falling in love with America, but in order to strip away every last vestige of claimed moral justification for violent jihadism directed against the West.
To pretend that this divergence of interests does not exist or does not matter – or to sustain the pretense that the fraudulent “peace process” holds out any real prospect of producing a solution – is the equivalent of allowing a sore to fester.
The inevitable result is to allow infection to spread, with potentially fateful consequences. Here in the ninth year of the Long War, with US policy toward the Islamic world one long record of folly and miscalculation, what we need is more candor, not less.
And again, there is Andrew Sullivan:
And the reason for the current battle is not personality or internal Israeli politics or anti-Semitism; it is that this fact can no longer be ignored. In my view, at some point soon, the US needs to propose the details of a two-state solution and take active steps to enforce it.
Obama, however, is hated by all Israelis, as AIPAC and the leftover neocons from the Bush administration will tell you – so that will never work. Except Israeli polling shows otherwise:
Nearly half the respondents (48 percent) said Israel must keep building in the capital, even at the expense of a rift with the United States, while 41 percent said Israel must accept the American demand (and Palestinian ultimatum) to stop building in Jerusalem until the end of the negotiations (which haven’t begun yet)… Though the public remained composed in the face of the diplomatic fracas, poll respondents are not thrilled with the prime minister’s conduct in the affair.
More people said Netanyahu’s behavior was irresponsible than said he acted responsibly.
But there is Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother-in-law – Dr. Hagai Ben-Artzi – in an interview with Israeli Army Radio:
When there is an anti-Semitic president in the United States, it is a test for us and we have to say: We will not concede. We are a nation dating back 4,000 years, and you in a year or two will be long forgotten. Who will remember you? But Jerusalem will dwell on forever!
That’s interesting – the general population is split, but the Israeli Army would assassinate Obama tomorrow if they could get away with it, or so Netanyahu’s brother-in-law seems to hope.
This seems to be a bigger deal than healthcare reform.
But the Atlantic’s Jeffery Goldberg in this item surveys the series of really boneheaded Israeli diplomatic blunders over the last few months and says one thing is obvious:
Netanyahu is not in control of his government. He has brought into his coalition parties – Lieberman’s party, the Shas Party – that are narrow-focused, excessively-rightist, stubborn and prideful, and now he’s paying the price. The problem is that Israel is paying the price as well. America can afford stupid politicians. Israel can’t.
The incident with Turkey was, of course, just bizarre:
Turkey has demanded that Israel apologize over what it called the “discourteous” way its ambassador was treated during a diplomatic meeting.
Israel summoned Turkey’s ambassador to rebuke him over a TV series but ensured he was photographed on a lower chair.
In response, Turkey has summoned the Israeli ambassador to Ankara to express its “annoyance”.
The foreign ministry has also insisted it expects steps to be taken to compensate its envoy.
There was the admission – yep, we made him look smaller. It seems Turkey took the Goldstone Report seriously. They deserved a snub – next it’ll be trick exploding cigar or a whoopee cushion.
But Sullivan argues this is serious stuff:
If Israel continues to alienate and insult every ally, as it has done now for over a year, and if its actions inflame Jihadist terrorism which US forces are trying to tamp down, then this is an American issue. And the American president has every right and reason to protest and get a change in attitude and policy from Jerusalem.
And, yes, the Palestinians could always throw this opportunity away. But it’s there now. And Obama must not flinch on seizing it.
But Obama has those who would stop him right here at home. And Glenn Greenwald lays into them:
During the Bush years, the Bush-following Right’s Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, frequently accused opponents of the Iraq War of being “unpatriotic,” endangering the Troops, and committing treason.
If I were the Israelis, not only would I bomb Iran, but I’d do so in such a way as to create as much trouble for China, Russia, Europe and the United States as possible.
Calling on a foreign country to act in a way that creates “as much trouble as possible” for your own country seems to be the very definition of being “on the other side,” does it not? (And his cover sentence — “Are the Israelis less obnoxious than me? I guess we’ll find out soon enough…” – changes nothing). That’s especially true since the action Reynolds is endorsing – Israel’s bombing of Iran – likely would, according to America’s top military official, directly result in the deaths of American soldiers.
And Greenwald cites this:
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, warned last Thursday that an Israeli attack on Iran might lead to escalation, undermine the region’s stability and endanger the lives of Americans in the Persian Gulf “who are under the threat envelope right now.”
That’s pretty clear, but Greenwald says it isn’t that clear to others:
By Reynolds’ own standards, blithely endorsing such outcomes would seem, definitively, to place one “on the other side.” But over the last week, as the U.S./Israel dispute has blossomed, the American Right generally has engaged in much conduct that they have always denounced as disloyal and treasonous. Almost unanimously, they have adopted what Jeanne Kirkpatrick famously condemned as a “Blame America First” attitude, with super-patriots such as National Review and Charles Krauthammer, among many others, heaping all blame on America and siding with the foreign government. According to these Arbiters of Patriotism, this dispute is The Fault of America; indeed, when it comes to American conflicts with Israel generally, as Kirkpatrick put it in her famous refrain: “somehow, they always Blame America First.”
And of course he’s not pleased with the Anti-Defamation League’s Foxman formally condemning David Petraeus for warning that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians increases anti-American hatred and endangers American troops due to a “perception of US favoritism for Israel.”
And Greenwald adds something blindingly obvious – “Isn’t it Barack Obama’s overriding duty as Commander-in-Chief to listen to his military commanders and take aggressive action against anything which undermines America’s war effort and Endangers the Troops – including Israel’s settlement expansions?”
And Greenwald bring up the famous moveon.org newspaper ad against Petraeus and the Surge that merited formal, bipartisan Congressional condemnation:
Shouldn’t Congress now be preparing to condemn the ADL and Foxman for their attack on Petraeus, launched at him as he commands brave American men and women in harm’s way, fighting for our country? After all, Petraeus is responsible for the safety of those troops and is trying to alert government leaders about policies which endanger those troops and undermine the American war effort.
But of course that won’t happen. Anyone who tried that would be accused of being anti-Semitic and be accused of selfishly putting the welfare of America, and the lives of American troops, and the welfare of Americans in general, and our safety, over the welfare of Israel at its safety.
No, wait. That last part can’t be right. But Greenwald points out we haven’t seen attacks on Petraeus “this vicious” since he condemned torture and called for the closing of Guantanamo – and then the right let him have it with both barrels. It happens. God help him if he comes out in favor of repealing that Don’t-Ask Don’t-Tell policy.
But Israel, like the Pope and young boys, is a special case.
And Greenwald notes that there’s the other matter of the patriotic standard that one should not attack the President in his conduct of foreign policy during a time of war:
What happened to Joe Lieberman’s solemn 2005 warning that “in matters of war we undermine presidential credibility at our nation’s peril”? This is the same Joe Lieberman who, along with his conjoined twin, John McCain, this week went to the Senate floor to rail against President Obama for the crime of Excess Criticism of Israel. Isn’t Al Qaeda going to be emboldened if they see the Commander-in-Chief being weakened and attacked by these U.S. Senators as inept and our country riddled with internal divisions of this sort? That was the argument made by these same right-wing super-patriots for years…
And and Greenwald says here’s one way to look at it:
Whatever else is true, the American Right is now openly siding with a foreign government against their own, and bitterly Blaming America for these problems. They’re protecting this foreign government’s actions even though our top Generals say those actions undermine our war effort and directly endanger American troops. They’re advocating policies – such as the Israeli bombing of Iran – which America’s Joint Chiefs Chairman has gravely warned will seriously impede our wars and lead to the deaths of our soldiers. They’re demeaning the top American General with command responsibility for two theaters of war. And, in a Time of War, they’re attacking the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief – and relentlessly depicting him as weak and inept – all because he’s prioritizing American interests over those of a foreign country.
But then, just as what the current pope apparently abetted and allowed to escalate was a special case, and not the systematic molestation and homosexual rape of thousands of young boys over many decades, so this too is a special case, and not treason, really. There are always special cases, even if this one, treating Israel as a special case, could get us all killed.
And the healthcare reform legislation is coming to a head. Let’s think about that.