One must be careful what one says. That’s only polite, and it’s also useful. When the wife asks if that dress makes her look fat, it doesn’t. It never does. Use the right words. Lie. Otherwise, there will be trouble. Some words – like “fat” – just aren’t spoken in certain contexts. She looks sexy – that always works. Or it doesn’t. These things are tricky, and they’re even trickier in politics. The brash and spherical tell-it-like-it-is guy from New Jersey found that out in March 2014:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie apologized to Sheldon Adelson in a meeting Saturday for stepping on a fault line in Middle East politics during a speech he gave earlier in the day, according to a source familiar with the conversation.
Invoking a 2012 trip he and his family took to Israel, Christie recalled in the speech: “I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.”
While the story was intended to forge common cause with Adelson and the several hundred donors to the Republican Jewish Coalition to which Christie was speaking, his use of the term “occupied territories” set off murmurs in the crowd. The term refers to lands in which Palestinians live where Israel maintains a military presence, including the West Bank.
Republican Jewish Coalition and conservative Zionists like Adelson don’t use the term “occupied territories” – that makes it sound like the Palestinians have a point, and they don’t – so the big guy did what he had to do:
Not long after his speech, Christie met with Adelson privately in the casino mogul’s office in the Venetian hotel and casino, which hosted the RJC meeting.
The source told POLITICO that Christie “clarified in the strongest terms possible that his remarks today were not meant to be a statement of policy.”
Instead, the source said, Christie made clear “that he misspoke when he referred to the ‘occupied territories.’ And he conveyed that he is an unwavering friend and committed supporter of Israel, and was sorry for any confusion that came across as a result of the misstatement.”
Adelson accepted Christie’s explanation, the source said.
That doesn’t mean anyone else did:
The mini-controversy and quick apology highlight both the importance of Adelson as the reigning mega-donor in GOP politics, as well as the tricky terrain that Middle East politics can pose for American politicians courting Jewish donors and voters.
Before the meeting, Adelson ally Morton Klein, president of the hawkish Zionist Organization of America, had confronted Christie about his use of the term, telling POLITICO he explained to the New Jersey governor that “at minimum you should call it disputed territories.”
Christie was non-committal, said Klein, who concluded afterwards that the governor “either doesn’t understand the issue at all, or he’s hostile to Israel.”
Christie was toast, and still is, even if his speech contained this:
Christie recounted meeting the hawkish Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an RJC favorite, and being “extraordinarily taken by his strength and resolve.”
That’s fine, but Adelson had also invited Scott Walker and John Kasich that weekend and they didn’t screw up. Last time around, Adelson had dropped ten million dollars on Newt Gingrich, to get him to say things like there was no such thing as the Palestinian people, and that had been throwing money away. Mitt Romney got the nomination. This time Adelson is being more careful. You want his money? Use the right words. And that dress doesn’t make him look fat.
Fine, but facts are facts:
The Israeli-occupied territories are the territories occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War of 1967 from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. They consist of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem; much of the Golan Heights; the Gaza Strip, and, until 1982, the Sinai Peninsula. Israel maintains that the West Bank is disputed territory and asserts that since the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, it no longer occupies it. The West Bank and Gaza Strip are also referred to as the Palestinian territories or Occupied Palestinian Territory. The Palestinian Authority, the EU, the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council consider East Jerusalem to be part of the West Bank and occupied by Israel; Israel considers all of Jerusalem to be its capital and sovereign territory. West Jerusalem is considered to be occupied by Arab and Palestinian representatives.
The International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council regard Israel as the “Occupying Power.” UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk called Israel’s occupation “an affront to international law.”
Ah, but there is the counterargument:
According to the views of most religious and traditional Jews and scholars belonging to Religious Zionism and to many streams of Orthodox Judaism, there are no, and cannot be, “occupied territories” – because all of the Land of Israel belongs to the Jews, also known as the Children of Israel, since the times of Biblical antiquity based on various Hebrew Bible passages.
The Jewish religious belief that the area is a God-given inheritance of the Jewish people is based on the Torah, especially the books of Genesis and Exodus, as well as the Prophets. According to the Book of Genesis, the land was promised by God to the descendants of Abraham through his son Isaac and to the Israelites, descendants of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson. A literal reading of the text suggests that the land promise is (or was at one time) one of the Biblical covenants between God and the Israelites, as the following verses show…
The boundaries of the Land of Israel are different from the borders of historical Israelite kingdoms. The Bar Kokhba state, the Herodian Kingdom, the Hasmonean Kingdom, and possibly the United Kingdom of Israel and Judah ruled lands with similar but not identical boundaries. The current State of Israel also has similar but not identical boundaries.
A small sect of Haredi Jews, the Neturei Karta opposes Zionism and calls for a peaceful dismantling of the State of Israel, in the belief that Jews are forbidden to have their own state until the coming of the Messiah.
The Haredi Jews are the oddballs, and of course our evangelical Christians over here point out that the Messiah already showed up, over two thousand years ago. The Jews will figure that out one day, and accept Jesus as the personal savior, or burn in hell forever, after the Rapture and all that. Either way, our evangelical Christians here, and the Zionist Jews there, agree. Those Palestinians just don’t belong there.
Hollywood helped with that, with the 1960 film Exodus – a heroic epic about the founding of Israel, produced and directed by Otto Preminger, based on the 1958 novel Exodus by Leon Uris. The appropriate heroic music was by Ernest Gold and his theme song for the movie won Best Song at the Grammy Awards that year (the next year it was Moon River) – so soon everyone from Edith Piaf to Connie Francis to Andy Williams was singing “This land is mine, God gave this land to me…”
He did? Yes, He did, so Hollywood had a hand in all this – “Although the Preminger film softened the anti-British and anti-Arab sentiment of the novel, the film remains controversial for its depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and for what some scholars perceive to be its lasting impact on American views of the regional turmoil.”
Sheldon Adelson probably still hums that Ernest Gold tune a lot, but this was the week the music stopped:
The White House issued a passionate call for eventual Palestinian statehood on Monday as it stepped up criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, for appearing to question a two-state solution to Middle East peace.
“An occupation that has lasted for almost fifty years must end,” Barack Obama’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told a conference of liberal activists in Washington. “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,” he added.
Despite Netanyahu’s efforts to distance himself from pre-election comments that appeared to rule out a Palestinian state, the US administration remains skeptical about his commitment to peace.
They’re just not buying it:
“We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations,” McDonough told 3,000 delegates at the national conference of J-Street, a Washington lobby group which describes itself as pro-Israel but supports a two-state peace process for a Palestinian state.
“Palestinian children deserve the same right to be free in their own land as Israeli children in their land,” he added. “A two-state solution will finally bring Israelis the security and normalcy to which they are entitled, and Palestinians the sovereignty and dignity they deserve.”
Fair is fair, and good for everyone, but one doesn’t say these things:
South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham blasted White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough’s statements at a conference held by the anti-Israel group J Street, calling them the same language used by terrorists. McDonough told the gleeful crowd, “An occupation that has lasted more – almost 50 years must end.”
Graham ripped McDonough, saying on the Senate floor on Monday, “The language used by the chief of staff of the president of the United States is exactly what Hamas uses … Today the chief of staff of the president of the United States used language that has been reserved for terrorist organizations.”
Lindsey Graham has been talking about running for president too, so maybe he wants that Adelson money:
Graham said of McDonough’s remarks, “All I can say is, when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it has … Wake up and change your policies before you set the whole world on fire. Please watch your language. …You’re making everything worse, and now you’ve added fuel to the fire.”
Graham also issued a warning to the White House, stating that if Obama abandons Israel at the United Nations, “Congress will recalculate how we relate to the United Nations.”
McDonough used the wrong words. Don’t set the whole world on fire, or Congress will force the United States to pull out of the United Nations. Those folks at the UN hate Israel too. Everyone hates Israel. Cue the movie music.
At the Atlantic Online, David Graham (no relation) points out that it’s been that kind of week:
It was an open secret that the White House was rooting for Israeli voters to turn Netanyahu out of office on March 17. Instead, they returned him the premiership, with a stronger and more right-wing coalition than before. Obama took his time placing a congratulatory phone call to Netanyahu, and when he did, two days later, he used the occasion to scold the PM for his pre-election renunciation of a two-state solution. Meanwhile, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. would “reevaluate our approach” to the peace process (such as it is) in light of Netanyahu’s words. It was rumored that such a shift could include ending U.S. policy of blocking UN resolutions and actions critical of Israel.
Netanyahu has hastily moved to walk back his comments after the vote, insisting he really does want a two-state solution, but when a reporter asked why the administration didn’t just take Bibi at his word, Earnest replied acidly, “Well, I guess the question is, which one?” Lest that seem like just a spokesman firing from the hip during a briefing, Obama used a similar line during an in-depth interview with The Huffington Post: “We take him at his word when he said that it wouldn’t happen during his prime ministership, and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”
On Monday, Netanyahu tried again to clean up after comments he made during the election, in this case dark warnings that his opponents were busing Israeli Arabs to the polls to defeat him. It was a classic non-apology apology, regretting mostly the offense: “I know that my comments last week offended some Israeli citizens and offended members of the Israeli Arab community. This was never my intent. I apologize for this.” The White House was, as The New York Times put it, “unmoved,” and speaking at a conference of the liberal Zionist group J Street, Obama’s chief of staff kept up the heat.
And then it got worse, with the Wall Street Journal scoop Tuesday – Adam Entous reporting that the United States had discovered that Israel was spying on negotiations with Iran on a nuclear deal. Israeli officials immediately rejected the report – “Israel does not spy on the United States, period, exclamation mark.” That’s what Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz said – “Whoever published those false allegations possibly wanted to damage the excellent intelligence cooperation between us and the United States.”
Yeah, well, the Wall Street Journal story cites “senior White House officials” and “a senior US official” – so David Graham adds this:
How did the U.S. find out that Israel, its close ally, was spying on the talks? When the U.S. was spying on its close ally Israel, of course! Both sides spy on each other all the time, with each having full knowledge of the other’s activities. In fact, the Journal’s sources acknowledge the hypocrisy involved – they only got angry when Israel took the info they’d intercepted and handed it over to Congress.
“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” “a senior U.S. official” told the paper.
There you have it:
The U.S. wasn’t really offended by the spying, and delivering the story to the press is really just another way to turn the pressure up on Israel and express the administration’s displeasure. However, as my colleague Jeffrey Goldberg noted on Twitter, the story does raise the question of whether the administration – already committed to bypassing Congress in negotiations toward a nuclear deal with Iran – was also withholding essential information from legislators.
And there was this – “Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday he was ‘shocked’ and ‘baffled’ by reports the Israeli government had spied on sensitive U.S.-Iran nuclear talks and passed information to members of Congress to whip up opposition to a potential deal.”
John Boehner is perpetually shocked and baffled, so ignore that, but don’t ignore this:
It’s not just Democrats and White House officials who’ve got problems with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Blasting “diplomatic missteps and political gamesmanship,” former Secretary of State James Baker laid in hard to the Israeli prime minister on Monday evening, criticizing him for an insufficient commitment to peace and an absolutist opposition to the Iran nuclear talks.
No one expected that:
Baker, who was the chief diplomat for President George H. W. Bush and is now advising Jeb Bush on his presidential campaign, cited mounting frustrations with Netanyahu over the past six years – but particularly with comments he made in the closing days of last week’s election disavowing his support for a two-state solution and support for settlements strategically placed to attempt to change the borders between Israel and the West Bank.
“Frankly, I have been disappointed with the lack of progress regarding a lasting peace – and I have been for some time,” Baker said. And “in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s recent election victory, the chance of a two-state solution seems even slimmer, given his reversal on the issue.”
Baker said while Netanyahu has said he’s for peace, “his actions have not matched his rhetoric.”
This was a problem for Jeb Bush, who needs Sheldon Adelson on his side, so there was this:
Presumed Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush says he disagrees with critical comments about Israel made Monday by former Secretary of State James Baker, according to his campaign team.
Baker, a longtime friend of the Bush family and an unpaid adviser to Jeb Bush’s expected presidential campaign, has been an outspoken advocate for the former Florida governor’s possible White House bid. Bush touted Baker’s support last month when he announced a 21-member foreign policy advisory team that is counseling him as he prepares to run for president.
The group of nearly two dozen Republican experts also includes former secretaries of state George Schultz and Condoleezza Rice and other veterans of the two Bush administrations, including Paul Wolfowitz and John Negroponte. Aides have said that the group embodies the broad base of support for Bush, but that the luminaries are not advising the former governor on a daily basis.
Jeb knows trouble when he sees it, but then there was this:
The United States signaled no change in its support for Israel at the United Nations on Monday, refusing to take part in a forum on alleged Israeli human rights violations.
Despite the Obama administration’s pledge to rethink its support for Israel at the United Nations in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign rejection of a Palestinian state, the United States’ refusal to discuss alleged Israeli abuses at the U.N. Human Rights Council was consistent with the previous U.S. position.
Netanyahu must be confused now, because Obama still has his back on some pretty obvious war crimes, but Obama seems to be pulling out all the stops on the “occupied territories” thing, but there’s nothing new here. Consider May 2011:
President Barack Obama yesterday endorsed a key Palestinian demand, calling on Israel to agree to borders of a Palestinian state “based on the 1967 lines” that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem that year in the Six Day War with Arab nations.
It was the first time a U.S. president has explicitly backed using the 1967 boundaries as the starting point for talks that would have Israel cede control of land to Palestinians in return for peace and security. The proposal may have little impact, as Obama offered no steps to restart the stalled peace talks.
The proposal drew immediate fire from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who meets with Obama at the White House today. Netanyahu said in a statement that the 1967 boundaries would be “indefensible” and could leave major Jewish population centers behind Palestinian lines.
Obama said a deal along 1967 lines needs to include land exchanges to allow Israel to retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.
“The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” Obama said in a major policy speech at the State Department in Washington outlining his vision for the Middle East.
Someone else wanted Obama’s job back then, but there was nothing new:
“President Obama has thrown Israel under the bus,” former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said in a statement.
Obama’s language was an incremental move, not a break with what has been U.S. policy, said Daniel Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel and Egypt. He said that while it has long been assumed that 1967 borders will form the basis for an agreement, “when you finally get an articulation of U.S. policy, it means something.”
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, said, “I think it’s a small step in the right direction because it reaffirms the U.S. commitment to the 1967 lines, two states and equal swaps.”
“We know by now that left to themselves, the Israelis and Palestinians will never resolve” their issues, Brzezinski, who serves as a counselor and trustee for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an interview.
And Obama saw what was coming:
Time is working against Israel, Obama said. The Palestinian population is increasing and “the dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation,” he said.
The president also called for “permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt.” The statement didn’t seem to leave room for Israel’s position that any agreement must allow Israeli troops to patrol the western seam of an eventual Palestinian state and Jordan to prevent terrorist groups from entering.
Netanyahu announced in his statement that when he meets with Obama, he “will make clear that the defense of Israel requires an Israeli military presence along the Jordan River.”
Reaction from members of Netanyahu’s coalition government was even harsher.
Danny Danon, a lawmaker from Netanyahu’s Likud Party, likened Obama’s plan to one to eliminate Israel by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, adding that the U.S. president hoped “to remove the State of Israel from the map.”
That’s what Lindsey Graham was just saying, but there was the guy before Obama:
Obama’s mention of land swaps seemed to endorse a 2004 agreement between then-President George W. Bush and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
In a 2004 letter Bush sent to Sharon, he recognized that any peace agreement must take into account major settlement blocs built since Israel gained control of the West Bank and Jerusalem in June 1967, as well as the fact that Israel would not relinquish Jerusalem. In return, Sharon moved to withdraw completely from Gaza and some parts of the West Bank.
This sort of thing has been going on a long time, as Dan Murphy notes here:
Barack Obama isn’t the only American president to chafe at an Israeli prime minister trying to go behind his back to the US Congress on foreign policy.
In September 1981, President Ronald Reagan welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin – who founded the Likud Party Benjamin Netanyahu now leads – to Washington, at a time that he was seeking approval of the sale of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) planes to Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Begin was furious about it, saying it would irreparably harm Israel’s security and launching a full-court lobbying effort in Washington to upend the sale. “We can only repeat our position that it will endanger very seriously the security of Israel,” Begin said after touching down in the US.
Reagan writes in his autobiography of meeting Begin on that trip, and of the Israeli’s objections to the AWACS deal.
Reagan told Begin that the US thought the deal wouldn’t harm Israel’s security, and might open a deal to a peace deal with Saudi Arabia, much like the one recently signed with Egypt.
Murphy quotes Reagan on how that went:
Although I felt that our relationship had gotten off to a good start and that I had Begin’s confidence that we would do whatever it took to ensure the safety of Israel, I learned that almost immediately after he left the White House, Begin went to Capitol Hill and began lobbying very hard against me, the administration, and the AWACS sale – after he had told me he wouldn’t do that.
I didn’t like having representatives of a foreign country – any foreign country – trying to interfere in what I regarded as our domestic political process and the setting of our foreign policy. I told the State Department to let Begin know I didn’t like it and that he was jeopardizing the close relationship or our countries unless he backed off. Privately, I felt he’d broken his word and I was angry about it.
Of course he was, and Murphy adds this:
The bad taste this episode left probably contributed to Reagan’s cutting off of supplies of cluster-bombs to Israel the next year, and to the decision in early 1992 by Reagan’s vice president and successor, George H. W. Bush, to withhold $10 billion in loan guarantees for Israel until the country agreed to freeze settlement expansion, something Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to that July, though settlement expansion continued.
As for Reagan, he went public too:
On Oct. 1, an angry Reagan told a press conference that “it is not the business of other nations to make American foreign policy.” When asked if that meant Israel, he responded. “Well… or anyone else…”
That wasn’t the right thing to say, but that was the appropriate thing to say. The George Bush that followed Reagan did the same. The second George Bush did the same. Now it’s Obama’s turn, and Sheldon Adelson can keep his money, and he can hum the theme from Exodus all he wants. This isn’t a movie. Yes, one must be careful what one says. But the truth works just fine. Sometimes it’s necessary.