The Alternative to Diplomacy

The United States has no ambassador to Saudi Arabia and any number of other countries – 41 of 188 positions vacant – but the Senate didn’t reject any of President Trump’s nominees. President Trump never nominated anyone to those posts. He works differently. He sends his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, over to Saudi Arabia to chat with new young leader there. The two of them get along, although Kushner lost his high-level security clearances and is unlikely to get them back – he keeps remembering what he forgot to put on the forms over and over again – foreign contacts with questionable characters and odd financial ties to this and that – so Kushner may be at a disadvantage. He doesn’t know what everyone else in the room knows. He’s not allowed to know. Our ambassador to Mexico just quit – she just can’t work with Trump – and Trump has not nominated anyone to replace her. He sends Jared Kushner down there too. He has tasked Kushner with making everything all better with those folks, but the Mexican president keeps canceling trips to Washington to chat with Trump. Jared Kushner hasn’t impressed him. Kushner is a kid with a deep background in high-end real estate and nothing else. Jared Kushner is an insult. The United States also has no Undersecretary for East Asian Affairs – the key diplomat charged with chatting with all the leaders in the region, to find out what they’re thinking, or what they say they’re thinking. The job is to keep the lines of communication open, to avert disaster – to calm everyone down. No one is doing that job, but Trump finally nominated someone to be our ambassador to South Korea, but then he withdrew – he knew it would be impossible to be a diplomat for a president who doesn’t believe in anything even resembling diplomacy. Trump has let that slide – we’ll do without an ambassador there – but the United States has an ambassador to Israel. That would be Trump’s former bankruptcy attorney – but a Zionist activist. He’d like Iran and the Palestinians to just go away. It would be better if Iran and the Palestinians never existed. Bibi Netanyahu likes the guy. That wasn’t an insult.

President Trump decided to insult someone else:

Israeli forces killed 58 Palestinians at the boundary fence with Gaza on Monday, local health officials said, a level of bloodshed not seen since the most violent days of Israel’s 2014 war in the territory.

The death toll more than doubled the number of Palestinians killed during six weeks of demonstrations, dubbed the “March of Return,” and came on the same day that a new U.S. Embassy opened in Jerusalem.

That embassy was the insult, and things got out of hand:

Tens of thousands of Palestinians had gathered on the edges of the fenced-off and blockaded territory from midmorning. Many came to peacefully demonstrate, bringing their children and carrying flags. Food stalls sold snacks and music blared.

But the protests appeared to have a more violent edge than in previous weeks. Some young men brought knives and fence cutters. At a gathering point east of Gaza City, organizers urged protesters over loudspeakers to burst through the fence, telling them Israeli soldiers were fleeing their positions, even as they were reinforcing them.

Israeli snipers were determined not to allow a breach, and ambulances soon began screaming back and forth from the fence as gunshots rang out. No Israeli soldiers were injured, though, and Israel drew widespread condemnation for an excessive use of force…

The United Nations said that “those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account,” and Human Rights Watch described the killings as a “bloodbath.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned a continuing “massacre” of the Palestinian people. Turkey and South Africa announced they were recalling their ambassadors from Israel.

The Trump administration, however, blamed Hamas for the loss of life. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah told reporters at a briefing. “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

The responsibility for the tragic deaths of those four students at Kent State back in 1970 rested squarely with the antiwar movement at the time, right? Here, the Israelis were mowing down protesters with live fire, and this was more than four kids in Ohio:

More than 2,700 people were injured, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, including 1,359 from live ammunition. The dead included six children under the age of 18, among them a 15-year-old girl, and a medic, the ministry said.

But we had sent our top diplomats:

The violence was a jarring contrast with the opening ceremony for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, which drew first daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Trump adviser Jared Kushner.

This will not end well:

At the demonstrations east of Gaza City, some said the force used by Israel would only bring further unrest.

Standing a few hundred meters from the fence, Nirma Attalah, 29, said her 22-year-old brother had been killed two weeks ago. “My brother was shot in the head in this place,” she said. She had come on Monday with her whole extended family. “We are here for Jerusalem, for Palestinian land,” she said.

A truck rolled past carrying young men chanting: “To Jerusalem we go with millions of martyrs” and “Death rather than humiliation.”

They’ll get death, and the New York Times’ Michelle Goldberg sees this:

On Monday, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and other leading lights of the Trumpist right gathered in Israel to celebrate the relocation of the American Embassy to Jerusalem, a gesture widely seen as a slap in the face to Palestinians who envision East Jerusalem as their future capital.

The event was grotesque.

It was a consummation of the cynical alliance between hawkish Jews and Zionist evangelicals who believe that the return of Jews to Israel will usher in the apocalypse and the return of Christ, after which Jews who don’t convert will burn forever.

There was a lot of that going on:

Religions like “Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism” lead people “to an eternity of separation from God in Hell,” Robert Jeffress, a Dallas megachurch pastor, once said. He was chosen to give the opening prayer at the embassy ceremony. John Hagee, one of America’s most prominent end-times preachers, once said that Hitler was sent by God to drive the Jews to their ancestral homeland. He gave the closing benediction.

The juxtaposition of images of dead and wounded Palestinians and Ivanka Trump smiling in Jerusalem like a Zionist Marie Antoinette tell us a lot about America’s relationship to Israel right now.

Ivanka Trump may be the Zionist Marie Antoinette here – let the Palestinians eat cake, or bullets – but Goldberg says it’s more than that:

Even if you completely dismiss the Palestinian right of return – which I find harder to do now that Israel’s leadership has all but abandoned the possibility of a Palestinian state – it hardly excuses the Israeli military’s disproportionate violence. “What we’re seeing is that Israel has used, yet again, excessive and lethal force against protesters who do not pose an imminent threat,” Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, told me by phone from Jerusalem.

Much of the world condemned the killings in Gaza. Yet the United States, Israel’s most important patron, has given it a free hand to do with the Palestinians what it will. Indeed, by moving the embassy to Jerusalem in the first place, Trump sent the implicit message that the American government has given up any pretense of neutrality.

That didn’t go unnoticed:

Reports of Israel’s gratitude to Trump abound. A square near the embassy is being renamed in his honor. Beitar Jerusalem, a soccer team whose fans are notorious for their racism, is now calling itself Beitar “Trump” Jerusalem. But if Israelis love Trump, many Americans – and certainly most American Jews – do not. The more Trumpism and Israel are intertwined, the more left-leaning Americans will grow alienated from Zionism.

That may be Trump’s failure here:

Even before Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu helped open a partisan divide on Israel in American politics, where previously there had been stultifying unanimity. “Until these past few years, you’d never heard the word ‘occupation’ or ‘settlements’ or talk about Gaza,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel group J Street, said of American politicians. But Ben-Ami told me that since 2015, when Netanyahu tried to undercut President Barack Obama with a controversial address to Congress opposing the Iran deal, Democrats have felt more emboldened. “That changed the calculus forever,” he told me.

The events of Monday may have changed it further, and things could get worse still. Tuesday is Nakba Day, when Palestinians commemorate their dispossession, and the protests at the fence are expected to be even larger. “People don’t feel like they can stay at home after loved ones and neighbors have been killed for peacefully protesting for their rights,” Abdulrahman Abunahel, a Gaza-based activist with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, told me via email.

In short, Trump made things worse for himself, and for everyone:

Trump has empowered what’s worst in Israel, and as long as he is president, it may be that Israel can kill Palestinians, demolish their homes and appropriate their land with impunity. But some day, Trump will be gone. With hope for a two-state solution nearly dead, current trends suggest that a Jewish minority will come to rule over a largely disenfranchised Muslim majority in all the land under Israel’s control.

A rising generation of Americans may see an apartheid state with a Trump Square in its capital and wonder why it’s supposed to be our friend.

It seems that Trump has just made Israel a future pariah state, and the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank sees this:

“Moving the U.S. embassy,” Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan declared, is “a step toward advancing peace.”

President Trump himself, in a video message, pledged his commitment to a “lasting peace agreement.”

His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said “peace is within reach.”

And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it “a great day for peace.”

Because nothing says “peace” like 58 Palestinians killed, 2,700 wounded, renewed hostilities between Iran and Israel, the entire region aflame and U.S. allies reeling.

And there’s this:

Most European allies skipped the event. And only 14 members of Congress were on hand for the celebration – all Republican and only one Jewish. Republicans scolded Democrats for their absence; Democrats said they weren’t invited. “I would have loved to have participated in this historic and moving embassy dedication,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who supported the embassy move, said in a statement. “Despite reaching out to the administration, I was not invited to be a part of the official American delegation.”

This was an exclusive event, but Milbank notes who was there:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was standing at Trump’s side last year when the president said there were “very fine people” among neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and later defended Trump’s handling of the situation.

And Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who spoke at a reception for the U.S. delegation, after which Kushner and Ivanka Trump asked for Yosef’s blessing. The rabbi made waves recently for comparing black people to monkeys and proposed blessing only “a person with a white father and mother.”

Given the lineup, this was less a diplomatic ceremony than a campaign event.

That’s Trump’s alternative to diplomacy and there was this:

David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, praised “the vision, the courage and the moral clarity of one person to whom we owe an enormous and an eternal debt of gratitude, President Donald J. Trump.”

Moral clarity is in the eye of the beholder, obviously:

The bipartisan unity toward Israel had begun to break down even before Trump, as Netanyahu, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, clashed with President Barack Obama. Trump has further driven the partisan wedge over Israel, and it’s splitting not just Democrats from Republicans but American Jews from Netanyahu’s government.

A poll last year by the American Jewish Committee found that American Jews, only 21 percent of who view Trump favorably, were overwhelmingly (68 percent) opposed to an immediate move of the embassy.

Perhaps American Jews recognize that Trump, and the messianic Christians driving his policy, are leading Israel away from democracy and security. And perhaps they don’t trust claims of “peace” when their own eyes see the opposite.

This was grotesque, but McClatchy’s Peter Stone reports that this may have been all about the money:

These are heady days for casino billionaire and mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

A passionate and hawkish advocate for Israel with close ties to its Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Adelson was in Jerusalem today for a celebration of the U.S. embassy’s relocation to that city, a longstanding priority for the mogul. Similarly, Adelson had pushed hard for President Donald Trump to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, which happened last week.

And the day after that announcement, Adelson quietly slipped into the White House for a private meeting with Trump and three top administration officials: Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and an Adelson favorite, National Security Adviser John Bolton, according to two conservative sources familiar with the previously unreported private event.

Adelson got what he paid for:

Mel Sembler, a fellow board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a former fundraising chair of the Republican National Committee, thinks Adelson’s influence was palpable. “I’d say he was an important factor in all these decisions,” said Sembler.

But the moves also raise questions about the appearance of foreign policy being linked to big donations to Trump and other Republicans. Adelson, who will turn 85 this August, has been an influential donor with GOP political leaders who have courted him assiduously for almost a decade. But the casino tycoon seems to have reached new levels of cachet with the Trump administration in office.

At the beginning of this month, Adelson committed $30 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC, to help GOP House members in their fight to keep the majority this fall – and thus protect Trump. Former Sen. Norm Coleman, who chairs both the CLF and the RJC, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, flew to Las Vegas to make the pitch.

Adelson is the man:

During the inaugural parties last January, Adelson received a special shout-out from the president himself. At one big inaugural gala, Trump thanked Adelson publicly for donating, along with his wife, an Israeli-born physician, $120 million to numerous outside groups and candidates in 2016 to help put him in the White House and keep the GOP majority in Congress, two people who heard the remarks told McClatchy. The larger figure likely includes funds given by Adelson to politically active nonprofit groups that don’t have to disclose their donors.

Still, Adelson and his allies had to keep up the pressure on Trump to achieve both of their recent successes. Adelson was upset that Trump didn’t act to move the embassy early on in his tenure, as he’d pledged during the campaign. Likewise, Trump took a long time to decide to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.

But the Las Vegas billionaire – currently rated the 16th richest man in the world with a net worth of $42. 5 billion, according to Forbes – isn’t shy about expressing his views to political heavyweights; at one point, he even offered to help pay for construction of a new embassy building if Trump made the move.

That’s another alternative to diplomacy. Lots of money is always a good alternative to anything, but Paul Waldman sees this:

Monday marked the moment when the policy of the United States government toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lost all complexity, all ambiguity and all nuance.

It wasn’t always like that:

For many years, the behavior of the Israeli government, with regard to the Palestinians, was a source of frustration for both Republican and Democratic presidents. Israel is a staunch ally and we, in turn, are its patron; we give them about $4 billion a year in military aid, and over the years we have provided nearly $135 billion in aid, not adjusted for inflation. But a succession of American presidents has urged the Israeli government – without success – to curtail the building of settlements in the West Bank, knowing that those settlements make it more difficult to arrive at a peace agreement that will allow Palestinians to control their own destiny.

Throughout, the United States has presented itself as not only a necessary partner in negotiations to end the conflict but, at the very least, a semi-neutral arbiter – one concerned about the future of both parties despite its closeness to Israel. It has remained committed to the goal of a two-state solution, in which Israel has the security it craves, the occupation of Palestinian lands ends and the Palestinians are granted the right of self-determination.

Waldman says forget that now:

The current American position is that we would accept a two-state solution, but only if both parties agree. Given that the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is adamantly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state, that position is meaningless. And if you asked any Palestinian, they would have said that previous American governments only pretended to be neutral, while they were really enabling the occupation and seeking only the furtherance of Israeli interests.

Whether you agree or not, under President Trump, the United States is not pretending anything. We have declared unambiguously that we care only about Israel’s interests – or, to be more accurate, Israel’s interests as understood by the conservative Likud party – and that we no longer have any concern for Palestinian rights, Palestinian lives or the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

That’s over now:

The decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem was a symbolic one, but it is a vitally important symbol. Because both Israel and the Palestinians claim the city as their capital, no country had put an embassy there, choosing instead to locate them in Tel Aviv. Previous presidents have promised to move our embassy but not followed through – one after another deciding it would only inflame tensions. The fact that others had promised it, but not delivered, was no doubt a powerful incentive for Trump to relocate the embassy, since he loves being able to say he did what nobody else could do. It’s also obvious he feels absolutely no concern or empathy for the Palestinians and their fate.

That’s okay. He feels absolutely no concern or empathy for anyone else either, not does our ambassador:

David Friedman, who was appointed as the U.S. ambassador to Israel with zero diplomatic experience gave an extraordinary interview to NPR on Monday, during which he made the United States’ new position clear. Host Steve Inskeep noted that, before Israel’s independence, the international community envisioned Jerusalem as an international city, but in subsequent years the Israeli government took actions to create facts on the ground that would solidify its control over it. He asked Friedman whether moving our embassy to Jerusalem was consonant with that effort.

Friedman was having none of that:

Well first of all, I would take issue with beginning the history lesson in 1947. Go back another 3,500 years. Go back to the Bible. I’ll tell you an interesting story. One of the great commentators on the Bible, his name was Rashi, and he said, the reason that the Bible begins with the creation of the world is to create the chain of title from God directly to the Jewish people for the land of Israel, so that if the nations of the world say that the Jewish people don’t own the land of Israel, they would point to the fact that God created the world and gave it to them.

Waldman points out the obvious:

That doesn’t allow much room for negotiation, does it? If the U.S. ambassador is arguing that, when it comes to Jerusalem, there is a “chain of title from God directly to the Jewish people for the land of Israel,” then there’s nothing to talk about.

If there’s nothing to talk about then diplomacy is stupid and Waldman says that it comes down to this:

You might remember that when he came into office, Trump claimed he would try to arrive at a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, even as he acknowledged that it was a difficult challenge. He even assigned his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to oversee the task (when he wasn’t solving the opioid crisis, reforming the prison system and reinventing government, that is). But that’s all behind us now.

The policy of our government may be unstated, but it is crystal clear: The United States will no longer seek peace. The Netanyahu government is free to do whatever it wants – no matter how brutal – and we will not object. As for the Palestinians, we no longer care. They can accept their subjugation or they can cry out in rage against it, but it’s all the same to us.

Friedman was the one who was talking about moral clarity at the ceremony, as Israeli troops where gunning down those protesters – men and women and children – a few miles away. That sort of moral clarity is the alternative to diplomacy now. President Trump doesn’t like diplomacy. He seems to like this. This will not end well.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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