[tweetmeme] Today’s op-eds had some gems. Tom Friedman had a nice article in the NY Times while the Washington Post ran a collection of opinions on the state of US-Israeli relations. Both articles seem to conclude that the Obama Administration is weak and unable to stand up to Netanyahu. While I agree that Obama must hit the diplomatic gym to gain some muscle, none of the commentators in either article placed any blame for the current disagreements on Israel. Considering the hardline stance taken by the Netanyahu government and the recent humiliation of VP Biden, the cause of the weakened US-Israeli relation is clearly in Tel Aviv.
Friedman certainly was correct in one assertion he made in his article – that Biden, after hearing about the settlement construction plans in East Jerusalem – should have turned around and cancelled the rest of his trip. Israel cannot be allowed to get away with undermining the peace process, stealing Palestinian land and humiliating its best ally with nothing more than a verbal scolding. Unfortunately, it looks as though a rough talking-to is all Bibi will receive.
Interestingly, Friedman talks about an informal agreement between US envoy George Mitchell and Netanyahu:
Mitchell’s and Netanyahu’s aides struck an informal deal: If America got talks going, there would be no announcements of buildings in East Jerusalem, nothing to embarrass the Palestinians and force them to walk. Netanyahu agreed, U.S. officials say, but made clear he couldn’t commit to anything publicly.
If true, the announcement of more settlement construction is an even bigger strategic error by Israel. Netanyahu’s government has been making decisions that should result in anger in Washington – Obama’s goal of peace between Palestine and Israel is being thrown away by what is increasingly seeming like an incompetent Israeli government. Friedman needed to say as much.
The Washington Post article included opinions from Elliot Abrams (CFR), David Makovsky (WINEP), Aaron David Miller (WW International Center), Daniella Pletka (AEI), Hussein Agha (Oxford) and Robert Malley (ICG). This group reads like a roll call at AIPAC and writes like one too.
Abrams starts by saying: “The current friction in U.S.-Israel relations has one source: the mishandling of those relations by the Obama administration.” He goes on to say that Obama is wrong for using the word condemn in response to Israeli settlements (“The verb “condemn” is customarily reserved by U.S. officials for acts of murder and terrorism — not acts of housing”) and that the disagreements between the US and Israel will be mended with time as Obama is kicked out of office. I don’t understand how Abrams can seriously suggest that continuing construction in Palestine – something that is illegal, condemned internationally and hurts both American standing and security in the Middle East – is only a problem because Obama correctly sees it as immoral and counterproductive. Nowhere does Abrams even mention the idiotic announcements of Israel in the last few days. The Israeli press is all over Netanyahu, but Abrams blames Obama.
Miller, like Friedman, argues that Obama does not have an Israeli policy: “Caught up in tactics, the Obama team can’t decide whether it wants to pander to the Israelis or punish them.” This is true, but Miller continues to say that Obama should not make a big deal out of the recent settlement issue as there are more important arguments to have. Apparently, for Miller, it is more important to pander to Israel than punish them for undermining the US government.
Pletka calls the Biden trip a failed mission (implying this was Biden’s fault) and refers to Obama as an indifferent president. Obama is far from indifferent. She laments that the real problem between Israel and the US is that Obama does not realize the mutual threats to the US and Israel. Claiming that resolving the Palestinian crisis will not help to deter Iran, she concludes “that hat President Obama misses this key point [Palestine is less important than Iran] is troubling indeed.” Yet, to refer back to Friedman, a competent Israeli government that makes peace with Palestine takes a lot of support away from Iran. By looking like an aggressive beast that doesn’t care about peace, Israel is pushing more support towards the Persians. The fact that Pletka doesn’t understand this (not to mention the morality of the entire issue) is certainly more troubling.
Agha, Malley and Makovskiy add more imput, but do not assign any blame to the Netanyahu administration. One thing that Agha and Malley pointed to was that the Biden trip was not an act of sabotage, but simply one of truth as it revealed how far apart the US and Israel are. The entire Post article seems to be simply a defense of what was a truly horrendous miscalculation by Israel.
Friedman and the writers that contributed to the Post article are correct in one thing: Obama needs to have an Israeli policy. What is not said in the articles is that this approach needs to be a solid and moral one that will not allow Israel to further undermine American efforts for peace. However, all the writers that wrote for both the Times and the Post today need to take a long look at the recent decisions of the Israeli government. The refusal of Netanyahu to truly commit to peace is continuing to erode the American image in the country. Furthermore, events like Biden’s embarrassment are convincing the Arab world that the US in incapable of standing up to Israel.
By only blaming Obama for Israeli intransigence, today’s commentators are showing themselves to be far out of touch with reality.