By now you have certainly heard of Israel’s plans to build another 1000 houses in East Jerusalem while on his most recent visit to the US, less than a week after the midterm elections. And, I should hope, you see the parallel between the latest announcement and the one from last March when VP Biden was visiting Israel. Both occurred mere hours after Biden expressed that there should be no daylight between the US and Israel and that Israel should stop its illegal construction. Both, be sure, were deliberate insults to Biden, Obama and the rest of the US.
Of course Obama fought back with everything he had, calling the announcement ‘unhelpful’ – nasty stuff. Not to remain quiet in the face of such hostility from the most “anti-Israeli President in modern history,” Netanyahu clarified that settlements have nothing to do with the peace process and reassured all the world that there wouldn’t be a settlement freeze in Jerusalem, seeing that it is not a settlement– phew. Many Israelis see the announcement as a ‘pointless provocation’ – keep in mind that most Israelis actually want peace. Palestinians look at the announcement and are ready to pronounce talks as dead (as if they weren’t before) and look to international recognition.
Time for the famed Obama left hook knock out punch?
Ok, well maybe it isn’t infamous, or, well, existent, but MJ Rosenberg thinks it is about time that Obama hit the gym and learn to fight:
All this presents Obama with the first opportunity, post-election, to demonstrate how he will deal with the right-wing opposition through 2012. He can slap Bibi down hard, slow down the US aid train, and, make it clear that he is reassessing relations until Netanyahu backs down.
He can treat Netanyahu in exactly the way he should deal with Mitch McConnell and others who see their life’s mission as destroying Obama’s Presidency. (Except Netanyahu’s offense is worse. He is a foreign leader who gets more aid from the United States, by far, than any other country)…
Or he can try to conciliate a foreign leader who is trying to destroy him, thereby sending the message that turning the other cheek is still the order of the day…
Re-evaluating US policy toward Israel now is the best thing Obama can do for himself politically and for the United States strategically.
And it’s the best thing for Israel too, where the majority of Israelis, who favor the security of their country over continuation of the occupation, will be empowered. They might even be able to dump Bibi once and for all. This crisis is an opportunity for us and for them, but only if it is not defused…
Obama cannot let that happen, Obama needs to make Netanyahu back down publicly and thereby indicate that he knows he is dealing with a President of the United States, not some guy who, by definition, does not belong in the White House.
[tweetmeme] Netanyahu’s announcement is nothing more than an attempt to prove that he, more than Obama, rules the United States of America. President Netanyahu? Not a bad ring to it. After all, Bibi went to high school and university in the state. He received his MA in the US and studied at MIT and Harvard and, hell, he even speaks republican. But I digress.
Obama needs to do more than simply say that the announcement is ‘unhelpful.’ Like Rosenberg, I believe that Obama must come out swinging – or at least put on the gloves. It is increasingly clear that the American populace – and more importantly, American Jews – are fed up with Netanyahu and his lie about wanting peace. An Obama that stands up for the integrity of the United States, who refuses to be pushed around and who actually does what is morally, ethically and strategically right is good for everyone.
Most tough love responses are certainly going to make Obama’s life more difficult with fellow politicians but it seems as though this is just another case where the political elite are out of touch with what the people want.* Despite getting more or less ravaged in the elections, the democrats once again managed to hold onto a significant majority of Jewish votes. For Jewish Americans, Israel is a secondary issue and it is increasingly clear that the right-wing of Israel is quickly losing American Jews. A tough response will probably do little to dent Obama’s 2012 campaign – with the voters, that is. On the contrary, it would likely help the President who many see as soft.
Like Rosenberg, I think Obama needs to respond and make March’s ‘crisis’ – Israeli ambassador called the March crisis a ‘tectonic rift’ – seem small. Instead of slowing down the ‘US aid train,’ as Rosenberg suggests – a move that would require Congressional support – Obama needs to do something more drastic. My thought: support the Palestinians for once.
The Palestinians have already said that they might seek recognition of an independent state along ’67 lines from the US and, if that fails, from the UN. Obama should recognize Palestine and make a special note that Palestine includes East Jerusalem as its capital. It is a move that would surely create many ripples and make Obama some enemies among those who only care about the damaging notion of Eretz Israel. But let’s be honest. Those people hate the President already.
Considering that it is clear that Netanyahu doesn’t want peace and that a Palestinian-Israeli peace would benefit US and Israeli strategic interests and security, the move makes sense. Need more? Convinced that East Jerusalem is part of Israel and that the Israeli government takes good care of those East Jerusalemites? Well the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem disagrees. East Jerusalem – or at least its overwhelming Palestinian population – is largely ignored by the Israeli government. Since its illegal and unilateral annexation of the future Palestinian capital, Israel has “built almost no new school, public building, or medical clinic for Palestinians. The lion’s share of investment has been dedicated to the city’s Jewish areas.” Moreover, the PNA is the ‘de facto sovereign‘ of East Jerusalem, carrying out all the municipal projects that the Israeli government refuses to do.
Obama needs to do something that shows Americans, Israelis and the world – particularly his buddy Bibi – that he is no pushover, that Netanyahu cannot control the White House. Recognize Palestine, talk to the UN and get a Security Council vote to the same effect. Stop cradling Israeli extremism as if that is what the American public, the American Jews and the Israeli public want. Doing so only hurts American interests and American credibility, not to mention Israeli security. Netanyahu needs to feel some pressure and Obama has the power to show the Israeli PM that Israel does not get a carte blanche in illegal activity and does not get free swipes at American honor and integrity.
Will Obama follow this path? Assuredly not. But he should.
*Recently I saw Ilam Pappe speak here in Ramallah and he stressed this point while discussing why Israel enjoys so much political support despite the popular discontent with Israeli policies. Pappe noted that most people would like a tougher stance on Israeli intransigence, but politicians stick to the Israeli love. I’ll put a quotation up when I am home with my notebook.
Photo from Marty Robert’s [ridiculous] Blog