Here’s something you probably didn’t read in your local newspaper. It wasn’t in the New York Times or the Washington Post. Blogging from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) conference in Washington, Chris McGreal of the British Guardian wrote:
“Ahead of the speeches there has been a foreign policy discussion panel. Among the speakers was Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and daughter of George W. Bush’s vice president. There was widespread applause for her attacks on Barack Obama including when she said the president is more interested in ‘containing Israel’ by discouraging it from attacking Iran than blocking Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb. There was also applause when she said there was no president who had done more to ‘undermine and delegitimize’ Israel. There were loud cheers when she predicted that the next Aipac conference will be held under a new US president.”
In the end, the weekend turned out to be a disappointment for Cheney and the other homegrown U.S. political opportunists and reckless supporters of Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu and his rightwing Likud party. While a big effort has been made to put a positive face on the weekend confab, they didn’t get what they really wanted.
“Basically, Obama has refused to have the Greater Israel Lobby move the red lines to rendering Iran incapable of producing a nuclear weapon, rather than deciding to make one or actually making one,” Andrew Sullivan wrote on the Daily Beast. “And this will be where the Greater Israel lobby shifts its support to the Christianist GOP, already committed to the Netanyahu-Lieberman position on Iran and the settlements, and now financed by Greater Israel fanatics, like Sheldon Adelson… So no surprise to hear Liz Cheney was on a panel with this kind of reception.”
Right before Cheney spoke, McGreal blogged, “Then came a statement from one of Aipac’s members that sets the tone of the conference of Israel as besieged by threats and enemies: ‘Iran is marching towards the bomb, the Palestinians seem more interested in bringing the terrorist group Hamas in to power and the Arab Spring has turned to a cold winter.’”
“Tellingly, Obama made only a brief reference to the Palestinian issue and Netanyahu said nothing about it at all, demonstrating how much it has been sidelined by the Iran crisis, to the Israeli leadership’s gratification,” McGreal reported.
But alas, the Palestinian issue is hardly going to go away. In an opinion piece in Monday’s Financial Times, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard Kennedy School, respectively, wrote that the Aipac confab offered Netanyahu and the U.S. President “a chance to appeal to some of Israel’s most ardent American supporters. We can therefore expect to hear repeated references to the ‘common interests, ‘unshakeable bonds’ and ‘shared values’ of the two countries.”
“This familiar rhetoric is misleading at best and at worst simply wrong,” Mearsheimer and Walt wrote. “No states have identical interests, and Israel and America are at odds on two vital issues: Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Obama should continue to rebuff Israel’s efforts to push him into military confrontation with Tehran, while reminding Mr. Netanyahu the true danger to Israel lies in its refusal to allow a viable Palestinian state.”
“On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu is convinced it wants nuclear weapons, and that this goal threatens Israel’s existence. He does not think diplomacy can stop Iran, and wants the US to destroy its nuclear facilities. If Mr. Obama refuses to order an attack, the Israeli leader would like a green light to do so.”
“Mr. Obama and his advisers – including the military – see things differently,” The two wrote. “They do not want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but they do not believe a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel. After all, Israel has its own nuclear arsenal, and could obliterate Iran if attacked. US intelligence is also confidant Tehran has not yet decided to build nuclear weapons. Indeed, US leaders worry that, no matter who does it, an attack would convince Iran it needs its own nuclear deterrent. They are correct.”
“The gulf between Washington and Jerusalem is just as wide on the Palestinian issue,” Mearsheimer and Walt wrote. “Mr. Netanyahu opposed the 1993 Oslo accords, which sought to resolve the conflict and establish Palestinian self-rule. The only ‘state’ he would countenance today is a set of disconnected and disarmed enclaves under de facto Israeli control. He was elected in 2009 on a platform rejecting Palestinian statehood, and his cabinet is populated with politicians who want to control the West Bank forever. His government continues to expel Palestinians from their homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and to expand Israeli settlements there.”
“By contrast, Mr. Obama is committed to helping create a viable Palestinian state living alongside Israel in peace. As he said in Cairo in June 2009, a two-state solution is ‘in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest, and the world’s interest’. He knows the combination of US support for Israel and Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians fuels anti-Americanism throughout the Arab and Islamic world, and contributes to the global terrorism problem.”
“In fact, the Palestinian issue is the real existential threat to Israel,” the two academics continued. “More than 500,000 Israeli Jews now live in the occupied territories, and continued settlement building will lead to a single state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Given demographic trends, this “Greater Israel” could not be both a Jewish state and a full democracy. Instead, it would be an apartheid state, th reatening Israel’s legitimacy and long-term survival. As Ehud Olmert, former prime minister, said in 2007, if the two-state solution fails, Israel ‘will face a South African-like struggle for equal voting rights”. And if that happens, he warned, ‘the state of Israel is finished’.”
“Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Obama have clashed repeatedly on the Palestinian issue, and each time Mr. Obama has backed down. He is unlikely to press the issue between now and November’s election. Instead, he will act as if the US and Israel remain the closest of allies.”
“If only this were true. In fact, this situation highlights the dysfunctional nature of the ‘special relationship’” the two wrote. “If the US and Israel had a normal relationship, Mr. Obama could make his disagreements with Mr. Netanyahu plain, and use the bully pulpit and America’s substantial leverage to help Israel rethink its course. But Aipac and other groups in the formidable Israel lobby insist politicians admit no daylight between what Israel wants and what Washington says and does. For Mr. Obama, acknowledging these obvious strategic differences would alienate crucial political allies, leading Democratic Party fundraisers and Israel’s supporters in the media, imperiling his re-election prospects.”
“Because war entails significant costs and risks, and brings no lasting benefits, the best hope is that Mr. Obama will continue to deflect pressure for military action, no matter what he says in public. Meanwhile, the greatest danger to Israel – the occupation – continues unchecked.”
“For the worldview of Cheney and Netanyahu to prevail, Obama must be defeated,” wrote Sullivan. “That is clearly the agenda of the current Israeli government, and what the NYT delicately but accurately calls “‘Israel’s backers’ in the US.’”
“My worry is that once the Likudniks begin to realize Obama may not be defeated by the GOP at home, the current Israeli government would launch a war without warning to create a crisis to humiliate the president, rally end-times evangelicals to vote, send oil prices soaring, and force the US president to co-opt a war he does not want and does not yet believe is necessary,” wrote Sullivan March 4. “If that helps the GOP nominee, so much the better. Every GOP candidate is now committed to the most extreme positions of the Likudniks Israeli right – and are to the bellicose right of most Israelis.
“I hope that the Israeli government is not that reckless or extreme. But ask yourself when thinking about Netanyahu: what would Cheney do? These individuals are radicals. They turned the US into a torturing nation and regarded that decision as a ‘no-brainer.’ A ‘wag-the-dog’ scenario in which Netanyahu creates a war to wound and weaken a US president before an election is, sadly, not unthinkable. And he will have the GOP as his critical back-up.”
On Tuesday, the Financial Times put the challenge before the Obama Administration in rather sharp terms. The disagreements between the President and the Israeli prime Minister, the paper said editorially, “go deeper than Iran.”
“For both the US and Israel, theirs is a critical relationship that has gone sour over the past two and a half years,” paper’s editors wrote, “ Mr. Obama came to power promising to bring a new approach to US dealings with the Muslim world, most notably in his Cairo speech in 2009. Implicit was the idea that the US would act more even-handedly in the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio – requiring Mr. Obama to play the part of Israel’s candid friend.
“To say that he has underwhelmed in this role is to be kind. Twice, for instance, Mr. Obama has called on Israel to freeze settlement-building in the occupied territories. Twice he has capitulated after being rebuffed.”
“While preserving an amicable working relationship is important, Mr. Obama should take a robust line, stressing what the US believes to be its own interests regarding Iran and Palestine,’ the paper continued. “Echoing the US military, he should make it plain to Mr. Netanyahu that an attack on Iran at this stage would be a grave error, and that Israel’s own future is bound up with the need to find a settlement with the Palestinians. Mr. Obama promised candor on the Middle East. He must now deliver.”