Israel Seeking to Tread a Lonely Path

I'd advise against this tack, Israel.

Israel will not heed President Barack Obama's powerful appeal to halt all settlement activity on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state, officials said Friday.

The government plans to allow construction inside existing West Bank settlements to accommodate for growing families, said the officials, explaining a position that looks sure to cause a serious policy clash with the United States.

This "growing families" line is bullcrap and there's no way that Israel's government doesn't know it.  Look at Hong Kong: This is an island city that has 1.3 million people in 80 square kilometers... Jerusalem has 750 thousand people in 125 square kilometers.  That "growing families" line just don't cut it, guys.

Let's face it: Israel doesn't need more settlements, they need high rise apartment buildings. Part of living in a place, whether it's a neighborhood in my own Minneapolis, or a country like Israel in the Middle East, is learning to live with one's neighbors.  If I tried to feed a line to my neighbors saying that, "oh, my flower garden just needs to grow onto your property, I hope you don't mind me digging up your carrots so I can plant more petunias," I would probably end up in court and losing badly.

Israel should expect the same thing if they persist with this. I understand how they feel entitled to the land; going back to the garden analogy, for years the neighborhood association has been extremely permissive my rowdy gardening because my apartment building burned down and they felt sorry for me... but after a few years, such patience can and should wear thin.

Israel's new leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, refuses to endorse Palestinian statehood or accept a settlement freeze.

Yes, Bibi.  I know you're on the "tough guy" side of the Israeli political playground;  thing is, there's always someone bigger... and right now, that someone is Obama and the weight of international opinion.  Even the schoolyard bully backs off when the playground monitor comes over, and, be certain, Bibi: The monitor has come over.  Obama's not going to back off on this, and I'll tell you why: He wants to put ending your conflict with Palestine on his resume'.  Plenty of other presidents have tried to bring Middle Eastern peace in the last few months of their presidencies, but Obama knows better; he's going to have to keep at it for all eight years of his two terms to put a dent in it.

So you have two choices: help him, and write yourself into the history books as a great leader, or fight it and face the same fate as all of Obama's other recent opponents: grudgingly working with him in the end anyway.

"With all due respect to President Obama, and there is respect, and to the deep friendship between Israel and the United States, no foreign leader of another country will set policy in Judea and Samaria," lawmaker Ofir Akonis of Netanyahu's Likud Party told Army Radio. Judea and Samaria are the Hebrew terms used for the West Bank.

Hate to break it to you, Ofir, but foreign leaders are making policy in Judea and Samaria.  You and your Israeli government are the foreign leaders of this conquered territory.

So enough with the posturing.  Either help us out, or stop acting like contentious children who got their hands on guns and tanks.  The path you're heading towards is going to be a lonely one; the rest of the world is just about out of patience.

ADDENDUM: It just occurred to me that Israel doesn't have to dismantle the settlements... why not just sell them to Palastinians for a reasonable price? Sign over the deeds to the construction, and suddenly you have helped atone for all the buildings destroyed in your military's last rampage and abandoned a distructive course of action. Or does that make too much sense?

Tags: Israel, obama, Palistine, West Bank (all tags)




The government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to go beyond the formal response, said that instead of halting all settlement activity, Israel planned to take down 22 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank in the coming weeks.

not sure if i'd take the anonymous sources to be representative of the government's position on this just yet.  that said - if in fact it does represent bib's coalition of nutters position - the settlements are not popular amongst the israeli public...  this would bring down the government. not such a bad thing.

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 08:54AM | 0 recs
Of course not

I can't extrapolate their official position, but I can build up one potential and knock it down, can't I?  In a way, this is the time to be doing this; so Israel can weigh their options in private before doubling down on some particular stand.

by Dracomicron 2009-06-05 09:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Of course not

bibi has been clear, he won't halt settlement activity, and his entire religious philosophy is toward more activity, not less.  He won't listen to you, or to anyone. The Israeli people need to get rid of him and elect a reform government with 50 percent of the vote.  Bibi is a broken vessel, a seriously cracked individual, but he's absolutely certain he's right.  He's simply dangerous. Barack is speaking to the people, not to Bibi.  There is no point speaking to Bibi.  When Barack speaks of the Iranian potential he's also speaking to the people, not Bibi.  

by anna shane 2009-06-05 12:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Of course not

Actually Bibi is very secular, unless nationalism is a religion of sorts.  He just makes common cause with the paranoid messianists who form the hard core of the settler movement.

by Strummerson 2009-06-05 12:42PM | 0 recs
Re: Of course not

not secular, cagey, he agrees with his dad, and at times has made no bones about where he stands.  If he's not religious, he's racist, you pick.  

by anna shane 2009-06-05 01:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Of course not

they're not mutually exclusive.

But generally, especially in an Israeli context, if one doesn't observe the sabbath traditionally and keep kosher, one is not considered religious.  Bibi does not.  Nor does he study religious texts and attend synagogue regularly.

by Strummerson 2009-06-05 02:25PM | 0 recs
Secular ?

How can anyone who believes that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state also be secular ?

by Ravi Verma 2009-06-05 03:22PM | 0 recs
Re: Secular ?

Many people do.  They understand Jewishness as nationality, or culture, and historical connection.

Just like Le Pen thinks France should be for "the French," secular Zionists believe that Israel should be a Jewish state for Jews.  On every Jewish Israeli's ID card there is a designation for l'om, or nationality, and it's filled in with yehudi or Jew.

by Strummerson 2009-06-05 03:28PM | 0 recs
I must have missed something

France is for the French, and America is for Americans... but anyone can become French (or American) if you live in France (or in the US) long enough.  As far as I know, it is not possible to become Jewish if you happen to have the wrong set of parents.

When someone says that Israel must remain a Jewish state, they are not claiming a Jewish nationality (regardless of what is states on the ID cards), but a religion that excludes other religions.

Your logic seems very contorted.

by Ravi Verma 2009-06-05 03:40PM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

The point is that you can believe Israel should be a Jewish state for political reasons (only through maintaining Jewish control can we ensure that Israel remains a safe homeland for the Jews) or you can believe it for religious reasons (God wants the Jews to have this land).

I'm not religious in the slightest yet I believe Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, so your question is almost a non sequitur from my perspective.

by Steve M 2009-06-05 04:02PM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

I would submit that you have the ability to carry two contradictory ideas in your head.  And your statements reflect that.

Just because you believe that Israel should be a Jewish state for political reasons does not make your argument secular... your underlying argument (that only Jewish control will enable Jewish safety) is demonstrably non-secular.

by Ravi Verma 2009-06-05 07:22PM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

Uh, there's nothing "non-secular" about that argument, sorry.  I think you're just not trying very hard to understand.

by Steve M 2009-06-06 08:00AM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

When you say :
"I'm not religious in the slightest yet I believe Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state"
what do you mean by 'jewish' ? As Canadian Gal said, jewish refers to a composite of several things, a religion, an ethnical group, a culture, a history, but to me basically this boils down to two components : religion and ethnicity.

Consequently, I tend to interpret your assertion as meaning that Israel has a right to exist as an ethnical state. Is that what you mean?

by french imp 2009-06-06 06:00AM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

actually if one chooses, they can convert to judaism regardless of parentage.

but perhaps you might consider reading some jewish history books to understand this issue better. it is complicated to be sure, but doing so may help to understand the concept of jewish identity which can manifest itself in many ways as a race, culture and religion.

also - this concept is not relegated only to jews. the nazis had a whole complex strategy for measuring one's jewishness regardless of how religious or not a person was.

likewise this goes for zionism - one does not necessarily need to be religious to be a zionist  or even jewish!

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 04:23PM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

actually if one chooses, they can convert to judaism regardless of parentage.

So, if all the Palestinian refugees converted to Judaism tomorrow, they would all automatically have the right of return ?  And be welcomed to boot ?

Perhaps they should consider it...the I/P problem could be solved with one simple stroke.

I think I understand enough about history to know what you are referring to.  Alas, it does not make up for the contradiction.  You can make the argument that Jews deserve a separate homeland, but you cannot also pretend that such an argument is devoid of religious connotations (and is secular... which is separate from religion.)

by Ravi Verma 2009-06-05 07:16PM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

im not sure your framing is quite right.

and while you point out one of the problems that is intrinsically tied to the creation of the state of israel - it also fails to address the realities of what actually happened that led to the palestinian plight - much of which has nothing to do with jews or israelis.

but frankly i think this type of thinking is unhelpful. as obama said yesterday - 'israel is not going anywhere' - so harping six-decades old UN resolutions, jewish identities and what-not seem entirely unproductive.

instead - why not listen to obama when he says past perceived injustices must be brushed aside (of which both sides have many) and more forward so that peace can be achieved.

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 07:52PM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

Indeed if you live in France long enough you may apply to French citizenship, and, if you are well integrated you usually obtain it. But that's not to Le Pen's liking. When he and his followers say 'France for the French', they mean, for those who are of genuine French stock or suchlike crap. They would retroactively cancel naturalizations.

Therefore the comparison between Le Pen and the Likoud is apt, if ironical. By the way, French far-right antisemites are often pro-sionists, they
don't want jews in France but they are very happy with the idea of jews killing arabs over there.

by french imp 2009-06-06 05:49AM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

used to be a French man who married a foreigner kept his French citizenship and his wife automatically became a French citizen, but if a French woman married a foreigner, she'd lose her French citizenship.  The French were also big though on 'let them be French.'  

by anna shane 2009-06-06 07:55AM | 0 recs
Re: I must have missed something

"Your logic seems very contorted."

It's not about my logic.  It's about your ignorance regarding how different Jews understand their own identity, something about which you really get no say, anymore than I have the right to dictate how any particular South Asian identity is constituted.  The fact is that many Jews understand "Jewishness" in a secular and national sense.  It may be foreign to your experience and understanding.  But nonetheless, the majority of Israeli Jews understand themselves in this way.  They may still employ religious rituals to mark life-cycle events and observe holidays for cultural and familial reasons, but most do not observe the commandments and study the texts that mark one as a religious Jew.

The Zionist movement began as a secular response to inhospitable social and political conditions.  It was an anti-messianic movement, i.e. a refusal to wait for messianic redemption and a preference for political action over religious faith.  The vast majority of early Zionist thinkers and leaders were atheists: Herzl, Syrkin, Ahad Ha'am, Jabotinsky, Weitzmann, Borochov, Ben Gurion, Meir, etc.  To my knowledge, only Begin among Israeli Prime Ministers has observed Jewish religious practices.

When you cite below your additional misconception that Jewishness is exclusively defined by parentage, you evince a tacit acknowledgment that Jewishness cannot be defined exclusively by religious faith.  The implication of this is that Jewishness is primarily defined as an ethnicity, regardless of faith or confession.  Indeed, as others remarked below, there are mechanisms to become Jewish.  Though the mechanisms of conversion are religious, they also connote national affiliation.  Now this may not be logically coherent in your eyes.  But we are discussing complex cultural phenomena, which do not conform to the principle of non-contradiction, but indeed always in every culture bear internal conflicts and idiosyncrasies.

And yes, if all Palestinians converted to Judaism they would be considered Jews in every sense.  But unless you are just being polemical, the suggestion that they do so borders on the monstrous.  Why should they give up their own culture, beliefs, and history?  If an individual chooses to do so, that is one thing and the expression of an individual right.  But a mass conversion coerced by a political conflict would be an unethical atrocity.  Coerced assimilation, whether at the barrel of a gun or in answer to oppressive conditions is the cultural corollary of physical genocide.

In general, I would recommend a little humility precede your enthusiasm for exercising judgment.  These are cultural and historical phenomena with which you are clearly unfamiliar.  Reducing them to a logical problem framed with misconceptions and misunderstandings in order to presume to dictate "solutions" as you do in this thread, is really beyond the pale.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 05:53AM | 0 recs
I supposed I touched a raw nerve there!!

But you still make no sense.  You advocate that I adopt some humility...but I should suggest the same to you.

(a) In the grand scheme of things, it really matters squat how you view yourself.  Most individuals and cultures work overtime to define a more favorable view of themselves, in comparison to reality.  Gen. Musharraf, for instance, called himself a benevolent dictator.  Most others just called him a dictator.  Likewise, just because a person who separates people on the basis of religion, and who advocates a state based on religion, wherein people are differentiated on the basis of their religion, and who then turns around and claims the mantle of secular... remains demonstrably non-secular, and delusional to boot.  (And I am really sorry if this description applies to you as well)

(b) Your argument that being a Jew is a matter of nationality, and not religion is a wafer thin argument.

(c) My suggestion that all Palestinians convert to Judaism is ridiculous...but not because of the reasons you stated, but because it would have no effect whatsoever.  I have no doubt that the powers that be (i.e., the ones that decide on who is and is not a Jew in Israel) would declare their conversion null and void.  There is no rationale in maintaining a separate homeland for  the Jews if everyone was a Jew.

Of course, if it were not so, they would have all converted en-masse, returned to Israel, ontained their citizenships/rights and then converted back to Islam.

All in all, from reading your post, I suspect there is nothing I can say that will influence your thinking on this matter.  I suppose I should have refrained from commenting, but there you go...

by Ravi Verma 2009-06-07 11:15AM | 0 recs
Re: I supposed I touched a raw nerve there!!

My response to your (a) is that this is a fundamentally unethical perspective.  The first premise of ethical engagement is respect for difference and for "the other."  You display none here.  To use Musharraf's rhetoric as somehow relevant to historically and culturally specific group identities is, well, silly.  Apples and oranges.

As for (b), you frankly have no idea what you are talking about and once again you display an unethical attitude that assumes any particular culture functions according to your under-informed perspective and absolute logic.  Calling something a "wafer-thin" argument isn't even an argument.  I provided you with historical context.  You dismiss it because it doesn't fit in with your presumptuous posturing.  This is beneath contempt.

Your (c) is completely speculative.  But sure, go ahead with your in-depth understanding of Israeli sociology.  I welcome your expertise.  Perhaps you want to perform a heart transplant in your spare time.

All in all, there really is nothing that someone with your lack of background on the specificities of these issues and unethical arrogance can say that will influence my thinking on this matter.  

You simply do not understand what you are talking about.  Why you feel compelled to hold forth in this manner is frankly troubling.

But then again, you once held forth at length that Jews should have just assimilated.  Let's just dissolve all cultural and political difference and enshrine majoritarian hegemony.  In your homogenizing crucible of identity, we'll all be at peace and as bland as a strip mall.  I salute your allegiance to the darkest side of "humanism."  

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 11:43AM | 0 recs
for your

desperately needed edification on the subject:

In recent years, however, Israel has seen the instigation of a process that contradicts the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. Why has the phrase "we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz-Israel" come to mean "we hereby declare that Israel is a Jewish state" or that "Israel is a Jewish democratic state"? This change of direction stems from several reasons, but first and foremost it is due to the ever growing national Palestinian minority within the state of Israel. In order to "protect" our identity from the Arab-Palestinian minority in Israel we have invented a phrase that has become a sort of magic incantation ? "democratic Jewish state". Jewish, to protect our identity versus the Palestinian identity within us, and democratic, to assure the Arabs that their rights are not being violated.

But is this phrase really beneficial to both sides? Or has it become detrimental to everyone ? Jews, Israelis and Arabs? In the spirit of the ironic remark made by MK Ahmed Tibi "the state of Israel is Jewish for the Arabs and democratic for the Jews" is the ever growing discrepancy between the term "Israeli" and the terms "Jew" and "Palestinian" a positive change for Israeli Jews as well as for the Palestinian-Arab Israelis?

The problems that arise from the phrase "Jewish democratic state" are many, and therefore the attempts to soften or circumvent it have been extensive, with countless articles and conferences. The first problem has to do with the word "Jewish" which holds within it a basic ambiguity that is a source of confusion. The term "Jewish" is a term that signifies national identity rather than religious identity. Even in the Halakha (Jewish law), it is said that a Jew is anyone who was born to a Jewish mother, and nowhere does it require a Jew to believe in the Torah to be considered a Jew.

Therefore, if we want to be logically accurate, the word Jew can't be listed among the words Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, but rather one would have to say "religious Jew" or "practicing Jew" to put it among the same ranks. Logically, the word Jew belongs much more among terms like French, Chinese or English. The Jewish faith is an optional part of being a Jew, just as Catholicism or Christianity is an optional part of being an Italian or English, or the way Islam is optional for Egyptians. This has been absolutely proven over the last 200 years of Jewish secularism.

The moment you begin to overuse the phrase "democratic Jewish state" you automatically put the religious factor into a national issue, but that is not the case here. The state of Israel is governed by its citizens, and not by any religious body. Any power that religious bodies have in Israel, they were given by the civilian government, of its own volition, on the basis of this or that coalition consideration. And that which is given can just as easily be taken away.

State backing of religious institutions exists in many places around the world. Israel is not exceptional in its incorporation of religious elements, such as holidays, in its national experience. Therefore, the combination "Jewish state" - even alongside its insurance policy "democratic" ? sounds hostile and offensive to the non-Jewish citizens of the country. They hear in this combination ? whether we intend it or not ? the same thing we hear in the phrase "Muslim state". Because even if the word "democratic" was added to the phrase "Muslim state" it would fail to neutralize the basic alienation inherent in the phrase for non-Muslims.

Furthermore, the phrase "Jewish state" and the religious association it evokes forces the non-Jewish citizens to emphasize their own religion in protest, be it Islam or Christianity, in order to establish their own separate identity. While the name "Israeli state", whether accompanied by the word "democratic" or not, evokes a closeness and partnership with this country.

The word "democratic" is weak and problematic and incapable of protecting the rights of the minority against, say, the discriminatory land sale laws of the JNF. However, if the word was linked to the phrase "Israeli state" it would naturally have more power in protecting the rights of all Israelis, as it would not be the job of the "Jews" to protect the "democracy" of the Arabs. Instead, it would be all the Israelis standing guard to protect the democracy that complies with universal civilian criteria.

On the surface, it appears we're dealing with a mere linguistic issue, which by itself could not resolve existential issues that have only been deteriorating at the hand of the nationalistic right recently. However, it creates a joint foundation, on which it would be easier to begin the repairs.

The entire essay may be read here: 809.html

by Strummerson 2009-06-10 07:50AM | 0 recs
Another thing you missed...

The reason I used the Le Pen example is that he and his followers actually resist a broad and republican definition of French identity.  This is the problem of all restrictive ethono-centric nationalisms.  It's also one of my major points of disagreement with political Zionism.

But why I am arguing with you at all.  You're the expert.  Anything that doesn't fit your argument must be irrelevant.  Let's raise a glass to intellectual honesty.

by Strummerson 2009-06-07 12:01PM | 0 recs
Re: hhmmm..

I don't know if I'd agree regarding the unpopularity of the settlements.  Polls say whatever they say, but the stubborn fact is that no matter who happens to be running the Israeli government, there never seems to be enough political capital to do anything about the settlements.  We needed a big-time Nixon-goes-to-China moment just to do something about Gaza, and we know the West Bank is a much bigger problem than Gaza.

You may not have a majority of the Israeli public that supports the settler agenda, but if you have a politically powerful minority, in practice it amounts to the same thing.  The real tipping point, the thing about this week that's so encouraging, is occurring among legislators in the U.S., particularly Democrats who have been pretty unquestioningly pro-Israel in the past.  Presidents including GWB have paid lip service to the concept of reining in the settlements, but by using his political capital to put the issue front and center, Obama really seems to have found a successful wedge.

by Steve M 2009-06-05 09:41AM | 0 recs
political capital...

that's the key isn't it?

the settlements (and its lobby) have more to do with strategic military reasons (physical buffer) than religious as evidenced in the many govts that sustained them. and it is those interests that have guided their continued growth (not that this makes it right) for better of for worse.

i have gone on record as stating that i believe one of the largest stumbling blocks in achieving peace (on the israeli side) is the fact that their political system sets up an environment for failure. way too many seats in the knesset and political parties force any government to form paper-thin majorities, coalitions with fringe interests and as you said above lack of political capital.

you're right that obama is creating a wedge issue which has put netanyahu in a tenuous position. and i believe will bring down the govt.

yesterday obama discussed the israeli-arab conflict in terms of interests, and refrained from speaking about values and ethics. the israeli majority who do not agree with the settlements, im guessing would gladly pack their bags today, but they cannot also also cannot ignore their history. obama's ability to enforce peace on those that don't want it is a much harder sell to the israeli public than the settlements i think.

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 12:26PM | 0 recs
Re: political capital...

I have a colleague at work who is a Republican and pretty solidly pro-Israel.  But even he has no brief for the settlement issue.  He tells me, "Look, of course I think the Palestinians are more to blame for the present situation, but even if the blame is parceled out 60/40, you still have to do something about your 40%!"

The American public is definitely on Israel's side in the greater conflict, but it's in the generic sense of Israel being the "good guys."  If the settlement issue is front and center in explicit terms, there really are not that many Americans who are going to go to the mat so that right-wing fundamentalist Israelis can keep expanding settlements and prolonging the I/P conflict.  And I think there are enough Israelis, possibly even including Netanyahu himself, who are not willing to prioritize the settlers over the American relationship if it comes right down to it.

by Steve M 2009-06-05 12:50PM | 0 recs
Re: political capital...

well - we'll have to part company here on a couple of issues.  first - that the settlements are the cause of the i/p conflict.  not that they are justified or help the situation, but it might be worth remembering what happened when the israelis left gaza. the second - that bibi, or for that matter any israeli govt.  wouldn't ultimately listen to the obama. nothing israel does is in contravention of the US wishes.

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 01:00PM | 0 recs
Re: political capital...

"part company here on a couple of issues.  first - that the settlements are the cause of the i/p conflict."

You are correct. The conflict began in 1948 with the massive ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from the homes and villages, 800,000 being the number given, two thirds of their population.

But still, if we look for a more updated version of the causes, nothing is more central than the colonization that has been going on for 40 years. That means settlement building, villages, towns, and cities built in the Palestinian territories since 1967.

You are partially right and partially wrong on this point.

The evacuation of Gaza was a political decision by Sharon because it would not be feasible for Israel to annex a small territory containing 1.5 million Palestinians, half of them refugees from 1948. This was no big hearted gesture toward the Palestinians, if that is what you are implying.

by MainStreet 2009-06-05 01:10PM | 0 recs
Re: political capital...

I'd say significantly before 1948.

by Strummerson 2009-06-05 01:22PM | 0 recs
Only if you consider

give or take a couple thousand years a bit earlier....

by WashStateBlue 2009-06-05 01:37PM | 0 recs
Re: political capital...

I hope I didn't say that settlements are THE cause, but I think it's hard to dispute that they are A cause.  Since my name is not MainStreet, I would not suggest that if Israel does what it needs to do to achieve peace, that means the Palestinians will automatically hold up their side of the bargain - but, as my friend said, that doesn't mean Israel can just neglect to do its part.

As to the second point, I'm not sure I disagree with you, but your formulation sort of begs the question in that it assumes Obama will never ever blink and therefore Netanyahu will have to.  Maybe, it certainly looks good so far, but we can't actually know that Obama is willing to spend an unlimited amount of political capital on this issue.

by Steve M 2009-06-05 02:08PM | 0 recs
Re: political capital...

I'm guessing he's willing to spend a fair chunk of it, however.  And ironically the way he's handled this issue so far seems to be increasing his political capital, not diminishing it.  The speech in Cairo may not have introduced any new policy but it coherently placed the Israeli/Palestinian issue in a broader context of international policy and emphasised the importance of a negotiated settlement to our overall objectives in the region.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-05 02:35PM | 0 recs
I agree

That his political capital has increased as a result of all that, including his speech in Cairo.  

I am a prime example of that.  Before Cairo, you could not have called me an Obama supporter by any means... today, I am an admirer. (But I will reserve the right to be sceptical)

by Ravi Verma 2009-06-05 03:28PM | 0 recs
Re: political capital...

well i guess we are on the same page then ;)

as to who will blink first - i'm thinking it will be netanyahu since it would appear that there does tend to be consensus amongst most (including israelis) that the settlements need to stop.

just a couple of side notes kind of on topic.  im struck at how obama's speech tended to (for most anyway) reinforce whatever opinion one had about him to begin with.

interestingly too, obama also seems to have changed his rhetoric a bit since the speech yesterday and was using the term 'terrorist' today.

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 04:16PM | 0 recs
i'd add..

that obama clearly knows that and is trying to build support in this way:

Now one of the lessons that I always hear from Israeli friends is never again, in part, means making sure that a Jewish homeland is secure. And that is an entirely appropriate lesson to learn. They can't afford to take risks, potentially existential risks, and which are going to do everything they can to defend themselves. But one of the arguments that I've been making is that it is in their strategic long-term interests, for their self-defense and preservation as a state, a Jewish state, that they are able to resolve this long-standing conflict that over time, is going to make them less and less secure.

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 12:47PM | 0 recs
They want to see a couple of things play out....

First, I have to disagree with CG a bit, I do think Bibi is, at least through back-channels if not outright, going back at Obama. Calling his bluff as it were, but I don't actually think it is a bluff.

This is not surprising, I think he is still stubbornly clinging to the picture Dick Cheney painted of Obama as an efite who would fold when confronted with a tough Israel.  

Bibi has never seemed that political savvy to me, but more someone who is so convinced of his own rightness his mind refuses to see the writing on the wall. And, it was pretty easy to play Bush, as Cheney's Neocons were basically dictating an absolute freehand to Israel, overriding anything the Colin Powell state deparment wanted, by winking and nodding to Isreal on the side.

I am not surprised that Israel is claiming a secret deal with the Bushe's over settlement expansion, I would bet that IS the message that was telegraphed from Dick Cheney's foriegn policy cabal.

Secondly, I think this is a call to arms to AIPAC, and the rest of the Jewish Lobby machine, to see if they can get their congressional allies to back down Obama.

Again, I think they underestimate the power status current in US politics.

It's not the Senate that has the big stick anymore, it's Obama.

That reality also I don't think has sunk in with the Likud yet.

I can understand, for decades, they had a very effective mechanism for directing BOTH parties, but I think they are ignoring a change in the political winds in order to hold onto their belief the landscape has not shifted.

IMO, they are throwing the ball back at Obama, saying: OK, we are going to ignore you, now what are you going to do.

My take is, it's probably too soon to start threatening cutting off funding, that is not a fight Obama relishes right now.

But I do think if Bibi keeps his Dick Cheney characature of Obama as reality, he may find out as the rest of us have, Cheney is not your best source for the unvarnished reality.

by WashStateBlue 2009-06-05 09:22AM | 0 recs
I like it.

Cheney is not your best source for the unvarnished reality.

Understatement of the year!

by Dracomicron 2009-06-05 09:26AM | 0 recs
Re: Israel Seeking to Tread a Lonely Path

Not really certain how lonely Netanyahu's path really is.

As Ehud Barak admitted several years after the Camp David/Taba negotiations with Arafat, he was not even able to get his own party, Labor, the so-called major left wing party in Israel, to vote to dismantle (disengage, actually) a single settlement. Not that was in the best political climate achievable in Israel. Now with Likud leading, and Kadima being just a Likud-Lite group, a middle of the road party, whatever that could mean, on the side-lines, what could conceivably change if Netanyahu's government or coalition fell?

What could Livni do in there, except to say I'm sorry after trying: the votes are not there, Hillary? THe Knesset will not change with a change in leadership, and right now it is as right wing as it has ever been. Labor is disappearing, but we saw what Labor could do in 2000, nada.

They talk about Gaza being under siege, and it is. How about the Israeli Knesset? Any different? Minds closed and nobody can get in.

by MainStreet 2009-06-05 09:49AM | 0 recs

I think the "likud-lite" evaluation is a little too simplistic.  

Some Kadima members are simply Likudniks there for opportunistic reasons like Shaul Mofaz.  His ideology is clearly right wing but he though he'd have a better career following Sharon out of Likud.  Others, such as Livni, are equally nationalistic, but have a more realistic perspective on democracy and demographics.  

Livni's people are more deeply committed to liberalism than their Likud counterparts and think that the only way to keep the potential conflict between nationalism and liberalism at bay is through a territorial division that would preserve a Jewish majority.  In a sense, their ideology is much more streamlined than Labor's.  They are clearer on their nationalist aspirations and less burdened by the internal historical and social conflicts that have undermined Labor's coherence and popularity.  

Which side of Kadima will win and what effect that will have on the party's popularity remains to be seen.  I think it equally as likely that Kadima will not exist in five years as the possibility that it will be a majority party that can use its nationalism to sell two states more effectively than Labor ever could.  The one to watch is Livni.  Mofaz will likely return to the Likud.  If Livini's appeal grows and she displays political courage, she could prove to be the key.  We just do not know right now.

by Strummerson 2009-06-05 11:00AM | 0 recs
Re: Kadima

There are many who hope that your instincts are correct. But she still has to confront the Knesset, where I suspect she will confront so much opposition that the compromises she will have to make will take us all back to where she started. Can she give up the Jordan Valley and survive? Can she produce a continguous state and survive?

The scourge of ethnocentrism is still upon us and its self-serving purpose may create failure. This is not like pulling a few thousand settlers out of Gaza.

by MainStreet 2009-06-05 11:27AM | 0 recs
Re: Israel Seeking to Tread a Lonely Path

From the NYT:

"Obama may have found the soft underbelly of Israel because ending settlements is a consensus issue in the world, among American Jewry and even among a majority of Israelis," said Yossi Beilin, a former leftist minister and parliamentarian who now runs a private consulting firm. "He needs a strong regional coalition to leave Iraq -- and not to leave it to Iran. And it seems like he sees ending settlements as a way to start this process. The only question is whether Netanyahu can do what is needed."

A poll published in Friday's Yediot Aharonot newspaper lends some credence to the view that most Israelis would be willing to go along. Asked whether Mr. Netanyahu should acquiesce to Mr. Obama's demands or risk American sanctions, 56 percent favored acquiescing while 40 percent did not. When asked whether Israel should freeze settlement construction, 52 percent said yes, 40 percent no. But when asked about "natural growth" of families in the settlements, 54 percent favored making allowances.

The issue of natural growth has surfaced so prominently because while the Israeli government presents it as a simple humane need to make room for expanding families, the data show that settler growth has been enormous in recent years and nearly all of it has been labeled natural growth.

Ethan Bronner - Obama Placing Mideast Hopes on Containing Settlements NYT 5 Jun 09

"While every administration has objected to Israeli settlement building in occupied lands, the Obama administration has selected it as the issue that could begin to untie the Gordian knot of the conflict."  You gotta' start somewhere and it seems the Obama administration has picked a sensitive spot.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-05 02:44PM | 0 recs
They underestimate Obama and Clinton me thinks...

Throw Rahm in the mix, and there probably isn't an AIPAC lobbiest or a Israeli politician they don't know very well or what is coming at them if this is the showdown this early.

Bibi also must know, Obama will not, can not back off from that line he has drawn in the sand.

He has not tipped his hat as to what the consequences of Bibi's defiance will be (and, before Lakrosse comes sweeping down and demand that I explain how the US can dare dictate Israeli internal policy) but you are 100% correct, on this issue, Likud is isolating themseleves and this is the wrong thing to make their stand on.

by WashStateBlue 2009-06-05 02:58PM | 0 recs
Chicago Politics...

Agreed.  But it's hard to guess what Netanyahu knows but after the Cairo speech his heart must have sunk if he thought Obama was merely bluffing.  Ironically it seems like Bibi is going to have to take on his own party or face an electoral crisis in the near term, we'll see.  While not 'interfering' in domestic Israeli politics the Obama administration seems to have found a 'sweet spot' of leverage with typical political acumen.

And Bibi must groan with each renewed excess of the hard-line settler movement, it is not helping him at all.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-05 03:36PM | 0 recs
Line in the Sand

Looks like Likud is 'taking the bait' on this early difference of policy:

JERUSALEM -- Israel will not heed President Barack Obama's powerful appeal to halt all settlement activity on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state, officials said Friday, a position that looks sure to cause a policy clash with its most important ally.

The government plans to allow construction inside existing West Bank settlements to accommodate for growing families, said the officials.

Steven Gutkin - Israel: Obama's Speech Won't Change Our Settlement Policy Huffington Post (AP) 5 Jun 09

One wonders if this early impasse with Israel isn't advancing Obama's credibility in the rest of the Middle East which doubted US sincerity on this issue.  No time to blink now, however.  In some ways it makes a lot of sense to test who has the political clout domestically to see this through as there will be many other issues with equally intractable positions to be resolved before a settlement is remotely possible.

If Obama can break the back of Likud intransigence a whole range of possibilities arise, if not we are headed into unknown territory in US-Israeli relations which will test Obama's consensus political style.  I'm guessing Obama's going to let them simmer for awhile before doing anything significant or controversial.  He's already bought himself some time and a bit of gentle, managed friction with Israel may pay other dividends in the short-term.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-05 04:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Line in the Sand

this is the same article linked in the diary shaun.  anonymous sources do make any position official.

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 05:00PM | 0 recs
Re: Line in the Sand

Ooops.  Still since it is merely a restatement of Netanyahu's position this seems intended and credible to me, anonymous sources or no:

The government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to go beyond the formal response, said that instead of halting all settlement activity, Israel planned to take down 22 unauthorized settlement outposts in the West Bank in the coming weeks.

Steven Gutkin - Israel: Obama's Speech Won't Change Our Settlement Policy Huffington Post (AP) 5 Jun 09

It certainly seems, as the diarist notes, we are in a stalemate here for the moment.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-05 05:16PM | 0 recs
seems like a bit of a strawman now.

but worth a rhetorical debate to be sure ;)

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 05:18PM | 0 recs
Re: seems like a bit of a strawman now.

How do you mean?

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-05 05:20PM | 0 recs
Re: seems like a bit of a strawman now.

what i mean is that this anonymous source is exactly that.  the official statement said nothing of continued construction (or even mentioned the settlements at all). here it is:

The government of Israel expresses its hope that President Obama's important speech will indeed lead to a new era of reconciliation between the Arab and Muslim world and Israel. We share the hope of President Obama that the American effort will signal a new era that will bring an end to the conflict and a pan-Arab recognition of Israel as the Jewish state living in security and peace in the Middle East. Israel is committed to peace and will do its utmost to expand the circle of peace while taking into consideration its national interests, security first and foremost.

so actually the huffpo piece its not a restatement of any official statement by any means.

by canadian gal 2009-06-05 05:48PM | 0 recs
Re: seems like a bit of a strawman now.

My reading is that the official statement you quoted was an acknowledgement of the fait accompli that Obama presented them with in his speech, which they could hardly oppose, whereas the unattributed statement was a restatement of their bargaining position intended for domestic and international consumption in more practical terms.  The official statement carefully said nothing.  The other spoke volumes.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-05 07:17PM | 0 recs
Obama brought this on

in that his pandering to the anti-Israel liberals (a small minority of the Democratic Party) in the primary was why Israel was so afraid of him in the first place to even elect Netanyahu. They knew Obama was gonna take office, not even try to start off with a good relationship with an Israeli PM by taking it slow, and jump the gun. You cannot just come to office and make demands, which politically, are very hard to satisfy on such an unfamiliar basis. Obama did just that, and this is why Israeli politicians aren't listening. It has gotten the Israeli right up at arms. Obama made it clear from the start he wasn't gonna work with Israel, but at Israel. And that has backfired.

This, ladies and gentlemen, was the big difference between him and his primary opponent Hillary Clinton.

by Lakrosse 2009-06-05 07:53PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama brought this on

How touching on the anniversary of Obama's primary victory a year ago to find an unreconciled supporter still loyally fighting long after the armistice has been declared.  Not unlike the Japanese infantrymen discovered decades after the end of World War II still garroting innocent peasants and fighting for the lost Empire in the jungles of the Philippines.  Poor and lonely sods.

Hillary, if you hadn't noticed, delivered the harshest words of the US position on settlements so far and is doing exemplary service in our best interests and those of the presidency in her current role as Secretary of State.  As a friend of Israel I wonder what part of her judgement you are questioning.

by Shaun Appleby 2009-06-05 08:13PM | 0 recs
Re: Obama brought this on

pwned.  Utterly.

by fogiv 2009-06-06 01:04AM | 0 recs
I was going to say something to Lakrosse...

...but I see I needn't bother.

Shaun, your comment is what the kids these days refer to as a "sick burn."

by Dracomicron 2009-06-06 02:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Israel Seeking to Tread a Lonely Path

Obama did not just decide to take on the settlements issue at this point without carefully thinking through the consequences and plotting his strategy to the end. While Bibi seems to be flustered and without a plan B (plan A being the US President and congress kisses his ass and with a wink and a nod let him do whatever he pleases in exchange for some meaningless 'concessions'). I am sure Obama already is several moves ahead of him. The same goes for the Arab governments and the Palestinian 'leadership'.

Obama has his eyes on the prize of peace and he has shown that he never starts something he can't finish. Bibi's governing coalition is expendable, it's his problem how he get's with the program and still hold's his government together.

The Neo-cons are about to get a lesson in the effective application of US power in the Middle-East after their incompetent and disastrous failure. If Obama succeeds (and I have learned not to bet against him) the Israeli and Palestinian people win. The extremists and the bankrupt venal political leadership on all sides that have prolonged this tragedy lose big time.

by hankg 2009-06-07 02:40PM | 0 recs


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