Israel Braces for Clash with White House
Ensuring a non-nuclear Iran is Israel's main priority, but for the Obama administration, Palestinian statehood is at the top of the agenda. (Also read Roger L. Simon: Thoughts on the Middle East Chess Game.)
May 6, 2009 - 12:03 am
With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slated to meet with President Barack Obama in Washington on May 18, there are growing signs that the U.S. administration is making Palestinian statehood — even at a time when Gaza is ruled by Hamas and the West Bank is ruled by something other than enlightened democrats — a central goal that is supposed to enable another major goal.
White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told a closed forum of the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) donors that “the ability to confront Iran depended on the ability to make progress on the Palestinian front.” National Security Adviser James Jones reportedly told a European foreign minister last week that, “The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question. We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush.”
Aware of the ominous currents, this week Netanyahu sent President Shimon Peres to the U.S. to try and calm the waters. Traditionally, Netanyahu and Peres have been fierce political and ideological opponents. Netanyahu claims Peres’s peace enthusiasms were unwarranted, given Palestinian attitudes and conduct. So the duo’s current cooperation is tinged with the surreal — and is a sure sign that times have changed.
Indeed, in his speech to AIPAC on Monday, Peres was dramatically conciliatory. He praised the Arab League’s peace plan, which calls for a total Israeli retreat and the flooding of what’s left of Israel with Palestinian “refugees.” He said, “We trust the leadership of President Obama. … [H]e will pave the way to both a regional agreement and meaningful bilateral negotiations.” He added that Netanyahu “wants to make history. … I am sure that peace is his real and profound priority.” However, amid the celebration of harmony and progress, Peres sounded a sole cautionary note about Iran, “whose fanatic rulers … are on the wrong side of history.”
Netanyahu, in his own satellite address to AIPAC Monday evening, was only relatively more restrained. He said, “We want peace with the Arab world … [and] with the Palestinians.” However he added the caveats that “Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons” and “the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state,” something Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas contemptuously refused to do only last week. It was Peres as good cop and Netanyahu as only slightly more stern cop, aimed at projecting a compliant, peace-seeking Israel that is not, however, at peace about Iran.