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.
Israel has good reason to be concerned. Most troubling is the Obama administration’s linking (also reported on Sunday by the New York Times‘s Ethan Bronner) of the Palestinian and Iranian issues — not only because the Palestinians are sharply divided between Hamas and Fatah fiefdoms and as anti-Israeli as ever, but also because the notion that Arab states threatened by Iran need to see “progress on the Palestinian issue” is no less divorced from reality.
As Amir Taheri details in the Wall Street Journal, Iran sees Obama’s approach to the region as weakness, “is intensifying its goal of regional domination,” and “has targeted six close allies of the U.S.: Egypt, Lebanon, Bahrain, Morocco, Kuwait, and Jordan, all of which are experiencing economic and/or political crises.” Compared to the stress and peril those countries are experiencing, the question of whether Israel is removing tiny outposts from West Bank hilltops, or holding back-slapping meetings with Abbas, is — whatever obligatory lip service their leaders keep paying — trivial and off the radar.
With 81-year-old President Hosni Mubarak likely soon to depart the scene, Egypt faces a major succession crisis and last month reported that an Iranian-sponsored espionage ring sought to topple the regime. Lebanon, already largely under the sway of Iran and its allies, faces falling totally under their sway if (most would say, when) the Hezbollah camp wins the June 7 elections. In Bahrain, Taheri notes, “Tehran hopes to see its allies sweep to power through mass demonstrations and terrorist operations.” Morocco, too, recently dismantled a pro-Iranian subversion network, and such groups have been uncovered in Kuwait and Jordan as well. Iran, Taheri remarks, sees Israel’s neighbor Jordan as a “colonial creation” that should “disappear from the map [i.e., along with Israel] — opening the way for a single state covering the whole of Palestine.”
Israel’s attempts to convince the Americans that progress toward peace first requires stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons have apparently made no headway. Instead, Israel faces a Middle East where Iran keeps advancing toward regional hegemony and becoming a nuclear entity, while Israel continues to be strong-armed to deal with the wholly intractable Palestinian issue. This time, this delusional approach is becoming fatally dangerous to Israel, the region, and world stability.