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Ron Radosh

Monthly Archives: May 2011

Bob Dylan’s Strangest Birthday Present

May 30th, 2011 - 7:34 pm

Last week, Bob Dylan turned 70, and his birthday was met with a new tribute album, a two page layout in Time, and undoubtedly, scores more articles that I missed.  That week, two new books about Dylan appeared, one by Daniel Mark Epstein, and the other by David Yaffe.  One of the best analysis of Epstein’s book, unfortunately hidden under a firewall, is in the current issue of National Review, and is written by an editor who lives in Germany,  Webster Younce.

But one thing Dylan certainly did not expect is this rather strange and unbelievable article in an Indian newspaper, The Hindu, written by an Indian journalist named Ranjan Dasgupta.  I know nothing about the paper or the author, but for good reason, I suspect that either the author or the newspaper is close to those in India who are still left-wing socialists or Communists.

I was alerted to the article by a writer who follows Dylan closely and writes about him a lot, Sean Curnyn, who dealt with this in his own recent blog. The author claims to have scored an interview with Dylan, where it was conducted and when he does not say. But there is good reason to believe no such interview ever took place. The quotes from Dylan do not sound like him, nor do the sentiments he supposedly expresses to the author resemble anything Dylan has said recently in scores of legitimate interviews.

Referring to Dylan’s recent appearances in China, according to Dasgupta, Dylan said “This was the concert of a lifetime. I admired the Red Revolution and China is a nation to look up to.” Dylan admired Red China in the time of Mao? Why do I not believe this for one moment? And talking about his early song “Maggie’s Farm,” Dylan purportedly said: “My personal favourite is I will be working in Maggie’s farm no more. Through this I brought out the plight of a deprived and exploited peasant in the American countryside who was ignored by Hollywood and the world. This song, I feel, is the hymn of farmers and peasants through the globe. Even Paul Robeson complimented me for my creation.”

Sure, Dylan referred to “exploited peasants” in America, and considers the song “the hymn of farmers and peasants through the globe,” and was thus congratulated by the late American African-American Communist singer, Paul Robeson.  Dylan conceivably could have been introduced to Robeson and his music by Pete Seeger in the early 60’s, but no one has ever recorded their meeting or talking before, and that Robeson would have liked that particular song- knowing his recorded music and what he gravitated towards, is even more unlikely.

The rest of the supposed comments by Dylan, such as those about the Beatles, are so vacuous that anyone who believes he said these words knows little about Bob Dylan. And if you believe that the one person Dylan considers “The greatest singer to musically convey the voice of people the world over is Paul Robeson,” then, as Curnyn writes, “I have some prime real estate in North Korea to sell to you.”

That sentence might actually have been written by the late hack folk music “critic” Irwin Silber, the editor of Sing Out! who publicly scolded Dylan for selling out, becoming introspective, instead of writing leftist protest songs beloved by Silber and the Communist Party. And those who have read Dylan’s Chronicles know that he had little love lost for Silber.

And oh yes, according to the writer, Grammy awards mean nothing to him. That is why he has accepted them heartily and has even performed at their ceremonies. Curnyn, who thinks the entire thing is a fabrication meant to depict Bob Dylan as a hard-line Communist- a joke for anyone who knows his music and his lyrics- thinks it also could be a joke or a scam. His concern is that if it is not officially corrected as a fable by  Dylan’s management, others will down the pike quote these words as really having been said.

I personally doubt this was some kind of a joke, and prefer the explanation that a Hindu leftist writer sought to use the occasion of Dylan’s concerts to use his name for propaganda purposes.  How ironic that just as someone is doing this, the representatives of the hard Left are beginning what will undoubtedly be a new range of attacks on Dylan before his concert in Tel Aviv on June 20th.

On any account, I don’t think this is the kind of birthday greetings Bob Dylan was expecting.

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic and now a columnist for Bloomberg News as well is one of the most highly acclaimed reporters covering the Middle East. A former IDF soldier and a man with years of experience writing about the region, no one comes closer than him to providing solid material when he writes lengthy pieces about the conflict.

But when he editorializes and comments, he can be as off-base as anyone else, despite his own decades of writing and reporting. Like many liberals, Goldberg sees the settlements and the expansion of them by religious zealots as the main impediment to peace in the region, not Palestinian intransigence about any willingness to recognize a Jewish state anywhere in Palestine.  Take this column, in which Goldberg writes the following:

Their greatest achievement, though, is in the interconnected realms of ideology and propaganda. The settlement movement, its supporters, and its apologists (in Israel and in America) have successfully conflated support for their movement with support for Israel and for Zionism itself. They have created a reality in which criticism of the settlement movement has come to equal criticism of Israel. You see this at the AIPAC convention, where no speaker dared suggest that the settlements are, in fact, the vanguard of Israel’s dissolution, rather than the vanguard of Zionism.

Does Goldberg really believe that if there were no settlements, and if they were suddenly abandoned, that Mahmoud Abbas would suddenly recognize Israel and be ready to make peace? He knows well that since 1948 and Israel’s creation, the Arab nations and the Palestinian leadership — then commanded by the Nazi supporter the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem — have vowed never to accept any Jewish state anywhere in Palestine. To them, all of Israel was an illegal settlement by colonialist-imperialist occupiers.

Has Goldberg read any of the penetrating columns by Sol Stern, who regularly has shown how Israel has offered to make peace, only to find Palestinian rejection facing them? (Stern’s most recent one can be read here.) As Stern writes, it is not the settlers who are the impediment to peace, but the false “Nakba narrative” propounded by the PA leaders, especially Abbas. Stern points out: “No one living under Palestinian rule dares publicly question this lie. No historian dares offer his people a balanced account of the 1948 war, of who attacked whom, and of the reasons for the flight of the refugees. As long as this remains the case, the ‘right of return,’ far more than any question of borders, will remain the principal roadblock to successful peace negotiations.”

Goldberg argues, however, that what he calls his “centrist” position:

[Is] that the settlements should be fought as if there was no such thing as anti-Zionism, and anti-Zionism should be fought as if there were no such thing as the settlements. This, I think, reflects the centrist position. A centrist on the question of Israel believes that the settlements represent a corruption of Jewish ideals, but that Israel remains the physical manifestation of a righteous cause.

Now that Benjamin Netanyahu has made it clear that in fact many smaller settlements outside of what will be a secure Israel after a two-state solution will in fact cease to exist, and the larger ones in areas everyone knows will be assigned to Israel proper, the settlement issue will fall by the wayside.

In another blog post, Goldberg argues that Netanyahu’s comments to the president at the White House meeting were a disaster, and he writes: “I watched the Prime Minister of Israel publicly lecture the President of the United States on Jewish history with a mixture of shock, amusement and bewilderment.” He is perplexed because he says that the president “the day before, gave Netanyahu two enormous gifts — a denunciation of the radical Islamist terror group Hamas, and a promise to fight unilateral Palestinian efforts to seek United Nations recognition as an independent state.”

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Reid and Netanyahu at AIPAC: A Report

May 24th, 2011 - 8:38 am

Late last night — the program scheduled for 7 p.m. began at 8:30 due to problems with getting 10,000 registered delegates through security — the AIPAC attendees finally heard the long awaited speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But before he spoke, there were preliminary statements by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and House Speaker John Boehner.

Reid spoke with ardor, passion, and strength making clear his profound commitment to the security and strength of Israel. His comments made me reflect on the importance of support for Israel in the Congress being bipartisan. While I may personally think, as I indicated earlier, that the Republicans are a better bet for the executive branch being supportive of Israel, an American policy based on protecting our national security and our major ally in the world has to have the support of both parties to succeed.

While I personally am opposed to Reid’s domestic policies, I applaud and support his passionate defense of Israel. (You can read his entire speech here.) Reid’s speech came in the context of the president’s comments days earlier to Benjamin Netanyahu, in which President Obama made clear that he was tilting towards an anti-Israeli policy. Unlike the president, Reid — representative of the majority of Democrats in the House and Senate — made it crystal clear that his party was opposed to the policy direction taken by his own president and party leader.

Reid first reiterated his party’s commitment to the Jewish state:

I stand with Israel, the Congress stands with Israel and America stands with Israel because the values that have cast our histories are one and the same. And our futures will be intertwined even more than our history has been. You know these values: Democracy, opportunity, justice. Strength, security and self-defense. Innovation. Peace. These values fasten the unbreakable bond between the United States and the State of Israel.

Referring to the flotilla episode, Reid noted:

While the whole world unfairly condemned Israel for defending herself in the flotilla incident, I didn’t stay silent. I spoke up. I worked with Democrats and Republicans alike to collect almost 90 Senators’ signatures on a letter defending Israel’s right to defend herself. We all know that if we were attacked in the same way, off our shores, the United States would have done nothing different.

And then, without mentioning Barack Obama’s name, Reid said:

The only way to achieve the delicate balance we seek between security and peace is through the hard work of negotiation. And I believe the parties that should lead those negotiations must be the parties at the center of this conflict — and no one else. The place where negotiating will happen must be the negotiating table — and nowhere else.

Those negotiations will not happen — and their terms will not be set — through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media. No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else. (my emphasis)

With that last powerful statement, to which the audience rose to its feet as one and gave Sen. Reid an ovation — the Democratic majority leader reprimanded his own president in a speech to Israel’s most fervent American supporters.

Next, Reid addressed the issue of Hamas, with which the Palestinian Authority has just signed an agreement to allow the terrorist group to join the West Bank government:

That means the Palestinians cannot bring to the negotiating table a terrorist organization that rejects Israel’s right to exist. Nowhere else in the world, at no other time, is one party expected to compromise with a partner who denies its very existence. A peace process can happen only when both sides seek peace. And two partners cannot build a bridge when one party refuses even to admit there is something on the other side of the span.

Hamas is a threat not only to Israel, it is a threat to the creation of a Palestinian state, a threat to the legitimacy of a new state and a threat to stability in the region. … [Israel] cannot be asked to agree to confines that would compromise its own security.

Moreover, Reid told the audience that he was opposed to the United States giving the PA funding as long as it included Hamas as a governing partner:

I’ll say this as clearly as I can: the United States of America will not give money to terrorists bent on the destruction of the State of Israel. If the Palestinian government insists on including Hamas, the United States will continue to insist that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, that it renounce violence, and that it honor the commitments made by prior Palestinian Authority governments.

Since Hamas of course will not do anything like this, Reid is in essence saying he knows full well that the peace process will not go on — despite the president’s invocation that it must. He concluded his powerful speech with these words:

America’s commitment to Israel is incorruptible. It is non-negotiable. And we will never leave her side.

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The different responses to President Barack Obama’s speech from the mainstream media show something very revealing: everyone still projects their own assumptions about what Obama means and believes onto the president. Even when all sides quoted his own words in the speech he gave to AIPAC, they still put forth their own beliefs and projected them onto Obama.

Let us look at the report by Helene Cooper that appears in the New York Times. Her article — really an editorial — presents the case that Barack Obama, contrary to the assertions of other observers, did not move one iota from the position he took when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few days earlier at the White House. Take the following two paragraphs:

In his speech, Mr. Obama did not directly confront Mr. Netanyahu, who, while seated next to him at the White House last Friday, rejected the proposal Mr. Obama made a day earlier that negotiations use Israel’s 1967 borders as a starting point.

Mr. Obama’s decision to stick to his position, albeit with strong reassurances about America’s lasting bond with Israel, is a risky one politically. Mr. Obama is just starting a re-election campaign, and Republicans are doing what they can to present themselves to Jewish voters as more reliable protectors of Israel than the Democrats.

The key words are that she says Obama decided “to stick to his position,” which means that contrary to what Progressive Policy Institute Senior Fellow Josh Block said — which I quoted in my own blog and which today’s Washington Post also cites. Block said:

“[The Obama speech was a] strong reaffirmation of the U.S.-Israel relationship and represented an important and positive change” from his remarks Thursday. “By adding a whole section to the speech that was missing on Thursday, President Obama put himself in line with presidents since Lyndon Johnson who have said again and again, Israel cannot go back to the 1949/1967 lines,” Block said. ‘This is an important and crucial change from what he said last week.”

What is important is that, according to the Post report by Joby Warrick:

While the president’s core message differed little, Obama appeared to have succeeded in easing the concerns of some Israelis who had sharply criticized his speech Thursday.

So, either the president did or did not change his core message. But in any case, the purpose of the speech was to make it appear that by mouthing pro-Israeli platitudes he would give the appearance of having changed his position, so that some Israelis — and more importantly, American supporters of Israel — would now think he is on their side!

That is why the kind of dissection of his speech presented today by Barry Rubin at PJM is so important. Even Netanyahu, according to the Warrick article, said “he is reassured about Obama’s intentions after their talks Friday.” Of course, that could be simply the strategy AIPAC has taken: to push forward for a pro-Israel policy by putting the best face possible on the speech, and then trying to force Obama into implementing what they argue his position was.

It is to Israel’s benefit of course, as another Post article explains, that Netanyahu aides “play down their differences with Obama.” By portraying Obama’s speech as “reassuring,” they can get some wiggle room with which to pressure the president to stand by a policy that will be to Israel’s benefit, and that will box Obama into standing by Israel rather than with Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. That does not mean, however, that the rest of us have to give up our own critical faculties. Thus, as Joel Greenberg writes in this article:

[Yaakov Amidror, Netanyahu’s National Security Advisor] said that Israeli officials were pleased that Obama had rejected Palestinian attempts to secure recognition of statehood at the United Nations, that he backed Israel’s refusal to negotiate with a Palestinian leadership that includes the militant group Hamas, and that he asserted that a two-state peace deal must affirm that Israel is the Jewish state.

Others have pointed out, however, that if read carefully the Obama speech in fact did not say that Israel was right to refuse to negotiate with a Palestinian state that has signed an agreement with Hamas. That in fact, he went on in his speech to argue that despite this reality, they must do so because peace is a necessity that cannot be put on the backburner because of the new alliance. That is, indeed, the essence of Obama’s approach — to take back what he just said one sentence after he said it, so that both sides will find the kind of reassurance that they seek.

Of course, the Obama administration wanted it known that, as one advisor told Cooper, Netanyahu’s objections showed “Bibi over the top.” And other newspapers took the position that in fact Obama had changed his position from the WH meeting with Netanyahu. Jay Solomon and Laura Meckler, writing in The Wall Street Journal, took the position that Obama only tried to “soften the impact” of his original statement:

[Obama made] strong assertions that his administration recognized that Israel won’t give up all the lands it gained during the 1967 conflict as part of a final agreement — a point Mr. Netanyahu stressed when meeting the American leader Friday. … [It was] an attempt to restate his views in a package more acceptable to Israel and its supporters.

If so, the new package was for many AIPAC attendees no better than the old one. Their article ended with the following observation from one shrewd delegate:

Still, unease remained among some delegates. “He wanted to demonstrate his support of Israel, but it was not concrete enough to be someone you can absolutely trust. He’s a politician,” said Arthur Finkle, a committee delegate and chemical sales representative from Fairfield, Conn. He said Mr. Obama appeared to be reversing his Thursday view on the 1967 borders, even though the president said he was simply clarifying. “He might be trying to reshape it for this audience.”

You think?

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Last night AIPAC delegates heard one of the most important presentations given at a plenary session, although this morning, the major papers seem to not have reported on it. I’m referring to the address by Rep. Eric Cantor, which you can watch here and read here. The House majority leader, a Republican member of Congress from Virginia, received a huge ovation that far exceeded anything received by President Barack Obama, although a large part of AIPAC’s delegates are undoubtedly registered Democrats.

In a heartfelt and moving presentation, Cantor succeeded in exposing the deep flaws in President Obama’s earlier speech — he was careful not to mention his name, although everyone knew to whom he was addressing his remarks.

Here is what he had to say about the issue of Iran’s fundamental threat:

Yet today the two-thousand-year-old dream of the state of Israel is in jeopardy. There is no other nation on Earth so routinely denied its right to exist and threatened with destruction.

Recent developments in the region have moved Iran out of the headlines, but it is undeniable: the specter of a nuclear Iran looms larger than ever.

We must never take our eye off Iran. And that’s why Congress will soon pass the bipartisan Iran Threat Reduction Act, making it official U.S. policy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability.

Plain and simple, if you do business with Iran, you cannot do business with America.

To great applause, Cantor said:

It is not okay to vilify Israel. It is not okay to demonize Jews. And it’s time to stop scapegoating Israel.

And to those who equate Palestinian refusal to negotiate with Israel’s necessary measures it takes to defend itself, the majority leader added:

In order for us to win this great struggle, we must have the courage to see the world not as we wish it to be, but as it truly is. It is not morally equivalent when the offenses of terrorists are equated with the defenses of Israel.

Undoubtedly, his most well-received moment was when he addressed the president’s own illusions. Cantor first noted that Palestinian culture — which Obama omitted criticizing — is laced with “resentment and hatred.” Cantor then shrewdly rebuked Obama:

[Palestinian culture is] the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not about the ’67 lines. And until Israel’s enemies come to terms with this reality, a true peace will be impossible … If the Palestinians want to live in peace in a state of their own, they must demonstrate that they are worthy of a state.

He boldly laid out a challenge to Abbas, noting that his media and schools regularly preach hatred of Israel as well as Jews as a people. His following remarks received an ovation:

Stop naming public squares and athletic teams after suicide bombers. And come to the negotiating table when you have prepared your people to forego hatred and renounce terrorism — and Israel will embrace you. Until that day, there can be no peace with Hamas. Peace at any price isn’t peace; it’s surrender.

Clearly alluding to the president, Cantor then said that friendship between Israel and the U.S. has to be based on reality, “not just on rhetoric.” While words come and go, “only deeds count.”

And with another slap at the president, he remarked: “Now is the time to lead … from the front.”

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At this morning’s AIPAC plenary, President Barack Obama delivered the speech the nation and especially Israel advocates were waiting to hear, especially since his Thursday comments after meeting with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. I have posted the text here. The big questions to be asked about today’s comments are the following:

  1. Did he withdraw or move at all away from Thursday’s comments, especially those regarding Israeli acceptance of the 1967 borders?
  2. Was there a different tone to his remarks, possibly indicating a movement away from what has largely been perceived as a pro-Palestinian perspective?
  3. Is what President Obama said sufficient to satisfy the worries and objections to his Thursday remarks, and to his overall Israeli policy, from those who have been extremely critical of his foreign policy, especially in the Middle East?

First, it was apparent that having come to AIPAC, the Israeli lobby dreaded by the Walt-Mearsheimer “realists” and the leftist Nation magazine opponents of Israel, the president would obviously be doing whatever he had to gain the renewed support of American Jews and those in the country at large who continually tell posters they support Israel. As for the American Jewish community, he may not need their votes anymore as a bloc — although he probably does to gain Florida in 2012 — but he needs the large sums of money that donors have recently indicated they have some second thoughts about giving him this campaign.

The president did not  disappoint. The speech, as you can read for yourself, was full of obligatory promises of how the United States stands by Israel, and how his administration has done whatever it had to in order to guarantee Israel’s military requirements and security. As usual, the president cited the Iron Dome anti-missile system as a key example.

He also cited examples like the U.S. opposition to Durban III, which, as many will recall, was actually touch-and-go until the president decided against U.S. attendance and support. This time, unlike Thursday, the president was adamant that no nation had to negotiate with a terrorist group or regime pledged to its destruction, a clear message that Israel was within its rights to refuse to honor the legitimacy of Hamas or to deal with it. Yet, having said that, he immediately backpedaled and said that failure was not an option, and one had to move towards negotiations.

Turning to the issue of the 1967 borders, the president said two different things. One, he argued that all administrations have for years known that these borders had to be a starting point of negotiations. The growth of the Palestinian population west of the Jordan border meant, he said, that demography showed that for the Jewish state to maintain its democratic and Jewish character, something had to give and an agreement be reached.

Yet, having raised the ’67 borders to AIPAC, a sensitive issue to most of its members, the president concretely did something he did not do on Thursday — use the very language of the Bush administration agreement with Israel reached in 2004-2005. He proclaimed that when he raises the border issue,  he means that “the parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine.”  To great applause, he said that “Israel’s legitimacy is not subject to debate.”

He therefore implied that he does not favor forcing Israel to accept these boundaries — only that they themselves must negotiate a border that in effect will be different, and will take into account the situation on the ground. That means, as most people understood the president, that he did not insist that Israel accept the contested ’67 borders, which the PA desires them to do and which would abandon east Jerusalem to the Palestinians.  It also means that the large settlements would, as most people know, not be disbanded and would be incorporated into Israel proper. As he put it: “It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides.”

So what are we to make of all this?

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The President’s Speech to AIPAC

May 22nd, 2011 - 8:43 am
The Panel is taking place right now. Here is the text of Obama’s speech. Read it, and later, I will comment.
Remarks of President Barack Obama at AIPAC Policy Conference–As Prepared for Delivery
Washington, DC
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Good morning! Thank you, Rosy, for your very kind introduction. But even more, thank you for your many years friendship. Back in Chicago, when I was just getting started in national politics, I reached out to a lot of people for advice and counsel, and Rosy was one of the very first. When I made my first visit to Israel, after entering the Senate, Rosy – you were at my side every step of that very meaningful journey through the Holy Land. And I want to thank you for your enduring friendship, your leadership and for your warm welcome today.
Thank you to David Victor, Howard Kohr and all the Board of Directors. And let me say that it’s wonderful to look out and see so many great friends, including Alan Solow, Howard Green and a very large delegation from Chicago.
I want to thank the members of Congress who are joining you today—who do so much to sustain the bonds between the United States and Israel—including Eric Cantor, Steny Hoyer, and the tireless leader I was proud to appoint as the new chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
We’re joined by Israel’s representative to the United States, Ambassador Michael Oren. As well as one of my top advisors on Israel and the Middle East for the past four years, and who I know is going to be an outstanding ambassador to Israel—Dan Shapiro. Dan has always been a close and trusted advisor, and I know he’ll do a terrific job.
And at a time when so many young people around the world are standing up and making their voices heard, I also want to acknowledge all the college students from across the country who are here today. No one has a greater stake in the outcome of events that are unfolding today than your generation, and it’s inspiring to see you devote your time and energy to help shape the future.
Now, I’m not here to subject you to a long policy speech. I gave one on Thursday in which I said that the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.
On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years—that, even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.
A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and their children can live free from the threat of violence. It’s not simply because we face common dangers, although there can be no denying that terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons are grave threats to both our nations.
America’s commitment to Israel’s security also flows from a deeper place —and that’s the values we share. As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers fought must be the work of every generation. As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedom we cherish must be constantly nurtured. And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland of the Jewish people.
We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighborhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland. When I went to Sderot, I saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket. And when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I grasped the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.
Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.
That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives. So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.
You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Here in the U.S., we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. At the United Nations, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world. Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Its illicit nuclear program is just one challenge that Iran poses. As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality. Moreover, Iran continues to support terrorism across the region, including providing weapons and funds to terrorist organizations. So we will continue to work to prevent these actions, and will stand up to groups like Hezbollah who exercise political assassination, and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs.
You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As I said at the United Nation’s last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”
So when the Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. In the wake of the Goldstone Report, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. When an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it.
And so, in both word and deed, we have been unwavering in our support of Israel’s security. And it is precisely because of our commitment to Israel’s long-term security that we have worked to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Now, I have said repeatedly that core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties. And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.
And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under the current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option. The status quo is unsustainable. That is why, on Thursday, I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims – the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israelis, and Palestinians since at least the Clinton Administration.
I know that stating these principles – on the issues of territory and security – generated some controversy over the past few days. I was not entirely surprised. I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a President preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. But as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. And so I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.
Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder – without a peace deal – to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.
Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.
And third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.
Just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years. There is a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process – or the absence of one. Not just in the Arab World, but in Latin America, in Europe, and in Asia. That impatience is growing, and is already manifesting itself in capitols around the world.
These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.
Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.
But the march to isolate Israel internationally – and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations – will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success. So, in advance of a five day trip to Europe in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require.
There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations. But since questions have been raised, let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday.
I said that the United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.
That is what I said. Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.
By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I have done so because we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.
I know that some of you will disagree with this assessment. I respect that. And as fellow Americans and friends of Israel, I know that we can have this discussion.
Ultimately, however, it is the right and responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed. And as a friend of Israel, I am committed to doing our part to see that this goal is realized, while calling not just on Israel, but on the Palestinians, the Arab States, and the international community to join us in that effort. Because the burden of making hard choices must not be Israel’s alone.
Even as we do all that’s necessary to ensure Israel’s security; even as we are clear-eyed about the difficult challenges before us; and even as we pledge to stand by Israel through whatever tough days lie ahead – I hope we do not give up on that vision of peace. For if history teaches us anything—if the story of Israel teaches us anything—it is that with courage and resolve, progress is possible. Peace is possible.
The Talmud teaches us that so long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith. And that lesson seems especially fitting today,
For so long as there are those, across the Middle East and beyond, who are standing up for the legitimate rights and freedoms which have been denied by their governments, the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal.
And so long as there are those who long for a better future, we will never abandon our pursuit of a just and lasting peace that ends this conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security. This is not idealism or naivete. It’s a hard-headed recognition that a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel, and God bless the United States of America.

Steny Hoyer at AIPAC

May 22nd, 2011 - 7:55 am

I am blogging live, as House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer is talking. Stoyer is laying out an implicit challenge to the President, who will follow him at the podium.

First, Hoyer has stated that our country must do al it can to protect the US do all to protect security of Israel; and that hence the  US should abide by memo of understanding between the  Bush administration and Israel. This statement, in essence, is a direct rebuke to President Obama, who by making the 1967 borders an issue, moved away from this key agreement reached by the  Bush administration with Israel.

Secondly, Stoyer said that the world must protect assaults against the  people of Israel. After a huge ovation, Stoyer added that peace can be achived by return to the negotiation table without any preconditions. Turning to the issue of Palestinian statehood, Stoyer argued against the Palestinian declaration of statehood it intends to bring before the UN. Statehood, he said, cannot be declared unilaterally, but must be negotiated.

Finally, Stoyer said that there can be no negotiation with terrorists and international criminals. The US, he said, will and should not fund such a government that does not recognize the  Jewish state of Israel.

Stoyer has set out a firm challenge to the President, who speaks now.

Update:

I will comment on the President’s speech in an hour. He has just finished. The panel will undoubtedly make many interesting comments and within an hour, the text of the speech will be available on the internet. For now, I would make the point that the President cleverly tried to deflect criticism by emphasizing the pro-Israeli policies his administration has pursued, and he has somewhat backtracked on the meaning of the 1967 borders that he brought up with Netanyahu.

Tomorrow morning President Barack Obama addresses the AIPAC policy conference, which I will be reporting on for PJ Media. Having just returned from a press reception held near the D.C. Convention Center, I had the chance to talk with members of the working press, as well as some Israelis. What I heard — and I note that these are completely unconfirmed rumors that might not be completely accurate — coincides with Roger L. Simon’s speculations on his blog.  Roger noted that Saturday’s New York Times story about Dennis Ross and George Mitchell portrays Ross as essentially being too pro-Israel and Mitchell being virulently anti-Israel. The reporters emphasized that “Mr. Ross made clear that he was opposed to having Mr. Obama push Israel by putting forth a comprehensive American plan for a peace deal with the Palestinians, according to officials involved in the debate.” Mitchell, the story said, “argued in favor of a comprehensive American proposal that would include borders, security and the fate of Jerusalem and refugees. But Mr. Ross balked, administration officials said, arguing that it was unwise for the United States to look as if it were publicly breaking with Israel.”

The story continues to say this:

Mr. Netanyahu and Israel’s backers in the United States view Mr. Ross as a key to holding at bay what they see as pro-Palestinian sympathies expressed by Mr. Mitchell; Mr. Obama’s first national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones; and even the president himself.

“Starting with Mitchell and Jones, there was a preponderance of advisers who were more in tune with the Palestinian narrative than the Israeli narrative,” said Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a friend of Mr. Ross. “Dennis balanced that.”

The story goes on to note that Ross had proposed a generous package to Israel that the president balked at. Mitchell, “who, one Arab official said, often held up the specter of Mr. Ross to the Palestinians as an example of whom they would end up with if he left, sent Mr. Obama a letter of resignation.”

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President Obama has just finished his speech at the State Department. Much of it, particularly the sections regarding democratization and the Arab dictators whose regimes have begun to fail, echoes in many ways the very policies of the Bush administration — which the Democrats and Obama supporters disparaged and ridiculed when George W. Bush was in power. Indeed, it seems in some ways to be a rejection of his own Cairo speech, in so much as he said that for many of the Arab states, attacking Israel was the only way that Arab rulers could allow their populations to express themselves.

Yet, the bombshell in the speech is the following:

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

What the president has said is essentially that rather than borders and boundaries being established as an end result of negotiations, the two states that will be created should be based on the 1967 lines, a conclusion that gives the Palestinian Authority its own desired boundaries — and takes away from Israel the necessary buffer zone it gained after the 1967 war, and from which it has been able to prevent attacks on its own people.

It is akin to the policy in which the Obama administration focused on their demand that Israel give up settlements, leading Fatah and Abbas to adopt a position that, until then, they were willing to negotiate. Ultimately, it put them in a corner from which they could not back down.

Moreover, the newly developed Hamas-Fatah “unity government” agreement has already made it clear that the Palestinian leadership will not honor the requirement that the existence of a Jewish state in the region must be accepted. As the president put it, “how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?” Not only have the PA leadership not provided “a credible answer to that question,” they have in effect done the exact opposite — made it clear that they will never do what is required.

In effect, the president is rewarding Abbas for his bad behavior, after the PA leader’s  own recent op-ed in The New York Times in which he revealed his intransigence. Statehood, as he perceives it, is not an end in itself, but is put forth as the new means for waging a continuing war against Israel. That is why Jackson Diehl’s article in The Washington Post is so important. Diehl points out: “Desperate to jump-start an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the Obama administration and its European allies are piling pressure on Israel’s Binyamin Netanyahu, demanding that he offer a plan, concessions — something — that will provide the basis for starting negotiations with Palestinians.”

Diehl notes that Netanyahu made it clear last week when he announced a willingness to cede much of the West Bank to a new Palestinian state, a major concession. Yet, in contrast, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the “moderate” wing of the Palestinian movement, “is not only refusing to make any concessions of his own but is also turning his back on American diplomacy — and methodically setting the stage for another Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” His new agreement with Hamas will require him to do exactly the opposite of steps that could lead to peace, including firing the Palestinian PM, releasing Hamas militants from jail, and equipping the new security forces with arms from Iran. Moreover, he is committed to seeking a U.N. General Assembly vote on a Palestinian state which even President Obama called in his speech today a “symbolic” action that is meant to isolate Israel and “won’t create an independent state.”

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