Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Clinton at AIPAC: status quo ME is unsustainable, Netanyahu defiant

These days all eyes are directed towards AIPAC, the American Jewish lobby. Or rather the eyes of everbody  who is either Israeli or American and interested in Middle East politics. AIPAC's annual Policy Conference is indicative of how popular the lobby  is with American policy makers  and gives - since some of the actors are present  - an idea about the current state of affairs.
Well no big surprises there. In the presence of many members of Congress Bibi Netanyahu yesterday gave a speech at the gala, He showed himself  defiant  and without mentioning the recent crisis in the relations after Israel announced the building of another 1600 appartments in East-Jerusalem, he said that 'the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today. Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.'
Netanyahu also said that 'in Jerusalem, my government has maintained the policies of every single Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. .... Everyone knows -- everyone, Americans, Europeans, Israelis certainly, Palestinians -- that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. and terefore, building them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.'

One day earlier it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's turn for a speech. She told the conference that the status quo is unsustainable.'For President Obama, for me, and for this entire administration, our commitment to Israel’s security and Israel’s future is rock solid,' Clinton said. But, 'as Israel’s friend, it is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed.'

The status quo is unsustainable for all sides," Clinton said. 'It promises only more violence and unrealized aspirations. Staying on this course means continuing a conflict that carries tragic human costs. Israeli and Palestinian children alike deserve to grow up free from fear and to have the opportunity to live up to their full God-given potential.'

On the subject of Iran she said: ' let me be very clear: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons'.
Netanyahu, however, was equally clear on this. 'The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men,' Netanyahu said, after praising the role of Roosevelt and Churchill in World War II, but pointing at their failure to save 6 million Jewish people. 'Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.'

This evening Netanyahu will see Obama who after his health care victory in Congress is, as some point out, a stronger man than before. Some believe that because of this renewed strength, Obama will take a firmer position. Others  expect him to act tactically with an eye on the long run - just as he did with respect to the health care bill - and spare a more muscular showing for the negotiations themselves, when difficult decisions are needed.

I don't believe in either of these hypotheses, although I certainly would love to. I really believe that Obama does not have the guts to withstand AIPAC (whose newly elected chaiman Lee Rosenberg sat on his finance comittee during his election campaign). Obama, however, could, if he wished to do so,  make a fist against Netanyahu with the support of a majority of the American and Jewish public. J Street, the new moderate lobby that 'competes' with AIPAC on Tusday published a survey among American Jews which showed a remarkable amount of support for a strong American role in the peace process, even if that would mean exerting pressure on Israel:

  • American Jews by a four-to-one margin, 82-18 percent, support the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, with 73 percent of American Jews supporting this active role even if it means that the United States were to publicly state its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs.

  • * By a 71-29 percent margin, American Jews support the United States "exerting pressure" on both the Israelis and the Arabs to make the necessary compromises to achieve peace. An earlier J Street poll last March found a similar level of support.

  • A majority of all American Jews, 52-48 percent, still support an active role even if the United States were to publicly state its disagreements with only Israel. (My emphasis).
A survey by Zogby International under Americans of all denominations shows that 81% of all Amerians agree that the Middle East conflict has a negative impact on US interests. Also  40 % of Americans (63% .Democrats, 13% Republicans) think that the US should get tough with Israël in order to stop settlements.       A Rasmussen poll, also taken in March,  went even further and concluded that 49% of American voters thinks that Israel should stop building settelements as part of a peace deal. 
Let'see if it will convince the president.

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