Thursday, October 7, 2010

Obama tries to bribe Netanyahu, Netanyahu tries to bribe Lieberman, the stakes rise, the standards go down

A few days ago, on 30 September, I wrote on this blog that Obama was trying to bribe Israeli prime minister Netanyahu into prolonging the building freeze in the settlements with an additional 60 days in the hope of saving the 'peace talks' with th Palestinians. The news came from David Makovsky, director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a offshoot of th Jewish lobby AIPAC. Apparently it was leaked to him by someone in te White House entourage in order to heighten the pressure on an as yet reluctant Netanyahu by making public what a tasty offer the Israeli prime ministers was turning down. I quote (this time from Jonathan Cook on Electronic Intifada for a change):

According to Makovsky, in return for the sixty-day settlement moratorium, the US promised to veto any UN Security Council proposal on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the next year, and committed to not seek any further extensions of the freeze. The future of the settlements would be addressed only in a final agreement.
The White House would also allow Israel to keep a military presence in the West Bank's Jordan Valley, even after the creation of a Palestinian state; continue controlling the borders of the Palestinian territories to prevent smuggling; provide Israel with enhanced weapons systems, security guarantees and increase its billions of dollars in annual aid; and create a regional security pact against Iran.
The offer is set to raise alarm with the Palestinians and understandably so  After all what does it reveal about America's so called 'impartiality' if the US is offering Israel to continue its control of the borders of a future Palestinian state and to maintain its military presence in the Jordan Valley? And that without even having consulted with the Paletsinians themselves?
But not only the Palestinians ought to be worried. The American promises have an impact that goes way beyond Israel/Palestine. What about creating a security pact in the region argainst Iran? Isn't that going to be in line with the Israeli policy of continuously beating the drums of war? And what about vetoing, one year long,  any initiative in the Security Council on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? Does that include initiatives to demand follow ups to the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war, or further inquiries into the Mavi Marmara affair? And does that include vetoes as well in case Israel undertakes action against Lebanon or Syria? 

It appears that the offer was cooked in a cooperation with Netanyahu's lawyer and negotiator Yitzhak Molcho and the Israeli minister of Defense (and rival of Netanyahu) Ehud Barak, who for the purpose stayed in Washington for the most part of last week. But the real auctor intellectualis of this extraordinary offer was Dennis Ross, a long standing Middle East council under the administrations of Bill Clinton, and Bush (and now Obama). It carries the signature of this man, who - with no less than desastrous results - participated in almost all peace efforts since the beginning of the Oslo years. But before elaborating more on that, and on the huge dangers that come with his sudden re-emergence on the Israeli-Palestinian stage, it's time to pay attention to something else.
Today the curtains rose on a  new Act of  the Opera Bouffe that has taken the place of  regular  Israeli politics, when it became known that Netanyahu gave his blessing to a change to the law on Israeli citizenship. A proposal to change the law in such a way that applicants for citizenship (and that concerns only non-Jews) have to swear their loyalty to the 'Jewish and democratic state' Israel has been passed by the Knesset in first reading. And the green light of the prime minister clears the way for a definite vote in the Knesset, where the law is sure to be adopted as it has the support of the rightist majority.
Netanyahu's coming out in favour of the new law seems to be his share in the attempts to get all parties in line and in favour of an extension of the 'freeze'. More specifically he seems to try and win in this way the support of Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, the party where the proposal to change the law originated. So that in fact what becomes from Obama's proposal, is a kind of chain-bribery: Obama bribes Bibi, who in turn bribes Vicki Lieberman.
The Israeli Arabs, however, are not at all amused. In  this way Israel's ethnocentric, or outright racist character is underlined once more. It is in general inconceivable that Palestinian or Arab candidates for the citizenship would pledge an oath of allegiance to the Jewishnes of their new country of choice, thereby  categorizing themselves as second class citizens, while it also implicitly denies the Right of Return of the refugies of 1948.
But also the Labour party is less than happy with the change, which apparently came as a surprise for them as well. Labour leader Ehud Barak hastily tabled an alternative in which the newcomers should swear their loyalty 'to the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, in the spirit of the declaration of independence' and will be 'committed to honoring the laws of the state'.

Where and how this Act will end we don't know yet. But deplorable as this new demonstration of how the democracy in Israel is decaying may be, the news that Dennis Ross is back at his old battl ground, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is no less frightening. This is what the New York Times wrote abvout him as quoted by Laura Rozen on 6 October:

Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East expert, has emerged as a crucial, behind-the-scenes conduit between the White House and the Israeli government, working closely with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's private attorney - and also Defense Minister Ehud Barak - to discreetly smooth out differences and disputes between the two governments.

Ross's role, described by officials and other sources close to the process, is highly sensitive because it might be seen as undercutting the mission of George J. Mitchell, President Obama's special envoy for Middle East peace. Virtually no one interviewed would agree to be quoted by name because of such concerns.

Mitchell also deals directly with the lawyer, Yitzak Molho. But it was Ross - a senior director for Middle East policy on the White House staff - who primarily worked with Molho and Barak on a package of incentives that the Obama administration is offering Netanyahu to extend a settlement moratorium by 60 days to keep nascent peace talks with the Palestinians on track.

The White House referred questions to the State Department. "Dennis Ross' important role in this effort is actually well known and greatly appreciated," State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said in a statement. "Working with George Mitchell and at the direction of [Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton], he is encouraging the parties to continue negotiations towards an agreement that leads to a two-state solution." ...

Israeli officials have long preferred to bypass the State Department and peace envoys, and deal directly with a senior official in the White House. ....Ross knows both Molho and Barak well from his central role in the Clinton administration as Middle East peace negotiator. ... Ross originally joined the Obama administration as a senior adviser to Clinton on Iran policy. But within months - and especially after a difficult conversation with Saudi King Abdullah during a trip to Riyadh in June 2009 - Obama decided he needed Ross's expertise on the Middle East inside the White House.

Ross back, I should come back on that and maybe tell more. But for now I prefer to take a few lines from what 'old hand' Jerome Slater (he is an emeritus prof at New York State University) on 1 October wrote on his blog :

The latest is the incredible administration proposal that practically begs Netanyahu to make the most meaningless gestures to the Palestinians, in return for yet more unconditional U.S. support of Israel--as described in some detail in a story by Barak Ravid in this morning's Haaretz.
What can Obama be thinking?  I fear I am being reluctantly drawn to the conclusion that he is simply incompetent, unable to prevent himself from being made a fool of by the likes of Dennis Ross--who is said to have drafted the letter--and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking of Ross, anyone who has been following US policies in the Israeli-Palestinian should that the man is a catastrophe, not just "Israel's lawyer," in Aaron Miller’s famous characterization, but a crazed narcissist.  That is what explains why, after Netanyahu apparently rejected even Obama's abject surrender, "Ross was very insulted by Netanyahu's conduct and considered it 'treason.'" (Ravid). 
Unless you happened to remember Ross's memoirs about the Clinton administration (The Missing Peace), that might seem quite puzzling:  "treason" to who?  Well, not such a great mystery.  During the Camp David negotiations, Ross tell us that he told the Palestinian delegation: “You know that I understand your problems, your needs, and your aspirations very well. You know that often I explain them better than any of you do” (p. 755).
At the same time, Ross sometimes seemed to regard the Israelis as spokesmen for him, who needed rebuking when they strayed from the correct path: after telling the Palestinians that he was “quite certain” that the Israelis would not accept anything less than a 7% annexation of the West Bank, he learned that the Israelis were considering 5%: “I was furious. What was the point of my conveying a tough posture on issues of supposed principle to the Israeli side if they were simply going to undercut me?” (pp. 748-49).
So now we know: Treason to Dennis Ross.   And this is who Obama entrusts his Israeli-Palestinian policies?
(Pictures: Obama and Netanyahu, Ross, Ross and Ehud Barak)

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