Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Obama meets US Jewish leaders

Whenever American Jewish leaders are invited to the White House to talk
about Israel --­ as 16 were on Monday evening ­-- rest assured that the purpose
of the invitation is not to give the machers an opportunity to sway the leader of the free world, but for the administration to diminish any prospect of them lobbying against the president's policies.

White House aides Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod and Dan Shapiro sought to
exclude anyone who was likely to strike a discordant note.

None of Israel's leading Christian supporters were invited. And just to be on the safe side, the heads of marginal groups lobbying for an American-imposed solution to
the conflict were invited, and put on a par with the leaders of mainstream
political, religious, fraternal and philanthropic organizations.

It's one thing to criticize Israel's policies; another to advocate
approaches that endanger our security.

Jewish personalities have been legitimately criticizing this or that Israeli
policy since the 1950s, long before the "occupation" and settlements.

When the settlement enterprise got under way after the 1967 war, American Jewish
leaders were not enamored. But so long as the Arabs were perceived to be in
a zero-sum conflict with Israel, Diaspora discomfiture over settlements was
mostly muted. That changed when the perception became one of an emerging
moderate Palestinian Arab leadership genuinely committed to a two-state

Various administrations have since found it easier to pressure Israel into
concessions by dissociating the pro-Israel community from Israeli West Bank
policies, and by promoting American pressure as being in Israel¹s own best

Today, we are witnessing a "perfect storm" of diffuse US pressure on Israel.
Begin with the unyielding opposition to the settlement enterprise of every
administration since Richard Nixon's. Add the growing sense among
establishment figures that non-strategic settlements really are an obstacle
to peace. Consider that the overwhelming majority of American Jews have
never once visited this country and have no understanding of the topography
of the West Bank, or of Israel's legitimate security needs. Then throw in
the emergence of self-proclaimed pro-Israel groups ­ stridently ideological,
highly mobilized and well-funded ­ advocating an American-imposed solution
to the conflict.

Never has criticism of Israel been less nuanced and more unhelpful to
fostering peace.

Who can blame Barack Obama for exploiting this political environment to put
the screws on Israel?

Answer: Those who realize that the settlement-freeze
issue is a red herring; that the non-zero-sum nature of Palestinian
intentions is far from assured; and that it is the Palestinians, not Israel,
who are inhibiting progress on a two-state solution.

AT MONDAY¹S meeting, according to The Los Angeles Times, Obama told the Jewish leaders that public disagreements between the US government and Israel were useful leverage in the pursuit of peace. The AP synopsized
Obama¹s position this way: Eight years of demanding Palestinian concessions
produced no results; it was time to try a different tack.

Assuming these accounts are accurate, it is depressing that Obama's words
did not elicit respectful dissent. Rather, as one rabbinical attendee -- a leader of the Conservative movement -- told reporters, he was keen to let the president have a go.

Obama claimed that the media tended to play up disagreements with Israel
while ignoring his demands of the Arabs. If so, that's probably because the
administration's calls on Israel are public and strident, while those on the
Arabs are hushed and diplomatic.

I'm not suggesting that Obama is substantively less pro-Israel than most
of his predecessors. But I am concerned over his refusal to explicitly
embrace the 1967-plus strategy enunciated by his predecessor. The furthest
he seems willing to go is to hint that changes which have occurred since
1967 will inevitably influence final-status negotiations.

IF THE administration feels it faces no countervailing pressure, it will go
on maintaining that settlements are the obstacle to peace. This alienates
Israel's majority, which is willing to make painful territorial concessions,
yet believes that ill-tempered calls for an unconditional freeze everywhere
only encourage Palestinian intransigence.

Pro-Israel Americans should caution Obama not to lose the Israeli "street"
as he seeks favor with the Arab one.

They need to say --­ loud and clear --­ that the principles enunciated by Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan deserve strong the administration's

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