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Is Obama Getting Tough With Israel?

President Obama heads to the Middle East next week, where on Thursday he'll make a much-anticipated address in Cairo aimed at repairing American's ties with the Muslim world.

He has a big advantage simply not being George W. Bush, of course -- and having abolished the most egregious, Crusade-like aspects of this country's approach to counter-terrorism.

But what can he tell the world's Muslims to assuage their anger about their most long-standing grievance: America's reflexive support of Israel?

As I've written before, there are signs Obama will promote a new regional peace initiative for the Middle East, much like the one championed by Jordan's King Abdullah.

And now along comes the first distinct signs that Obama is willing to play hardball with Israel.

Paul Richter, Christi Parsons and Richard Boudreaux write in the Los Angeles Times: "President Obama and top Israeli officials staked out sharply opposing positions over the explosive issue of Jewish settlements Thursday, propelling a rare dispute between the two close allies into full public view just days before the U.S. leader is due to deliver a long-awaited address in Egypt to the world's Muslims.

"Speaking after a White House meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama reiterated that he had been 'very clear about the need to stop building settlements, to stop building outposts' on Palestinian territory.

"Only hours earlier, the Israeli government said it would continue to allow some growth in the settler communities in the West Bank.

"The exchange underscored the unusually hard-line position Obama has taken publicly with Israel early in his administration. Most U.S. presidents, aware of the political sensitivity, have worked hard to keep disagreements out of sight, when they existed."

The issue of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories is incendiary for Palestinians, and nearly defining for the right-wing Israeli political bloc that newly re-installed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu depends on in order to retain power.

Farah Stockman writes for the Boston Globe: "As he prepares to fly to the Middle East next week to give a speech on his policy toward the region and US-Muslim relations, it seemed clear yesterday that his administration is willing to risk prickly relations with one of the closest US allies - and possible anger from some Jewish voters - to try to create a Palestinian state."

David S. Cloud writes for Politico: "Obama's willingness to place much of the initial onus on Israel for resuming peace talks is clearly greater than his predecessor, President George W. Bush, who rarely allowed any hint of public difference between himself and Israel. The strategy also carries some domestic political risk for Obama. That was clear Thursday when 329 House members and 76 senators sent him a letter advising against putting too much public pressure on Israel."

Glenn Kessler writes in The Washington Post that the 2003 "road map" for peace, "commits Israel to dismantling settler outposts and freezing 'all settlement activity,' including building to accommodate what is known as 'natural growth.' But the near-daily barrage of U.S. demands that Israel halt settlement growth has surprised Israeli officials, who argue that they greatly restrained growth under an unwritten 2005 agreement with the Bush administration. Under that deal, Israel was to stop providing incentives for settlers to move to the West Bank and was to build only in areas it expected to keep in future peace agreements....

"The Obama administration appears to have calculated that pressing Israel on settlements will help demonstrate to the Arab nations that the United States is serious about pursuing peace, even at the risk of appearing to undermine Netanyahu's nascent government."

Steven Thomma writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "President Barack Obama Thursday ratcheted up what might be America's toughest bargaining position with Israel in a generation."

Thomma also writes: "It's noteworthy that Obama this week announced that he'd go to Saudi Arabia early next week for a private dinner with King Abdullah, en route to Cairo.

"'If what Obama is trying to do is get states like the Saudis to actually do things now, not only will he have achieved something pretty significant, he'll make it almost impossible for the Israelis to say no,' Miller said. 'No Israeli prime minister can afford to mismanage Israel's most important relationship, especially at a time when the Iranians are closer to nuclear power.'"

It's also possible that Obama is willing -- heck, even eager -- to see Netanyahu's government collapse. The prime minister has been a longtime skeptic of proposals to create a Palestinian state and refused to commit to the concept during his U.S. visit.

Laura Rozen blogs for Foreign Policy: "According to many observers in Washington and Israel, the Israeli prime minister, looking for loopholes and hidden agreements that have often existed in the past with Washington, has been flummoxed by an unusually united line that has come not just from Obama White House and the secretary of state, but also from pro-Israel congressmen and women who have come through Israel for meetings with him over Memorial Day recess. To Netanyahu's dismay, Obama doesn't appear to have a hidden policy. It is what he said it was....

"Even one veteran Washington peacemaker who had grown skeptical that Washington can overcome obstacles to get substantive progress on Middle East peace admitted to being impressed by the Obama team's resolve. 'What I'm beginning to see is that the Obama administration may be less concerned with actually getting to negotiations and an agreement and more interested in setting new rules and rearranging the furniture,' said Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson Institute. 'They may have concluded that they can't get to a real two state solution with this prime minister. Maybe they want a new one? And the best way to raise the odds of that is to demonstrate that he can't manage Israel's most important relationship: with the U.S.'"

Jackson Diehl writes in his Washington Post opinion column: "From its first days the Bush administration made it clear that the onus for change in the Middle East was on the Palestinians: Until they put an end to terrorism, established a democratic government and accepted the basic parameters for a settlement, the United States was not going to expect major concessions from Israel.

"Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel."

This is not a good thing, Diehl writes, because in so doing, Obama "has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud."

But in an interview with Yedioth Ahronoth translated by M.J. Rosenberg, Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and a former United States ambassador to Israel, suggests that Obama is on a larger mission.

"Netanyahu should listen to Obama because Obama is telling him, in essence, that resolving the conflict is an American interest," Indyk said. "What is happening at present is that the Israeli-Arab conflict serves as an instrument in the hands of America's enemies — Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas. Time is not working in Israel's favor or in favor of peace."

Indyk says Obama's new message to Israels is this: "[A]ll these years, the US has been strengthening you precisely for this purpose — so that you can take the risk of making peace. How exactly can the Palestinians destroy you? The real existential danger is that you will not succeed in parting from them."

By Dan Froomkin  |  May 29, 2009; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Middle East  
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Comments

Ha, ha. What you see is what you get, Bibi. How do you like them apples?

Posted by: ctnickel | May 29, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

TIME TO STOP THE LAND GRAB BIBI!

Posted by: GTFOOH | May 29, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I fear what Israel will do for payback and revenge for the Obama Administration going against their wishes and keeping the disagreement private so that they can continue the settlement project. I fear that Israel no longer behaves as a rational nation state. I guess we'll soon see.

Posted by: MadAsHell3 | May 29, 2009 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Abbas went out after his meeting with Obama and said that Obama sees eye to eye with the Palestinians on the issue of a Palestinian state. Will Israel take revenge on the Palestinians for this? Another attack on Gaza perhaps?

Posted by: MadAsHell3 | May 29, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I hope he goes as far as holding the $3 bil in aid as a bargining chip.

Posted by: MerrillFrank | May 29, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

RE: "the most egregious, Crusade-like aspects of this country's approach to counter-terrorism"

BUSH TOLD CHIRAC: “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East"

SEE: ”Biblical Prophesy and the Iraq War - Bush, God, Iraq and Gog” - By Clive Hamilton, 05/22/09

(EXCERPT) ”…In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated…”

ENTIRE ARTICLE - http://www.counterpunch.org/hamilton05222009.html

Posted by: DICKERSON3870 | May 29, 2009 3:22 PM | Report abuse

The walkback should be very amusing. Obama has proven himself to be cowardly in the face of opposition. I guess he learned that at the knee of Harry Reid. Anyway, like I said, the walkback will be very amusing.

Posted by: davidbn27 | May 29, 2009 3:25 PM | Report abuse

If it hasn't been suggested yet, I would recommend that Obama take a page out of GHWB's book and cut the funding to Israel as long as more settlements are built. That got their attention.

Posted by: candileezarice | May 29, 2009 3:41 PM | Report abuse

Who will back down in this game of chicken between the US and Israel?

http://www.youpolls.com/details.asp?pid=5387


.

Posted by: usadblake | May 29, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Finally a break from complete support of Israel. If Israel wants to be recognized as a "partner in peace", then stop the settlements and the the rest will fall into place. Remember that Israel created their own nuclear weapon and nobody(including us) went after them. We don't like when N. Korea demonstrates their nuclear capability; why shouldn't we also get upset by Israel's nuclear capability?

Posted by: sailorflat | May 29, 2009 4:52 PM | Report abuse

Let's hope Obama draws a line in the sand on this; Israel is NOT rational about the settlements, claiming it to be irrelevant to peace. The Squatter Movement steals other people's land and when the owners object the military moves in and defends them. This is the elephant in the living room and Israel's nutty exceptionalist claims absolutely must be faced down before any good will happen.

It's a big problem; absorbing 290,000 heavily armed violent terrorists into their society will cause them massive harm, but that's their problem.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 29, 2009 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Heard a settler leader on the radio a few days ago, bragging in that calm discursive tone they take that even while a nominal settlement freeze was the law, they not only quietly expanded existing settlements but defiantly planted wholely new ones (declining to reveal their locations to the reporter), and noting that Israel lacked the means or the interest in stopping them.

These people are absolutely out of line and the settlements are THE defining issue here.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 29, 2009 5:41 PM | Report abuse

I do not have much time for Netanyahu. I'd like to see Obama tell him that the US wants its money back with interest. That might make Israel agree that The Palestinians should have the same rights as Israelis.

The US should some sending guns and weapons to Israel.

Posted by: robertjames1 | May 29, 2009 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Making further US aid to Israel conditional on halting settlement construction (including that "natural growth" dodge) would get their attention real fast.

Israel is like the delinguent teenage son the family keeps bailing out of juvenile hall so he never experiences the consequences of his reckless misbehavior, and if we want any progress on this seething conflict then it's time for some tough love.

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 29, 2009 6:44 PM | Report abuse

in the bare desert
the wind will shift a huge dune
one grain at a time

Posted by: jamesmmoylan | May 29, 2009 7:33 PM | Report abuse

in the bare desert
the wind will shift a huge dune
one grain at a time

Posted by: jamesmmoylan

==

settlers will cry out
"Jewish law says no!"
Bulldozers will come real soon
Anyway

Posted by: chrisfox8 | May 29, 2009 7:55 PM | Report abuse

I am so glad that finally someone is standing up for America when dealing with Israel.

Posted by: BethesdaMD | May 29, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

If Israel doesn't stop the settlements, maybe they're not an ally, and are just using us for protection.
It's about time someone called them on their B*S.

Posted by: jeffc6578 | May 30, 2009 1:21 AM | Report abuse

"Land for peace" was not our invention. It started in Israel. Our "improvement" is to demand they give the land back now and hope for peace.

Who will claim credit for that idea?

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 30, 2009 7:13 AM | Report abuse

The American public knows what has to be done. Mr. Obama and Sec. of State Clinton simply have to make it perfectly clear to the world and the Israeli public that the United States will no longer condone nor support Israel's right-wing militarists and West Bank Jewish Jihadists!

America's so-called friend has been its worst enemy. It's time to publicly recognize that fact!

Posted by: dgward44 | May 30, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

"These people are absolutely out of line and the settlements are THE defining issue here."

Settlers left Gaza. The settlements on the West Bank can be negotiated for peace. It will be a point to negotiate. They leave very good homes behind. The Arabs should be promoting settlements now to gain these improvements later.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 30, 2009 7:16 AM | Report abuse

About time we had a President with guts. It is absolutely right that Israel is putting the USA in danger by keeping the Palestinian issue as a rallying cry. They don't have to keep building settlements and taking over land. It is in our national interest to force the issue.

Posted by: goldie2 | May 30, 2009 7:40 AM | Report abuse

President Obama needs to be firm with Israel, and we Americans will back him up all the way. Obama should have no fear of the Jewish Lobby, which is working hard in the darkness to undermine his presidency. Look at rightwing Jewish propaganda outlets like frontpagemag (run by the parasite David Horowitz), debbieschlussel (run by another parasite Debbie Schlussel) or that parasite Daniel Pipes. Congressmen and women are not worried about losing the Jewish vote, which is insignificant, but what they are really worried about is losing Jewish campaign money and attack by pro-Israel journalists in the media.


Posted by: csbd1984 | May 30, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

If Israel defies Obama's demand that all settlement activities stop and spineless Congressmen and women, terrified by the Jewish Lobby AIPAC, ADL and other fraud organization, run for cover, Obama should go public and explain to the American people that America has paid a heavy price in blood and treasure for its support for Israel. Obama should explain that Al Qaida attacked us on 9/11 primarily because of our support for Israel. Americans are fed up with Israel games.

Posted by: csbd1984 | May 30, 2009 8:48 AM | Report abuse

The left is so absolutely out of touch with reality and the media reminiscent of the US perspective on Stalin in 42-43. The true history of the Middle East is unrecognizable by the Orwellian fantasy accepted as fact.
Obama, a man of his word and commitment to the principles of democracy, human rights, the rule of law are demonstrable by his acceptace of corrupt immoral dictators and monarchs who he places no demands upon and his attack on a steadfast US Allie of 8,000,000 on 8000sq mls of land surrounded by 500,000,000 Arabs on 5,1000,000 sq mls. of land. A President with guts? No a President who lacks morality, who has abandoned commitments of this country to an allie. He asks for more unilateral concessions by Israel. Obama is nop friend of Israel, democracy, decency, or this nations core values In 1942 Stalin was Times Man of the Year. In1943 Life magazine had a front page article comparing Stalins Secret Police to the FBI. Obama's position and threats against Israel on behalf of racist murderers is a disgrace. As Areal Sharon warned appeasement never works. N. Korea tests ICBM's, Nukes, declares war on the south and warns the UN not to pass anymore resolutions and Obama and clinton beat up on Israel as Lt Gen. Dryer threatens to let Pal troops were arming to kill Israels. What a great President of a Great Nation. Stalinist Socialist Corrupt America.

Posted by: djfeiger | May 30, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

"But what can he tell the world's Muslims to assuage their anger about their most long-standing grievance: America's reflexive support of Israel?"

In physiology a reflex is an involuntary response of the nervous system to an external stimulus that does not involve the brain. You do not put your statement of Muslim's grievance in quotation marks. Hence, I can only assume that you agree that America exhibits unthinking support for Israel. Is this correct?

One thing of which we can be sure, while Muslims and Arabs in particular consider our support for a democratic, reliable Middle Eastern ally "reflexive," the Muslim nations do not consider their own uniform, uncritical support for Palestinians, even those among them who are terrorists, to be "reflexive".

The United States supports Israel, our ally, because we see it in our interests to do so. It is certainly not because American Jews comprise a major voting bloc or because Jews exercise some mysterious disproportionate influence.

Why not a column exposing the Arab and Muslim "reflexive" support of the Palestinians?

Posted by: bleikind | May 30, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Two thoughts on the israel-palestine issue:

First, in regards the Israeli democracy, note that a democracy is not a theocracy is not a democracy is not a theocracy...ad infinitum. Until Israel decides which it is, it will ALWAYS have internal problems, regardless of its neighbors.

And the two-state solution is a non-starter for one simple reason: the legal concept of a 'state' includes the right to self-defense. I just can't see Israel allowing a 'Palestine' the same right it takes to itself of having a Navy, an Air Force, having an official standing Army, or importing or developing missiles.

Posted by: CalDamage | May 30, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I am a very pro-Isreal person who strongly supports what Obama is doing and his sense that the time to do it is "now". I think he's right that it would be good for the US, good for the Palestinians, and good for Israel it there were a settlement of the Isreal-Palestine issue. Each party in the dispute, that is, Israel and the Palastinians would have to give important concessions. Israel would have to give up most of the land acquired in 1967 when it was attacked yet again by a combined army of its neighbors. It has gotten Israel peace with Jordan and Egypt, and they have not attacked again and not ostensibly assisted the radical Palestinians. Israel would probably--and this is very tough--have to cede sole control of the portion of Jerusalem most sacred to the Muslim religion. (Note: When the Muslim countries controlled East Jerusalem, Jews were cut off from their own sacred sites. Israel has allowed access to Muslims. And Muslims also have Mecca, Karbala, etc., while the Jews only have Jerusalem.)And the Palestinians have got to recognize Israel and probably give up the "right of return." This would take the avowed fuel out of much of the terror fire which we American's face. The questions: Is Netanyahu a big enough man to understand that it is a sign of strength to be the first to offer concessions.

Posted by: northlite | May 30, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry, after AIPAC gets done with Obama he'll apologize to the settlers for hurting their feelings and lend money to expand Israel into Lebanon and Syria.

Posted by: rkeithgargus | May 30, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

The Palestinians, and a lot of other people, are using the settlements as a red herring to distract attention from the real problems. Elimination of the settlements won't bring peace, just further demands from the Palestinians. Their real goals are very clearly stated in both the PLO and Hamas charters: complete elimination of Israel and the the theft of their land. I've seen no evidence that they've changed their minds or goals. Just words, but they don't count for anything.

People might remember that the war began in 1948 when there were no settlements at all. The war is not in response to Israeli expansion; the expansion is in response to the war. The real issue is the Arab refusal to recognize Israel. Until that is done there won't be peace, and it would be foolish for Israel to back down.

Hopefully, Obama will have some tough talk for Abdullah and inform him that unless he recognizes Israel the US will stop purchasing their oil. LOL! Folks have to remember that the US is quite dependent on Arab oil. And the Arabs know this.

Posted by: mikep4 | May 30, 2009 7:43 PM | Report abuse

Why are settlements "an obstacle to peace"???

To assert so, is to accept as a premise that the Arabs cannot live with Jews. Actually that's a reasonable assumption in view of the fact that the 22 Arab nations have persecuted Jews since the 1920s and expelled virtually all their Jewish citizens (over 850,000 of them).

Now they're saying that they can't possibly create a 23rd Arab state until that territory is also ethnically cleansed of Jews. It would be analogous to Israel saying that its 1.5 million Arab citizens are an "obstacle to peace" and should stop having children because they aren't allowed to build more accomodation.

Actually, the Arabs controlled the West bank and Gaza from 1948-1967. Did they try to create a state there then? Is it possible that the real agenda is not to create a 23rd Arab state, but to destroy the only Jewish one?

Supporting the call to stop "all settlement activity" in the West Bank is telling Jews there that they can't have children. It's a call for a judenrein West Bank, in preparation for the next move ...a judenrein Middle East ...

The real issue here is the Arab failure to accept peaceful co-existence with Jews ...that's the obstacle to peace, not "settlements".

Posted by: stevelieblich | May 31, 2009 12:12 AM | Report abuse

Because of the settlements, West Bank Palestineans are deprived in comparison with Israelis (ONLY IN WEST BANK!) this means there's no democracy there and that's why US adminnistration must demand to freeze them completely until an agreement is achieved with PA that provides civial rights to Palestineans in West Bank and makes it possible to integrate into Israel those settlement agreed upon.
At the same time president Obama must prevent further isolation of Israel, as this might lead some arab leaders to believe there's an opportunity to take adcantage Israeli "weakness" due to lack of US support, and also because Israel needs at least one strong political partner at any price which could lead to other powers (like China or Russia) to try to develop strategic ties with Israel -this IMHO this is not the best interest of US.

Posted by: edralp | May 31, 2009 2:48 AM | Report abuse

After watching this conflict for decades, and actually reading history, I've come to the conclusion that a so-called two-state solution won't happen. First of all, when the U.N. created Israel it created a Palestinian state at the same time--it's called Jordan, and 75% of it's population call themselves Palestinians. The U.N. left two territories "unassigned." I'm convinced the U.N. never meant for these areas to become an independent country; they aren't even next to each other.

Also, Jewish refugees never get any attention in comparison to the Arabs living in those territories. Just as many Jews fled Arab lands, but they were absorbed into Israel while the Palestinians were turned away by their own brethren.

And while Israel is called apartheid, it's only the Arabs who actually practice it. Jordan and Saudi Arabia don't allow Jews to become citizens or own land. The Palestinian charters call for the territories to be completely free of Jews.

And one last thing. I don't see any outrage over how the Muslims are treating Christians in those territories. Bethlehem used to be 80% Christian and now it's only 20% because of harassment, violent assaults and murders.

Posted by: sharonsj1 | May 31, 2009 12:17 PM | Report abuse

All reputable historians recognize that Israel was a land occupied by Palestinians around the turn of the last century, when the European Zionists decided to turn the land into a Jewish state. Such disregard for indigenous people by Europeans was the norm at the time, but it is not the norm today.

Accepting responsibility for the historical fact that the Jewish immigrants displaced the Palestinians is a prerequisite for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

The tiresome refrain, "but they didn't accept a Jewish state in 1948" is childish and no longer flies. Of course the Palestinians didn't accept being displaced, and of course the Palestinians today do not accept their current condition.

The refrain that "both sides have to compromise" is also getting old. If Palestinians accept a Jewish state under the condition that Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, Israel should be very grateful, because neither time nor morality are on their side.

I should add, parenthetically, that I am one of the 80% of American Jews who voted for and supports Obama.

Posted by: saraz1 | June 1, 2009 1:43 AM | Report abuse

Maybe it is the time for confrontation. The majority of Israeli Jews aren't willing to pull back to armistice lines of 1949 (that's what they are, not "1967 borders"), do not want to give up big settlement blocks, do not want to transfer Jerusalem to UN and aren't really interested in travelling opportunities in Saudi Arabia. They are extremely interested, however, in preventing Iran from going nuclear. In short, Obama and Israel are in full disagreement. All around the world lots of Israel-haters are cherishing the belief that with enough pressure, America can get Israel to do anything. It's up to Israelis to prove otherwise.

Posted by: arik67 | June 1, 2009 6:21 AM | Report abuse

The Israelis deliberately and repeatedly attacked the USS Liberty in 1967, killing 34 and wounding 171. We are now 42 years later.........it is clear that America MUST abandon the Communist Russian, Polish and Eastern European Khazars in Israel. Israel is THE PROBLEM. I am past weary at Israelis killing Americans, and Americans dying for Israel. ABANDON ISREAL NOW!

Posted by: usnr02 | June 1, 2009 7:40 AM | Report abuse

No matter how far back in history you want to dig, it doesn't change the fact that in the here and now both sides are acting like insolent pricks. Cherry picking 50 year old excuses to favor one side or the other accomplishes nothing and means nothing.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | June 1, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

The question should be: Is President Barach Oboma getting more friendly with the Arab countries and less with the Israels?

Posted by: a4853916 | June 1, 2009 12:46 PM | Report abuse

President OBoma seems to be leaning towards the Arab Countries and away from our only friend Israel.So whats he going to do when the stuff starts flying, except back away from our only ally in the Middle East, or show some backbone.We wiil see.

Posted by: a4853916 | June 1, 2009 1:07 PM | Report abuse

It's about time that someone attempted to force the Jews to try to live in peace with its neighbors.

Posted by: wiatrol | June 2, 2009 9:09 AM | Report abuse

When does the statute of limitations end for Isreal using the alleged halocaust to justify their evil.

Posted by: wiatrol | June 2, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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