Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Notes on Obama-Netanyahu Meeting

The unending torrent of news items and rivers of commentary tend to obscure, more than reveal, the real state of affairs after the meeting between Obama and Bibi. There is no sense in tiring my readers regarding Netanyahu, who has prepared the meeting with Obama with an intensive series of provocative, chauvinist actions and declarations. Netanyahu is preparing for a full scale propaganda battle with the White House. When he considers it necessary, Bibi is ready to launch a campaign to prove that Obama is grossly insensitive to the threat of a new Holocaust and that Jerusalem and not Washington is the locus of the really serious decisions. For now, regarding the Palestinian issue, the big stall is on, and Obama can forget about any progress there. If Obama accepts this set of affairs he will signal weakness that he can ill afford. This is especially obsequious, because he has the ready means to topple Bibi’s government by merely slowing down the flow of funds and guns - until Netanyahu starts taking down settlements. How many settlements? Enough settlements among those designated as “outposts” or illegal by the Sasson report, so as to create pressure from the settler right to destabilize his coalition.
If Bibi stands pat and refuses, Barak will start complaining that Bibi is starving the IDF to keep feeding the settlements. Livni’s Kadima, in the name of the alliance with the US, will reissue its demand for rotating Bibi out of power. Bibi’s coalition will be in tatters.
Israel is susceptible to the mildest forms of US pressure. Bibi’s only ammo is the threat to designate Obama as the latest candidate for the Amalek slot in Jewish history. If Obama does not call this bluff clearly and quickly, he can save the expenses of the trip to Cairo. Putting it simply, can Obama, on the basis of the US own’s commitments, force Bibi to take down a few illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory?
It has been suggested that forcing Bibi to take down settlements would force him to commit political suicide. Does Barak Obama, with all his concerns really have to worry about this…

“We Decided” – “He Said” – “We Agreed” – Bibi “Interprets” Obama
Since he walked out of the White House, Bibi has been working overtime to soft pedal the differences that were the central aspect of the meeting. But he seems to speak with authority of gaining full US support on a number of critical issues. Netanyahu plays the media well and more often than not everything he says about what Obama said is accepted as fact. So this leaves much of the media to depend on Bibi’s purposefully distorted rendition of what happened. The absence of a joint statement by the two leaders is indeed an indication of serious differences. But it opens space for Netanyahu’s maneuvers. Bibi is playing hard ball, while Obama’s people are just standing around and hoping that the unpleasant noise will end or recede to Jerusalem.
Two salient examples: Bibi says that Obama and he agreed that the Arab moderate countries must be brought into the negotiations picture immediately and a program of mutual concessions must be worked out between Israel and the Arab countries. And until this is worked out and cleared up, and the first steps are taken, then we are all back to square one.
If Obama agreed to anything like this, he did not have, with all his skill, the faintest idea of what he was talking about. It is most unlikely that even the moderates Arab countries agreed to anything of the kind. Any such agreements would simply prove Bibi’s thesis that the Palestinian question can be indefinitely sidetracked. But suppose Bibi is right, and Obama and his advisors were napping at one stage of the proceedings, it is clear that the White House has to get out an urgent clarification that they were not linking additional concessions to Israel at this stage to progress on the Palestinian issue. Such a declaration may be in the offing, but it is the height of sloppy inefficiency to allow Netanyahu to assume the mantle of Obama’s spokesperson while Obama runs off to deal with another subject.
The Crucial Iranian Issue
Bibi Netanyahu is smirking with satisfaction while he reports “agreement in principle” between the US and Israel to the effect that Iran must not be allowed to possess nuclear weaponry. Going in and coming out of the White House, Bibi declared that Israel reserves the right of self defense regarding Iran, which is a clear justification and threat of preventive war. Bibi is able to claim that Obama and he agree that Israel has the right to self defense regarding the Iranian threat. The fact that Obama did not relate clearly to this kind of saber rattling is in itself alarming. If you think that he is assuming that Israel could not and wouldn’t act alone, then you are dead wrong. Just two weeks ago, he sent CIA Director Leon Panetta to Israel on a stealth mission to warn the Israeli’s against such an attack. You do not rush the Director of the CIA to Jerusalem unless you are damned worried that Bibi is gearing up for action.
Washington should, according to its own declared policy, clearly and openly disassociate itself from the Israeli threat of preventive war against Iran and desisting from doing so is the height of folly. If the leader of the United States buries his head in sand while Bibi exploits his alliance with Obama to consecrate the goals and purposes of the attack on Iran, it must be assumed that Obama believes, mistakenly, that he can use Bibi’s clout to soften up the Iranians. Thus, Netanyahu has chipped away at the US initiative for dialogue and engagement.
The Netanyahu people are ready to fight Obama, if need be, but they are still hoping that he can be convinced that the easiest and best option is to leave the ME to the care of the loyal Israeli ally.

Triumphant PM Returns
Bibi just arrived back in the country, propaganda guns blazing. The communiqués supply evidence that the Prime Minister, covered in glory, has rejected spurious demands and gained support for Israel’s really important goals. On landing, Netanyahu’s people have cooked up a very interesting revelation for the media to the effect that anyone who believes in the two-state solution is “stupid and childish.” This appears to be the main thing that the Israelis learned in Washington.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Obama’s Low Rating with Netanyahu’s New Government

Universally respected, even loved in many quarters, and still the embodiment of hope for many of the simple folk and the downtrodden, Barak Obama is not doing very well with the new government of Israel. Obama sounds well intentioned when he talks of peace in the area. But Obama, as shrewd a gentleman as he is supposed to be, is in no way prepared to handle the weird mix of arrogance and insult originating from Netanyahu and Lieberman and flooding the Israeli media.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Avigdor Lieberman, ignores the hints by many of the pundits that he may be embarrassing his boss, Bibi Netanyahu. Thriving on media attention, Lieberman keeps up a barrage of inanities like his statement in an interview to a Russian publication to the effect that “the US will do what we tell it to do.” Despite his appearance as a thug and a buffoon, Lieberman has a broad geo-political agenda and even presumes to explain to Obama that Pakistan and Afghanistan and not Iran are the chief problem. Lieberman is working on his very own contribution to world security by pushing the idea of a USA-Russia alliance against the Islamic world (civilization) to be brokered by…you guessed it…Israel and its foreign minister. There are people out there who take the clash of civilizations seriously. Just what we need – a Judeo-Christian alliance for the preservation of Western values.
Lieberman is no genius but he can pick up on a racist strain in US-European thinking. Bibi is a bit more elegant, but he is following the very same scenario as his buddy. This policy must be characterized as the right wing-extremist line of the more aggressive and adventurous elements in the US administration. These forces dislike Obama’s “moderate” style even when it is seen purely as a matter of form. They know the hard facts of imperial power and will exploit every element to wear down Obama, who has hitherto been simply unable to elaborate a coherent alternative to traditional hegemonic thinking.
Israel sees itself a pioneer in the war of civilizations. From its forward position it looks back at Obama and reminds him that, in the light of the conceptual continuity of US foreign policy, respect and consideration are due to the pioneers watching the fort.
Obama and the U.S. are in a particularly sensitive situation in the ME. Netanyahu has effectively scuttled the peace process, as faint and unconvincing as it was. Iran is exerting greater influence in the ME where the moderate Arab regimes are reduced to depending on Israel muscle to protect themselves from the fall out resulting from their collaborationist betrayal of the Palestinians. Odds and increasing signs on the ground indicate that the departure and the redeployment of US troops will have a destabilizing effect in Iraq. There are increasing signs that the present leadership in Baghdad might take a hike to Teheran. The US leadership has figured out it needs some secular horses in the Iraqi race and is busy trying to resurrect Sadaam Hussein’s old party. You see, this is the Middle East.
Meanwhile, for the last few weeks, Bibi Netanyahu has been working overtime to kill off any chance whatsoever for any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian and the Israeli-Arab conflict. He has already demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that, when and if he deigns to be so kind to his US buddy as to agree to go back to the negotiating table, he will talk only exclusively to a waterboarded Palestinian delegation that will kiss the whip after being thoroughly inundated by a flood of new unconditional demands.
Israel now demands that the Palestinians must not only recognize Israel and undertake peaceful coexistence with it, the Palestinians must recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. This recognition is to be interpreted by Israel, inter alia, as a clear renunciation of the demands for the rights of the Palestinian refugees. You see, Israel seeks closure.
The plain fact of the matter is that while Obama’s advisers’ limit him to bland generalities such as “Let’s have two states,” and “Everybody should behave well,” Lieberman and Netanyahu are hard at work. They are ostensibly reviewing their policy options, but really making sure that by issuing a slew of new demands, one more outrageous than the other, there will not be a Palestinian in sight who will dare to sit down to discuss “Two-states.”
Washington is stupefied and fails to react. Netanyahu says that Israel has just as much right to build in the occupied territories as the Palestinians and that the status of the land in the territories is “disputed land.” Washington is stupefied and fails to react. Netanyahu wants it clear right now that Palestine will never have any sort of army, and accept all kinds of limitations regarding water and elctro-magnetic fields on its truncated sovereignty. Washington is stupefied and fails to act.
Some wise guy pundit here called this new list of demands, Netanyahu’s shopping list for Obama. Obama has scheduled a full and frank discussion with Netanyahu for the 18th this month. Hilary Clinton is looking forward to hear about new developments in Israeli policy and hopes to explain to Netanyahu the danger of alienating the moderate Arab regimes. But Netanyahu is smart enough to exploit any opening given him in D.C. to present a new agenda of unlimited complications. Obama and Clinton may want to play dumb but if they allow Netanyahu to participate in shaping the agenda, they are selling the Palestinian down the river…again.
Netanyahu is not without friends and connections in D.C. within the present administration which is still in the grips of the political ideas and anti-Iran hysteria of its predecessor.
Making War for Peace or Making Peace for War
Everybody watching Bibi here knows how he is preparing himself for the coming meeting with Obama. The war on terror he says trumps peacemaking in the region. With Ahmadinajad on the loose, how could you conceivably talk to us about concessions affecting our vital rights. First lets take out Iran and then I will have time and patience to talk with you about Palestine. The hawkish, militarist, chauvinist boss here is telling Obama, no peace with Palestine without war on Iran.
Hilary Clinton was unable to understand that she was trailing far behind the discussion when she suggested that Netanyahu should desist from alienating the moderate Arab by making peace with the Palestinians. Despite the rumors that Lieberman is spitting in the soup, the Israeli-Egyptian love fest is on again. The Israeli government and the head of Egyptian intelligence, meet personally on a regular basis to work out the details of the siege and isolation of Gaza. When he has a chance, Bibi will explain to Hilary Clinton that he has the moderate Arab regimes in the palms of his hands. The moderates fear, more than anything else, political confrontation with Arabs and Muslims who have their very own ideas as to the disposition of their own oil. They, the “moderates”, are simply too busy defending their own privileges to be bothered by the fate of Palestine.
Even so, Obama and Hilary will tell Netanyahu that progress in the Palestinian talks is absolutely necessary to isolate Iran either for heavy sanctions or eventually a full sale attack. We must have peace they will explain before we can make war. Netanyahu, if it appears that he cannot really get his war (with Iran) for promising peace (with the Palestinians) will make the “ultimate concession” and agree to renew talks with the Palestinians. Obama will fake a victory, the “moderate” Arab countries will marvel at US diplomatic and the US will proceed on its mission to Teheran. The US will ostensibly have moved in the direction of dialogue but will brandish the Israeli sword in the face of the recalcitrant Iranians to keep them up to speed. With all this jockeying hither and thither very few bright people will be fooled into forgetting the name of the game. This region is oil country and it is the United States and it alone which wants it hands on the spigot. Iran with its reactionary regime and crude and clumsy leadership has the weird idea that it should decide how to dispose of its own oil, a crime punishable by death and invasion in the US playbook.
Barak Obama Really Seems Like a Nice Guy
I wish to avoid the full scale debate on the significance of the Obama presidency. Suffice it to say that even the most enthusiastic of Obama’s admirers on the left understand that he is the man responsible for tending store for the US empire and its interests. He himself has chosen to surround himself especially in foreign affairs by circles that represent continuity while he must rely on a state apparatus which honors the “virtues” of continuity above all else. Meanwhile, the US is in full retreat in the Middle East, where Iran and its allies enjoy a spurt of prestige for their support for the forsaken Palestinians. And now South Asia is falling apart. It is worth believing that the nuclear warehouse in Pakistan is in safe hands, but nothing else is safe and no where else is the area secure. Iraq is evermore inherently unstable, and the latest news is that the US is trying to resurrect Saadam Hussein’s party in order to balance the Shi’ite predilection for friendship in Teheran. Unless it is ready to radically increase its military activity, directly or by proxy, in these regions, the US must come up with a serious shift in policy and the cosmetic stuff is just not enough. In short, the US must demonstrate a serious willingness to recognize Iran’s legitimate interests and get rid of the “axis of evil” baggage.
And now back to Bibi and his plans for war. As long as the hard line Israeli policy and the softer line US policy are supposed to advance the same goal of thwarting and obstructing Iranian influence, as long as Washington buys the Israeli propaganda that Israel is in danger of a new Auschwitz and Ahmadinajad is a new Hitler (like Nasser and Arafat figured in previous Israeli narratives), there is a danger that Israel will attack. Equivocation in DC can easily translate to Israeli provocation in Boshir.
Our condemnation of the US-Israeli alliance in the ME does not mean that we have any sympathy whatsoever for the reactionary Islamic Republic and its leadership. Ahmadinajad seems totally unable to understand that his sloppy loose and crude formulations regarding Jewry and Israel are just what Bibi and Lieberman ordered. However, recent experience has shown that US intervention, direct or sponsored, will only strengthen a vicious regime, while spreading untold death and destruction among the people of Iran.