H/t to M.J. Rosenberg for noting one of the most amazing newspaper reports coming out of Israel in months, if not several years. Yediot Achronot reports (quotations are taken from a translation not available online and supplied by Benor Consulting) that Rahm Emanuel astonishingly promised a major American Jewish leader that Barack Obama will see the creation of a Palestinian state before the end of his first term:
Israel recently received reports about a conversation that Emanuel held with a Jewish leader in Washington. In the course of that conversation the White House chief-of-staff said: “In the next four years there is going to be a permanent status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn’t matter to us at all who is prime minister.” Emanuel…is of the opinion that aggressive action needs to be taken in order to force Israel and the Palestinians to reach an agreement and “to move onto the next issue,” as a Washington official put it.
The Obama administration has been sending clear messages lately that President Obama has no intention of waiting two years until Netanyahu crystallizes a vision on the future negotiations with the Palestinians. Senior American officials said that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni already established an outline solution that has been accepted by the international community.
I have been waiting 40 years to see a president do what needs to be done regarding Israeli intransigence and unwillingness to negotiate an end to the conflict. While an unsourced report in an Israeli newspaper is not the most credible source, if even half of this Yediot report is true Obama will be the president of my dreams, at least regarding Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Also interesting is a U.S. linkage between resolving the Iranian nuclear issue and removing Israeli settlers and settlements from the West Bank:
Senior US administration officials are fully aware of the linkage that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have created between Israeli willingness to make advances on the Palestinian track and their expectations of the Americans to address the Iranian threat, and senior American officials have begun to talk about “Bushehr for Yitzhar.” Namely, if you want us to help you defuse the Iranian threat, including the nuclear reactor in Bushehr, get ready to evacuate settlements in the West Bank, with Yitzhar considered to be a token of an Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territory.
While I’m in favor of using any leverage available to bring Israel to negotiate an end to this conflict, I’m not so sure that tying two such disparate issues as Iran’s nuclear capability and Israeli settlements together is wise. What if the U.S. fails to secure Iranian agreement to end its nuclear program? What if whatever agreement the U.S. does reach with Iran doesn’t satisfy Israel? There are too many ways to weasel out of this one I’m afraid. This reeks of a Bibi-Barack devised trick.
If the following portion of the story is correct, then Obama is truly throwing caution to the winds and breaking from previous presidential traditions in regards to relations with the Israeli prime minister:
Meanwhile, US administration officials informed Netanyahu that President Obama will not be able to meet with him in early May, while the AIPAC conference is held in Washington. The meeting between the new Israeli premier and the president of the United States is perceived in Israel as a sign that the formation process of the new government has been completed and as a salutation by Israel’s close friend. Netanyahu had hoped to capitalize on the opportunity and to meet with Obama during the annual AIPAC conference, but the Americans informed the Israelis that Obama was not going to be “in town.” That being the case, the inclination among Netanyahu’s aides is to cancel his trip to attend the AIPAC conference and to try to secure a date for a meeting with Obama later in May.
Sources in Washington said that the Obama administration would not continue the tradition that developed during the Bush administration of hosting Israeli premiers many times during the year, sometimes with just a phone call’s advance notice.
No more Mr. Nice Guy, says Barack. All right, I say! When an Israeli prime minister comes to town for the annual Aipac conference just after his election, it’s the equivalent of a debutante’s coming out party. That’s why the symbolism of a presidential meeting is so important to the new Israeli leader. Saying there will be no such meeting is more than a slap in the face. It’s a bucket of cold water thrown over one’s head. It’s a sign that there’s a new sheriff in town and he won’t be laying low like the last one did.
I note also that the Israelis haven’t even secured any date to meet Obama. In other words, the president is leaving him high and dry. To not have a new prime minister attend the national Aipac conference will be a huge blow not just to Bibi, but to Aipac as well. The group prides itself as being the major power broker and liaison between American Jewry, and Israel’s and America’s political leadership. Obama is deliberately depriving them of their traditional role. There must be much gnashing of teeth in Aipac’s offices today.
When Rahm Emanuel was first appointed chief of staff many worried that he would be a pro-Israel Likudist pushover. If Shimon Shiffer’s story is any indication, this fear turns out to have been completely unfounded. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to know that my president and his chief of staff are willing to kick ass to get things done. Higiya zman (“it’s about time”)!
UPDATE: I just had a conversation with Sol Salbe about this Yediot story and he and I both agree that there is a shifting of tectonic plates both in this country’s relationship with Israel and the power of the Israel lobby. Sol is more declarative than I’m willing to be and believes that in the history of Israel the years 1948 and 1967 were landmarks. The events of those years were epoch-changing and what came afterward was nothing like what came before. And he thinks that 2009, or at least the four years of Obama’s first term will be equally historic.
Sol is also impressed with the Obama administrations reopening of the issue of attending the Durban II anti-racism conference. This issue is red meat to pro-Israel groups and for Obama potentially to defy them sends a signal to all that the interests of the lobby are no longer necessarily primary in the mind of the administration.
I joked with Sol about Condi Rice’s “birth pangs of a new Middle East” statement during the Lebanon war and said that what we are seeing NOW may be those birth pangs. Sol rightly pointed out that she might have been right (though not in the way in which she intended). In other words, Bush’s failed Iraq war helped to bring Obama to power. Israel’s failed wars in Lebanon also made politicians like Obama realize that the military option was a zero sum game that needed to be renounced in favor of negotiation. So in a sense Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza have been the death rattle of the old order; while Obama’s election has been a birth pang of new one.
If Obama succeeds as Emanuel promises he will and there is a new Palestinian state, then there is no doubt that there will also be peace between Israel and Syria, that Lebanon will eventually normalize relations, that Hezbollah will cease being Israel’s mortal enemy, and Iran will stand down from its threatening rhetoric and actions toward Israel. And this WOULD BE the birth pangs of a new Middle East.