I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor
And I don’t like it very much.
–Bibi Netanyahu and children’s song
President Obama held his first meeting with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas today. But you’d hardly know it from the pages of the N.Y. Times. In the only article concerning the meeting, the Palestinian is referred to a grand total of twice. Nothing else is mentioned about the substance of the talks between the two leaders. Is it possible that neither Abbas nor Obama said anything to each other, or that their representatives don’t want anyone to know what they did say?
Why do I get the impression that this is yet another example of the disappearing Palestinians? Why did Obama bother to have a meeting with Abbas if no one in the U.S. media has any interest in anything he thinks? Admittedly, the Israelis have done their best to render Abbas impotent and politically irrelevant, which may explain part of the reason there was so little to report from this event.
At any rate, the same article did contain lots of interesting information–about the U.S. approach to settlements. The Israelis are finding themselves like prey caught by a boa constrictor. Over time, there is less and less breathing room concerning settlements. Obama is shutting off every “out” that Israelis have been used to enjoying from previous administrations. For a peace advocate like myself, the process is a miracle to behold:
…Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s brusque[ly] call[ed] on Wednesday for a complete freeze of construction in settlements on the West Bank. In expansive language that left no wiggle room, Mrs. Clinton said that Mr. Obama “wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.”
Her comments took Israeli officials by surprise.
I should say so. The Israelis don’t like a word of it.
And this represents yet another wriggle from Bibi’s minions as they adjust to the ever constricting political environment:
Mr. Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev…[said] that “normal life” would be allowed in settlements in the occupied West Bank, using the phrase that Israel often uses to describe continued construction to accommodate population growth. Privately, Israeli officials said they were upset by the administration’s hard line.
You bet they’re upset. For over forty years, presidents have nodded and winked at Israeli settlement expansion. In 1993, at the time of Oslo there were 200,000 settlers. Now there are 400,000. I can remember back in the 1970s when Ariel Sharon spoke in oracular terms of 100,000 settlers and we thought he was out of his mind. Little did we know he was crazy like a fox.
But thank God, there will be no more winking or nodding. This administration means business. In a battle between an 18 foot boa constrictor and its prey there can be little doubt who will eventually win. Not that I mean to carry this analogy to its logical conclusion. The U.S. isn’t going to swallow and digest Israel. Rather it is going to squeeze the life out of the notion that settlements are a viable proposition for Israel. If Israelis won’t kill this notion off themselves, then Obama is going to lend a hand and drive the stake through the monster’s heart.
One element of Helene Cooper’s report disturbed me, as it represented the same old bankrupt U.S. policy first adopted by the Bush administration; and I’d thought that Obama had outgrown the failures of our previous president:
Mr. Obama congratulated Mr. Abbas for adhering to the West’s argument that he should not form a national unity government with the militant Islamist organization Hamas until Hamas forswears violence and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.
Actually, a national unity government could be part of the solution to the problem of a fractured, impotent Palestinian polity unable to make peace with Israel. The fact that Obama insists on the same tired articulation of Hamas as a terrorist entity is disappointing. But I don’t think this is by any means the last word from the president on this subject.
Martin Indyk, that bellweather of liberal pro-Israel opinion, makes this rather remarkable (for him) statement about the souring of American Jewish attitudes towards the settlements:
“People in the American Jewish community and in Israel are sick of settlement activity. The whole zeitgeist has changed.”“People in the American Jewish community and in Israel are sick of settlement activity. The whole zeitgeist has changed.”
Richard, I get the impression that the committal to forswear violence is something Obama isn’t going to budge on. Which makes sense in one respect, while not in another – States are seen as the only actors with a legitimate right to violence. Thus it’s a quid pro quo, to be acknowledged by a State, a political group must forswear violence. Yet if the members of a group are not given full rights, how can they be expected to forswear violence? Unless there is equal protection under the law, in fact and not just as a vague promise, it seems suicidal to do so, and not something that the individuals could be expected to accept. Perhaps someone can explain what I’ve missed there? (I’m not sure if I don’t understand that or simply don’t accept the idea that the power of might requires accepting and trusting without guarantee of protection.)
I noticed that the Financial Times included this statement in its report of the meeting: “A spokesman for Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister, stressed on Thursday that “normal life” should be allowed to continue in the West Bank settlements – making clear that Israel has no intention of accepting Washington’s call for an end to the “natural growth” of settlements.
The term has long been used by Israeli governments as a loophole to allow the continuing expansion of settlements in recent years.”
To have that last sentence appear in a financial newsletter appears to represent a change in public opinion – you have more experience in reviewing public media, what do you think?
MY COMMENT: Pretty strong stuff!
RE: “Martin Indyk, that bellweather of liberal pro-Israel opinion, makes this rather remarkable (for him) statement…”
MY COMMENT: Yes, I have a difficult time believing my eyes!
Yes, Dickerson, Indyk’s comment leaped out at one, so to speak. Huh!
I’m not familiar with the Financial Times, should do a search, but don’t have time at the moment. I’ve got to run a safe mode installation of Microsoft’s new patch. Or take the computer in to the shop again, I’m not sure which. Since it’s still working, despite some wierdness, I’m hesitant to fool with it – the last virus I got wiped the hard drive out after about three days of efforts by the techs – or so they said; maybe I just screwed it up so badly that it couldn’t be otherwise repaired.
Joachim Martillo says
I argue in my interview with Iranian PressTV that the US should be demanding the dismantlement of settlements: Iranian Interview/Discussion. Daniel Pipes was supposed to take part, but he chickened out.
RE:”Daniel Pipes was supposed to take part, but he chickened out.”
SQUAWK, SQUAWK, SQUAWK – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iyeZT_Kg65I&NR=1
RE:”Daniel Pipes was supposed to take part, but he chickened out.”
MY COMMENT: That’s a REAL ‘chickenhawk’ for you!
WIKIPEDIA ‘CHICKENHAWK’ REFERENCE -http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chickenhawk_(politics)
WIKIPEDIA ‘CHICKENHAWK’ REFERENCE –
The Obama administration is on the right track i believe but it’s going to take cooperation from all sides, including Palestine recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, for this to go through. And even then, it might not. We aren’t as buddy-buddy with Israel as we used to be.
Check out my link above to see a video mash-up of different global news sources.
Richard Silverstein says
Newsy looks quite interesting & you feature in the linked video one of my favorite commentators, Kung Fu Jew of Jewschool.
No, I don’t agree with you on that. Palestine will have to recognize Israel, but not as a Jewish state.
It’s time – actually, it’s waaaaay past time – for all of the settlements to be fully opened to Arab residents.
Brad Stroud says
“Admittedly, the Israelis have done their best to render Abbas impotent and politically irrelevant, which may explain part of the reason there was so little to report from this event.”
“The fact that Obama insists on the same tired articulation of Hamas as a terrorist entity is disappointing.”
Part of the problem here is that the US and Israel will not allow Palestinians to sort out their politics on their own: They interfere relentlessly. From rejecting the democratically elected Hamas in 2006 to insisting on the inclusion of particular Fatah members that Fatah and the general public DO NOT WANT (i.e., US friendly Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister), to insisting on a weak and ineffectual Abbas as President.
It’s hard not to think this is all intentional. Had the democratically elected Hamas been allowed to govern – and, face it, Israeli/US interference with this is as anti-democracy as it gets – the show would be on, Israel would be whining but nonetheless an effective truce (Hudna) would already be in place.
Someone doesn’t want peace and it isn’t the Palestinians.
RE: “It’s hard not to think this is all intentional.”
SEE: “The Gaza Bombshell”, by David Rose @ “Vanity Fair”, April 2008
(EXCERPT) After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle: part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs. With confidential documents, corroborated by outraged former and current U.S. officials, the author reveals how President Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Deputy National-Security Adviser Elliott Abrams backed an armed force under Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever…
ENTIRE ARTICLE – http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2008/04/gaza200804
Brad Stroud says
Margaret – If I understand you correctly, I agree. It is too exacting a demand to have Hamas relinquish violence before rather than as part of a peace settlement. This demand seems to be the way to make it appear to want Hamas to be part of the political process while simultaneously requiring that they renounce the only thing that causes them to be taken seriously in the first place. It would be bad politics and bad judgment to give up their own deterrent to Israeli aggression as a pre-condition to talks. This must be obvious to everyone even if they wish not to acknowledge it.
Martillo – I agree with the dismantlement strategy. It seems that if you want a settlement freeze you best not demand a settlement freeze. Better to demand a real goodwill gesture – the initiation of dismantlement. (This has been my own little position on it the last couple months. I’m waiting to hear that word used by Obama.). The Foundation for Middle East Peace, has also emphasized the importance of thinking in terms of dismantling settlements given the current realities.
Dickerson – Thanks for the link.
As for the strong language being used:
“Hillary Clinton’s statement was notable because the language was stronger than we’ve heard in years,” said Ali Abunimah, the co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a Web site that analyzes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “And clearer than we’ve heard in years. But the burden of proof is still on them. If it’s just going to be strong statements, that’s not enough.” (NYT)
“Unless these statements [against settlement construction] are followed by decisive action – perhaps to limit American subsidies to Israel – there’s no reason to believe the lip service that failed in the past will suddenly be more effective,” wrote Ali Abuminah, a co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website, in the Nation magazine. (IPS)
Hard to disagree with that assessment. So then, from strong language to … ? The moment of truth is near.