Folks, I’m about to let you in on a dirty, little secret: I actually agree with Tom Friedman’s N.Y. Times column today, because it contains an uncharacteristically blunt attack on the latest scandal in Israel’s relations with the U.S.:
…On his recent trip to Israel…the vice president missed a chance to send a powerful public signal: He should have snapped his notebook shut, gotten right back on Air Force Two, flown home and left the following scribbled note behind: “Message from America to the Israeli government: Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. And right now, you’re driving drunk. You think you can embarrass your only true ally in the world, to satisfy some domestic political need, with no consequences? You have lost total contact with reality. Call us when you’re serious. We need to focus on building our country.”
That’s what I said to myself when I first heard about the housing construction. This is classic Israeli blunderbuss tactics. They’ve done precisely this many times in the past. That the Obama administration didn’t anticipate such a provocation as this and immediately act in the sort of strong and deliberate manner, depressed and disappointed me. That a usually pro-Israel supporter like Friedman had almost precisely my point of view frankly amazed me.
But the fact of the matter is that Obama didn’t act when he should have. He steamed and the anger and resentment grew. Though it doesn’t matter that much when the U.S. got angry, it would’ve made a far stronger and more effective statement to have acted immediately. I hate to say this but it’s like disciplining your pet. If he eats the Thanksgiving turkey (as my dog has done) and you come home to find a carcass sitting on the floor, whacking him on the nose with a newspaper will be a lot less effective than if you catch him in the act and make sure that all hell breaks loose. Then he knows precisely what he did wrong and not to do it again.
This goes to the ongoing weakness and equivocation of the administration in so many areas. You simply can’t beat a poker player like Bibi (or virtually any Israeli PM) by vacillating. And that’s what Obama has done. He stakes out a position and gradually whittles it down so that after a few months you hardly remember what the opening position was.
Friends of mine I respect like M.J. Rosenberg and Sol Salbe are practically breaking out their Obama buttons again. I’m not so sure it’s that time yet. The president’s got a long way to go.
Let’s start by seeing how he handles Aipac’s upcoming national policy conference at which virtually every DC political player is expected to pay their obeisance to the Lobby. I read one blogger wag say he expected Biden to come on all fours–perhaps a bit harsh but not terribly so. Aipac has made its deep displeasure known regarding the Obama meltdown on the housing controversy. Joe Lieberman reacted with typically annoying dismissiveness:
“Let’s cut the family fighting. It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the U.S. and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies.”
Notice how Lieberman ellides our enemies and Israel’s and they become one, as if there is no difference between our national interests and Israel’s. And who might that “enemy” be? Well, since the row concerns the theft of Palestinian land and building illegal settlements on it, we can safely assume that Lieberman includes the Palestinians among Israel’s and the U.S.’ enemies. Perhaps he might’ve been alluding to Iran, but that nation is a lot less interested in the issue of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem than the Palestinians are. So I think it’s interesting just whose side Joe is on and whose side he’s not on. And frankly, Joe Lieberman is on Israeli’s side and not on America’s side. Of course, as I wrote above he sees them as being one and the same. But they’re not.
Speaking of provocations, Israel has dropped another bomb on the Palestinians with the rededication of the gleaming Hurva Synagogue in the contested Jewish Quarter of the Old City. This follows an earlier provocation by which Bibi named two religious sites in Hebron as “national heritage sites.” After he did so, Palestinians began streaming to the Temple Mount in the hundreds and thousands to protest. Israel then closed off the area to Muslim worshipers and protesters. Now Israel has added insult to injury in such a way that it is meant either as a deliberate poke in the eye or the height of cluelessness (and what’s the difference ultimately?). Hamas has reacted by calling for a “day of rage,” which has brought out protesters in full force. This tit for tat could easily escalate into a Third Intifada if Israel isn’t careful (and when has it been?).
The Jewish Quarter government development authority has the nerve to proclaim that there is no political subtext to the rededication. Of course there is a political subtext. There always is when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. Precisely when one sides claims it is acting without premeditation is when the other side suspects their motives most (and often rightly so).
Then there is this further gobbledygook from Bibi himself in his speech marking the synagogue ceremony:
“I know many are moved by this moment, and rightly so. But we’re not the only ones moved by our faith. We have enabled adherents of other religions to restore their places of worship as well. We proudly uphold our heritage, we have returned to our cities, and we also give the same freedom of worship to other religions. The people of Israel maintain their heritage and through that maintain the heritage of others.”
The PM really doesn’t give a crap about the Palestinians. This statement was intended for an international audience, especially Christians. It was meant to reassure them that even though we’re sticking it to the Muslims in Jerusalem, we remember with affection those of other religions who know there place in the Israeli scheme of things.