The Kabuki drama continues over a BBC report alleging that a U.S. representative (the story implies it was George Mitchell) told the Qatari prime minister that the former “would seriously consider abstaining” if a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli building in East Jerusalem was put forward. Reports out of Israel claim that a different State Department official denied this account. Though the denial is almost a non-denial:
The official told Ynet on Tuesday, “There is no such initiative before the (Security) Council, and we are not pursuing or encouraging any such action.”
None of this really contradicts the BBC report since it acknowledges too that there is no such resolution before the body currently. And a statement that the U.S. would consider abstaining in such a vote could be construed as “not encouraging” such a resolution.
Clearly, this is part of the ongoing battle between the Obama and Netanyahu forces to see who will blink first regarding Jerusalem and the issue of peace negotiations. Mitchell hopes that his statement will put added pressure on Bibi to accede to U.S. demands. My view is that the only way Obama can prove his bona fides is by actually abstaining, rather than just talking about doing so. As I’ve written before here, talk is cheap. Israel has heard enough talk from U.S. administrations to last several lifetimes. Only action gets Israel’s attention.
Laura Rozen reports on an ongoing battle within the U.S. administration on just this subject. Mitchell wants to be tough and Dennis Ross leads the faction that wants us to back off Bibi:
White House Middle East strategist Dennis Ross is staking out a position that Washington needs to be sensitive to Netanyahu’s domestic political constraints including over the issue of building in East Jerusalem in order to not raise new Arab demands, while other officials including some aligned with Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell are arguing Washington needs to hold firm in pressing Netanyahu for written commitments to avoid provocations that imperil Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to preserve the Obama administration’s credibility.
This comment is especially telling and will make Ross and the Israel lobby howl:
“He [Ross] seems to be far more sensitive to Netanyahu’s coalition politics than to U.S. interests,” one U.S. official told POLITICO Saturday. “And he doesn’t seem to understand that this has become bigger than Jerusalem but is rather about the credibility of this administration.”
Dennis uses the minutiae to blur the big picture … And no one asks the question: Why, since his approach in the Oslo years was such an abysmal failure, is he back, peddling the same snake oil?”
I essentially agree with this formulation though I’m sure Ross isn’t knowingly advancing Israel’s interests at the expense of our own. He, like so many in the Israel lobby doesn’t see a great difference between the two. And that’s precisely the problem. Ross can’t imagine a showdown between Israel and the U.S. because he’s spent his entire life essentially articulating U.S policy through a pro-Israel prism. Now is the time when independence is called for and Ross can’t muster any.
There are reports from Israel that the U.S. is asking Israel for a four-month freeze on construction in all Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem during which time the U.S. would lobby for direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The report of Israel’s response is liable to please or fool no one:
In discussions of the forum of seven senior cabinet ministers, the general view is that it will be impossible to publicly announce a freeze of construction in East Jerusalem. However, one possibility is that it will be possible to reach a tacit agreement with the U.S. administration on construction in East Jerusalem.
According to this idea, Israel would make it clear to the United States that during the coming four months no massive construction in East Jerusalem neighborhoods would be planned or carried out, enabling Israel to be seen as meeting the American and Palestinian demands.
This is clearly going to be a non-starter. Imagine the death by a thousand paper cuts announcements of a few new units here and a few units there over the course of that four months. It simply won’t wash. The negotiations will be poisoned if there is any construction. It will be interesting to see whether Obama can swallow this. To me, it’s like the so-called compromise over the settlement freeze which essentially involved Bibi throwing up a smokescreen (a 10 month freeze excluding East Jerusalem) and the U.S. president saying he’d be happy with half a loaf. You can see how well that worked out.
Related articles by Zemanta
- Dennis Ross ‘peddling the same snake oil’ (warincontext.org)
- “Hi-Jacking A Blog” (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)
- Lobby presses Congress to soften Obama Israel stance (guardian.co.uk)