I don’t know whether Bibi was trying to tell the American people that Israelis had the pygmy gene in their DNA, but he had one of those awkward moments that doesn’t often happen to him, in which he said that while Pres. Obama led “a great people” he (Bibi) led “a much smaller people” allowing one to draw the implication that Israel was “not a great people.” Obama rather graciously corrected Bibi’s flub by prompting him with the phrase “and a great people.”
Obama again, in remarks after their two-hour meeting, noted that Israel was a “Jewish state” making no reference to the fact that it was also composed of a significant minority of non-Jewish citizens. It would be as if a foreign leader congratulated the U.S. for being a Christian nation. It sure would make John Hagee happy. But it wouldn’t make Rabbi David Saperstein happy (though he’d hypocritically be delighted with Obama’s characterization of Israel).
While the NY Times describes a frosty meeting in which the two disagreed fiercely on principles involved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, Obama though did re-emphasize his solidarity with Israel concerning a prospective Iranian bomb. But the U.S. president didn’t understand the irony of his claim that an Iranian nuclear weapon would destabilize the entire Middle East by setting off a nuclear arms race, when Israel has done precisely the same thing. The fact that Israel has up to 400 nuclear weapons doesn’t seem to have entered into Obama’s thinking at all on that score. Might it not be possible that at least one motivation of Iranian nuclear weapons development might be to counter the threat it perceives from Israel (and other hostile neighbors).
Obama desperately tried to find some common ground with a clearly disgruntled Netanyahu, so he brought up once again the red herring of Hamas’ alleged refusal to recognize the State of Israel while neglecting to mention that Bibi too refuses to recognize Palestine within 1967 borders. If you’re going to insist on Palestinians fulfilling pre-conditions for negotiations I see no reason why Israel shouldn’t as well. Obama also continued with the U.S. mantra that Hamas “is not a partner for a realistic peace process.” He refused to acknowledge the fact that not only Hamas, but Fatah as well sees Israel under Netanyahu as not a “realistic peace partner.” I recognize that the president had the Israeli prime minister sitting right next to him and it would’ve been hard to speak truth in that situation. But to be so divorced from reality is simply disappointing.
From the Times coverage of the meeting, it appears Israel-Palestine peace talks are dead–dead as a doornail. How else can you describe the peace process when Bibi says this:
For there to be peace Palestinians will have to accept a few facts as a basic reality…Israel cannot go back to the 1967 lines because these lines are indefensible. They don’t take into account demographic changes that have taken place over the past forty years…We’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan Valley.
I found it almost surreal that Bibi was so desperate that he trotted out forty year-old Israeli talking points about the “nine-mile” strip that was Israel at its narrowest point, the so-called ‘Auschwitz borders’ so named by Abba Eban and lately taken up by Alan Dershowitz.
Netanyahu exploited the august venue of a presidential briefing to spread his noxious lies that Hamas is “the Palestinian version of Al Qaeda.”
The final “fact” that the Palestinians have to accept according to Bibi, is that the only Right of Return they will have is to a Palestinian state. What’s curious about this is that a Palestinian refugee who fled from a town or village within Israel will be deemed to have satisfied his right of return by settling in a country he never lived in and a town nowhere near the one he originally was expelled from. Why would a refugee from Ramleh or Jaffa want to ‘return’ to Ramallah or Nablus or Jericho? This may be resettlement, but it isn’t “return.” And Palestinians don’t merely want resettlement, they want recognition of the injustice committed against them through the Nakba.
In arguing against the Palestinian Right of Return, Bibi adds another lie to his presentation when he claims that Jews were “expelled from Arab lands in roughly the same number” as Palestinian refugees from Israel. First most Arab Jews, except in a few cases, weren’t “expelled” though many left feeling some sense of discrimination against them. And while it’s possible that 1-million Jews immigrated to Israel from Arab lands, they weren’t refugees driven from their countries in the same sense as the Palestinians were.
He brags that “tiny Israel” absorbed the Jewish refugees while the Arab states didn’t absorb the Palestinian refugees. Another case of historical blinders: Israel wanted these refugees to populate the “tiny” new state. In some cases, Israel actually fomented unrest through acts of anti-Jewish terror in Arab countries which stampeded Jews to leave for Israel. However, no Arab state needed or wanted Palestinians refugees, since the former believed they had been expelled unjustly. Why would an Arab country feel under any obligation to relieve Israel of the burden of guilt for this crime against its former Palestinian citizens?
The piece de la resistance of Bibi’s performance was when he said about the Right of Return:
That’s not gonna happen. Everybody knows it’s not gonna happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly: it’s not gonna happen.
I definitely want to play that tape back for him in the coming years when precisely this outcome DOES happen. Let him put that in his pipe and smoke it.
So the question now is what next for U.S. policy. Will Obama allow it to go into the deep freeze as Bush did for eight years? And even if he wished to, will the momentum of the Arab Spring allow him to get away with such benign neglect?
On a separate matter, I thought it was quite illuminating that the Times for the first time has published an article that notes that Dennis Ross is Israel’s booster inside the White House. While the Times has covered Ross, it has never as explicitly portrayed his sympathies and acknowledged that he is not an honest broker, but Israel’s man. If American policy is a mess, a large part of the blame goes to Dennis Ross. That wasn’t in the article explicitly, but any well-informed person reading it would recognize that that was the implication that could and should be drawn. Ross has bested George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton in obstructing any American proposals that would challenge Israel overly much. He is the last man left standing. But what he stands over is an administration policy in shambles. And he deserves the credit for that. Will he get it though? I hope to God he will.
While there is a considerable amount of apt analysis in Roger Cohen’s account of Pres. Obama’s Mideast speech, I find this rejection of the September Palestinian campaign at the UN for statehood remarkably obtuse:
It represents a return to useless symbolism and the narrative of victimhood.
I find it offensive that a British Jew would condescend to Palestinians by telling them their quest for a vote on supporting statehood was not just ‘symbolism,’ but worse, part of a ‘narrative of victimhood.’ By what right does he talk about the victimhood of Palestinians? What suffering has he endured that makes him an expert on the strategy Palestinians should use to attain their dream of a state of their own? This leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.