Obama Isn’t Blinking, and Congress Still Has His Back

Gershom Gorenberg

A few days ago, I wondered in print whether the Obama administration would blink first or stand firm on a settlement freeze. So far, the adminstration is standing quite firm.

Ehud Barak has tried to convince the world that his meeting on the issue with George Mitchell led to a shift in the administration stance. Examine all the reports carefully: You’ll find no evidence of a change in the U.S. position. Which is good news.

A key reason that President Obama can avoid blinking is that Congress has his back.

I spoke this morning with Rep. Robert Wexler, one of Israel’s most dependable supporters in Congress. “The level of Congressional support for the president’s policies is substantial, and that’s reflected by public statements of prominent members of Congress,” he told me.

I also spoke this week with a foreign policy aide to a key senator. He gave the same assessment: “The president has a great deal of confidence and support from Congress.”

What that means, as I read it, is that members of Congress who care deeply about Israel’s future understand that settlement is hurting Israel. It also means they have reason to believe that the rank and file of American Jewry supports Obama on this. It’s important that they continue to get that message.

14 thoughts on “Obama Isn’t Blinking, and Congress Still Has His Back”

  1. Apparently, what is happening now is some sort of negotiation about a “package deal”, in which Netanyahu capitulates and agrees to some sort of freeze (which would be a betrayal of everything he and the Likud stands for, but it wouldn’t be the first time) in return for some sort of symbolic Arab gesture to Israel, like having some mid-level Saudi prince shake the hand of a mid-level Israeli functionary, which is supposed to convince the Israeli public that the Saudis want “peace”. But since this is unlikely to happen, I have to ask you “progressives” what unilateral sanctions you want placed on Israel, assuming that Netanyahu stands firm and does not agree to Obama’s demands.

  2. Personally, I recommend checking out this Walt post: http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/04/10/can_the_united_states_put_pressure_on_israel_a_users_guide

    To summarize the US could send lower ranking representatives, eliminate the tax exempt status of several Israeli private organizations (which currently operate in the West Bank), stop buying Israeli military equipment, cut off the privileged loan status that Israel currently holds and which allows them to borrow at below market interest rates, and stop vetoing UN resolutions which condemn the occupation. All of this could be phased into effect if Israel continued its refusal to cooperate BEFORE we need start talking about cutting the 3 Billion the US gives Israel every year in foreign aid. And All of the above could be implemented before any sanctions would have to be put in place.

  3. DC Jew-
    Okay, let’s analyze your prescription for unilateral sanctions for Israel:

    (1) Do you have the political backing for this back home in the US? Let’s look at the 80% of the Jews who voted for Obama, for example. Did they vote for him because when he said he was “pro-Israel” they took that to mean that they WANTED unilateral sanctions imposed and the US supporting hostile UN resolutions (the “tough-love” approach) or they assumed he meant he wouldn’t? What about the tens of millions of non-Jews who are solid supporters of Israel? Will they understand the US dumping on its only solid ally in the Middle East, in order to find favor with countries like Syria and Iran?

    (2) What will the reaction of the Arabs be to this? Will they say “hey, Obama is pressuring Israel now, this means we should now make concessions to get the ‘peace process’ rolling”, or would they say “hey, Obama is pressuring Israel now, let’s sit back, toughen our demands and then tell him we want even more sanctions after we get this batch”? And what about the terrorist groups? Would they say “Obama is now signalling that he is cutting Israel loose, now is the time to strike!”, or not?

    (3) Regarding the proposal that the US stop buying Israeli military equipment, well, that works in two directions. Up until now, Israel-El Al Airlines has bought Boeing passenger aircraft, even though it the past, Airbus has made more attractive offers. So thanks to your proposal, Israel can now buy what she wants instead of being tied to the American market by force. Similarly to the big purchases of military aircraft. Russia also makes advanced jet fighters, Israel can buy them instead and maybe upgrade them. The Russians would welcome such an endorsement from one of the top Air Forces in the world.

    (4) Regarding cutting the aid…I pray daily that the US would do this. Israel doesn’t need it, it is given for political reasons and Israeli Prime Ministers use it as a crutch to needlessly frighten the Israeli public…for example, at the height of the terror war in 2001-2, Sharon kept justifying not taking action against the terrorist infrastructure saying ‘Bush won’t like it'”. Most of the aid money is spent in the US, where the IDF, for example, gets its battle rations and army boots. Israeli workers were laid off as a result. So if the aid were ended, it would be thousands of American workers who are laid off instead (isn’t the US unemployment rate around 10% now?) and Israelis will get the jobs back. Will the laid-off American workers say they are glad to give up their jobs so that the settlements will be “frozen”. I doubt they spend their time obsessing about the matter the way the Jewish ‘progressives’ do.

  4. Ben-David, I think you’re absolutely right. America should do nothing if Israel continues to build settlements. Yes, that’s the answer – let Israel continue in the direction in which it is moving, with South Africa’s old apartheid status not too far away, with fewer and fewer friends in the world, with growing rejection of Israel’s policies even among American Jews, and more young Israelis seeing the writing on the wall and leaving the country – as they have already started doing. Yes, that’s the answer – more settlements. And the eventual end of Israel as a democratic state, and in its ever increasing isolation, perhaps the end of the state itself. And when that happens, will the settlement builders and its supporters in the US be blamed? Nah. It will be Obama’s fault.

  5. I love this blind prescription for “peace” –stop settlements and we will have “peace.” This is such errant nonsense I can’t believe anyone takes it seriously. The Palestinians have proven since 1990 that every concession is simply followed by another demand. Evacuating Gaza is much denigrated by the Left because it stripped the facade of reasonableness and “peace-partnership” from the Palestinians. “Freezing settlements” won’t do a thing except become the predicate for another round of demands.

    I don’t like Bibi, BUT — like Livni before him, he “got” that the Palestinians balk at recognizing the core of the Partition resolution, which is two states for two peoples, “one Arab and one Jewish” and until there is a recognition that Israel is the Jewish state, why are we wasting out breath? Let’s see a “confidence building measure” in the release of Gilad Shalit immediately. Let’s start with that, then freeze settlements in return for an overhaul of the Palestinian school books which are to this day racist, triumphalist and genocidal.

    Let’s not agree to one more concession without getting something besides worthless words and vague promises.

  6. What people like Aliyah never consider, perhaps deliberately, is that there is an intermediate step between abandoning the civilian settlements outside the green line – settlements that GUARANTEE there will never be peace in the region and that are already a major threat to Israel’s long-term survival as a nation – and vacating the region entirely. Doing the latter would indeed endanger Israel so long as Palestinians and the surrounding Arab and Persian states don’t accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. That intermediate step, which Israel failed to take when it withdrew from Gaza, is to eliminate the civilian settlements but leave the military in place, subject to specific actions (like demilitarization) by the Palestinians. Let’s put the ball back in the Palestinian court and see what happens. But at the very least it will clarify where the problem really lies. Right now we are seen as the heavy, to a great extent legitimately, given the settlements themselves, the checkpoints and other actions we take to protect them, and the increasingly lawless and out of control settlers.

  7. I love this blind prescription for “peace” –stop settlements and we will have “peace.”

    Wow, way to set up a strawperson. Obviously nobody believes that freezing settlement construction is a sufficient condition for peace (sorry, “peace”). It’s just a necessary one.

  8. The US really has more on it’s plate than to lose any sleep over whether the Israeli government permits any new settlements or not. The settlements are going to continue whether we like it or not because the goal of “Homeland for the Jews” has always meant for the fundamentalists the “West Bank” too.You can’t unring a bell.

    Winston has got it right,the seclusion of the State of Israel is reality and people such as Y will revel in such a status.He believes ,his Israel ,doesn’t need the goodwill and assistance of any nation; like the sale of new 787s’ to Israel means so much to Boeing( two wide-body Airbus 330s in a month in the drink with total loss, save one ,doesn’t gender a whole lot of confidence either) I hope that the majority of the voting populace in Israel will elect someone next time who has a world view not another xenophobe.

  9. I think that it isn’t only Congress but also the citizenry who are beginning to feel that U.S policy on Israel simply is not working out to our best interests. I know that in my own circles (students primarily) we’re interested in maintaining the existence of Israel, but we don’t believe that Israel’s policies have been good for the U.S.

  10. George is right, we have a lot to do in the world right now. And we need Muslim friends to do it. Being chained to an “Israel right or wrong” foreign policy is an impediment to our own interests, no matter how much we like our Israeli friends.

    YBD is also right, we really can’t stop Greater Israel and the settlements. I think our President realizes that we can’t dictate to Israel. (Per Gershom’s other post, I would submit that the Israeli government is equally incapable of dictating to the settlers).

    If Israel wants to pursue settlements and take over the West Bank “one subdivision at a time”, what we can do is be clear that we consider this path the “anti-peace”. As noted above it’s quite unclear if freezing settlements gets you any closer to peace, but it’s perfectly clear that continuing them takes you further away.

  11. Settlements pose a queston to Israel regardless of what the Palestinians or Obama do. Are we struggling to safeguard Israel or to build and protect settlements? They’re not the same thing. Settlement building means that we’re struggling to possess all of Mandate Palestine, although the entire history of international peace plans, Zionist diplomacy and Israeli foreign policy (at least nominally) is predicated on sharing the Land with a Jewish Homeland (Balfour Declaration) or Jewish State (1947 UN Partition and 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence) w/in Palestine but not including all of it. A Jewish struggle for all Palestine constitutes a practical and moral betrayal of mainstream Zionism and of Israeli history. There’s no difference between settlers wanting all Palestine for Jews or Hamas wanting it all for Muslims. And although those two camps’ means towards their ends have been very different, as settler outlawry and violence grow, the means employed by both camps are becoming increasingly similar. Israel, yes! Greater Israel, no! Stop building and evacuate most settlments, including Ariel and East Jerusalem, but leave the IDF in as few strategic spots as possible until a credible peace treaty is achieved.

  12. ‘The Axis of Idiots”

    Jimmy Carter, you are the father of the Islamic Nazi movement. You threw the Shah under the bus, welcomed the Ayatollah home, and then lacked the spine to confront the terrorists when they took our embassy and our people hostage. You’re the runner-in-chief.

    Bill Clinton, you played ring around the Lewinsky while the terrorists were at war with us. You got us into a fight with them in Somaliaand then you ran from it. Your weak-willed responses to the USS Cole and the First Trade Center Bombing and Our Embassy Bombings emboldened the killers. Each time you failed to respond adequately, they grew bolder, until 9-11, 2001.

    John Kerry, dishonesty is your most prominent attribute. You lied about American Soldiers in Vietnam . Your military service, like your life, is more fiction than fact. You’ve accused our military of terrorizing women and children in Iraq . You called Iraq the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, the same words you used to describe Vietnam. You’re a fake.. You want to run from Iraq and abandon the Iraqis to murderers just as you did to the Vietnamese. Iraq, like Vietnam, is another war that you were for, before you were against it.

    John Murtha, you said our military was broken. You said we can’t win militarily in Iraq. You accused United States Marines of cold-blooded murder without proof and said we should redeploy to Okinawa. Okinawa, John? And the Democrats call you their military expert! Are you sure you didn’t suffer a traumatic brain injury while you were off building your war hero resume? You’re a sad, pitiable, corrupt and washed up politician. You’re not a Marine, sir. You wouldn’t amount to a good pimple on a real Marine’s butt.
    You’re a phony and a disgrace. Run away, John.

    Dick Durbin, you accused our Soldiers at Guantanamo of being Nazis, tenders of Soviet style gulags and as bad as the regime of Pol Pot, who murdered two million of his own people after your party abandoned Southeast Asia to the Communists. Now you want to abandon the Iraqis to the same fate. History was not a good teacher for you, was it? Lord help us! See Dick run.

    Ted Kennedy, for days on end you held poster-sized pictures from Abu Ghraib in front of any available television camera. Al Jazeera quoted you saying that Iraqi’s torture chambers were open under new management. Did you see the news, Teddy? The Islamic Nazis demonstrated another beheading for you. If you truly supported our troops, you’d show the world poster-sized pictures of that atrocity and demand the annihilation of it. Your legislation stripping support from the South Vietnamese led to a communist victory there. You’re a bloated, drunken fool bent on repeating the same historical blunder that turned freedom-seeking people over to homicidal, genocidal maniacs. To paraphrase John Murtha, all while sitting on your wide, gin-soaked rear-end in Washington.

    Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Carl Levine, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Russ Feingold, Hillary Clinton, Pat Leahy, Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, the Hollywood Leftist morons, et al, ad nauseam: Every time you stand in front of television cameras and broadcast to the Islamic Nazis that we went to war because our President lied, that the war is wrong and our Soldiers are torturers, that we should leave Iraq, you give the Islamic butchers – the same ones that tortured and mutilated American Soldiers – cause to think that we’ll run away again, and all they have to do is hang on a little longer.

    It is inevitable that we, the infidels, will have to defeat the Islamic jihadists. Better to do it now on their turf, than later on ours after they have gained both strength and momentum.

    American news media, the New York Times particularly: Each time you publish stories about national defense secrets and our intelligence gathering methods, you become one united with the sub-human pieces of camel dung that torture and mutilate the bodies of American Soldiers. You can’t strike up the courage to publish cartoons, but you can help Al Qaeda destroy my country. Actually, you are more dangerous to us than Al Qaeda is. Think about that each time you face Mecca to admire your Pulitzer.

    You are America ‘s ‘AXIS OF IDIOTS.’ Your Collective Stupidity will destroy us. Self-serving politics and terrorist-abetting news scoops are more important to you than our national security or the lives of innocent civilians and Soldiers. It bothers you that defending ourselves gets in the way of your elitist sport of politics and your ignorant editorializing. There is as much blood on your hands as is on the hands of murdering terrorists. Don’t ever doubt that. Your frolics will only serve to extend this war as they extended Vietnam . If you want our Soldiers home as you claim, knock off the crap and try supporting your country ahead of supporting your silly political aims and aiding our enemies.

    Yes, I’m questioning your patriotism. Your loyalty ends with self. I’m also questioning why you’re stealing air that decent Americans could be breathing. You don’t deserve the protection of our men and women in uniform. You need to run away from this war, this country. Leave the war to the people who have the will to see it through and the country to people who are willing to defend it.

    Our country has two enemies: Those who want to destroy us from the outside and those who attempt it from within.

  13. Mr. Goldstein, et al, please define “settlement.” Be precise. If that’s everything over the armistice line, you’re not going to get Israeli agreement. The Old City of Jerusalem is over the Green Line. It was seized by Jordan and ethnically cleansed of Jews, the majority population. Kfar Etzion was a Jewish farming village, purchased and developed before the partition. It, too, was conquered by Jordan and ethnically cleansed of Jews. There are a number of examples of such areas, and the fact that a fat green ink-marker line was drawn as an armistice line in 1947 does not make this line a “border” — and for generations the Palestinians and their Arab state backers insisted that it was NOT a border. “East Jerusalem” is not an Arab enclave with a few Jews living in it–“East Jerusalem” is any part of Jerusalem over the armistice line, including the Old City, Hadassah Hospital, East Talpiot, Gilo, Har Homa, French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev. These are thriving suburbs full of voters, not hilltop outposts filled with religious extremists. A reality that you on the Left have to deal with is that no Israeli government is going to ethnically cleanse the Jerusalem suburbs so that, like from ’48-’67, they can be used to surround and bombard Jerusalem like Sderot is being bombarded today.

    Settlements are not the issue. We have evacuated the Sinai. We have evacuated Gaza. The issue isn’t “settlements” — the issue is the Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish homeland and the end of Palestinian terrorism and incitement to war.

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