54 Democratic Congressmen Urge Obama To Pressure Israel

The Jerusalem Post prints an article by Matt Brooks of The Republican Jewish Coalition on a letter written to President Obama by 54 Democratic Congressmen.

The 54 Democrat members of Congress (no Republicans) who signed the January 21, 2010 letter to President Barack Obama initiated by Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) presumably wanted to make a thoughtful, serious statement of concern and a specific request for action. They were concerned for the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza and their request was that American government pressure be brought to bear on Israel to ease the restrictions on Israel’s border with Gaza.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) took the letter and its words seriously. We saw that the ‘Gaza 54’ called for the loosening of security measures that Israel put into place to stop terrorism and reduce the ability of Hamas to launch attacks on Israel. The letter acknowledged that “the Israeli government has imposed restrictions on Gaza out of a legitimate and keenly felt fear of continued terrorist action by Hamas and other militant groups.” But the congressmen did not make any mention of the potential consequences for Israel, or what alternate measures would provide equal protection for Israel’s citizens against attacks initiated from Gaza.

The letter simply asserted, without foundation, that: “Easing the blockade (sic) on Gaza will not only improve the conditions on the ground for Gaza’s civilian population, but will also undermine the tunnel economy which has strengthened Hamas… Most importantly, lifting these restrictions will give civilians in Gaza a tangible sense that diplomacy can be an effective tool for bettering their conditions. Your Administration’s overarching Middle East peace efforts will benefit Israel, the Palestinians, and the entire region.”

One in five Democrats in Congress signed a letter asking the president to pressure Israel to take unilateral actions that its leaders believe would undermine its security, with no concomitant expectation of concrete action on the Palestinian side to assure the safety of Israeli citizens. They are willing to bet that if American diplomacy forces Israel to make “tangible” changes to its policies, that will somehow “benefit Israel” in the long run.

This is at best, naïve. Israel can’t afford to relax its security measures just because someone in the US says it will all be okay. Its enemies’ commitment to its destruction has not waned. Loosening the “blockade” will not persuade Hamas to change its goals nor deter it from attacking.

THE DEMOCRATS’ letter effectively demonstrates a mind-set all too typical of the Left, which we are seeing increasingly in more “mainstream” discourse: that Israel is doing wrong, Israel must make concessions, Israel is not acting morally except when it gives in. Unfortunately, history teaches us that appeasement leads to more violence, not less. The fact that so many Democrats signed the letter is troubling in and of itself.

The RJC (generously) called the letter signers “misguided.” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) agrees, telling The Jerusalem Post’s Shmuel Rosner in a recent interview that the Gaza 54 are “misinformed” legislators.

The RJC decided to take action because we were troubled that 54 Democratic congressmen would call on the president to pressure Israel in this way. We asked our members to express their view on the letter. Within hours, a strong grassroots showing from across the country had signed the petition on our web site, calling for the letter signers to “take a firm stand against terrorism by disassociating yourself from this dangerous letter and upholding America’s commitment to Israel’s security in the future.”

There are simple facts missing from the Gaza 54 letter about Israel’s actions to help the residents of Gaza. The same facts were missing from remarks by one of the 54, Rep. Brian Baird (D-WA), who last week told students in Gaza that the US should bring in ships to the coast to break the Israeli “blockade” on the Gaza Strip.

As RJC wrote in our own letter to President Obama, asking him to repudiate Baird’s remarks: Egypt also has a blockade of Gaza in place and is constructing a wall, similar to Israel’s, to stop the smuggling of people and weapons across its border with Gaza; Israel allows huge quantities of food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies into Gaza each day; Israel has prohibited only building supplies from coming into Gaza, to prevent them from being diverted by Hamas to military use. Israel has taken necessary and justifiable steps to stop terrorism originating from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

THE TRUTH is that the Palestinians are victims of their leaders and of their choices. For decades they have been taught to hate Israel (and Jews), to demand retribution and reparations, and to never compromise – by leaders who pocketed the funds meant to help them, corrupted the political system meant to lead them, and used them as foot soldiers against a reluctant enemy, Israel. Sadly, the lessons of hatred have been well-learned. Palestinian voters chose Hamas in the election of January 2006, giving them 74 of the 132 parliamentary seats and leading to the June 2007 Hamas coup in Gaza that split the Palestinian proto-polity in two. Afterward, hundreds of rockets were launched from within Gaza. The “blockade” of Gaza is a direct result of all these events.

The 54 Democrats who wrote to President Obama should understand this history and the Israeli security measures required to guarantee Israel’s continued existence and safety. They paid lip service to Israel’s security needs, but without confronting the hard question, which Israel faces daily, of how to keep Israeli citizens safe.

Lacking that important element, the letter was just another outrageous political attack on Israel and it deserved the condemnation of RJC and other friends of Israel. We stand by our characterization of the letter and by our statements about it.

I wonder if Jewish Democrats have yet begun to realize that the Republican Party is the party that will protect the Jews of Israel. The Democrats will throw Israel under the bus to win favor with the Arabs.

Previous related posts:
Netanyahu Rejects Obama Request To Stop Building in East Jerusalem
Israel Will be Thrown Under the Bus
Arabs Defend Israel Against American Administration
Obama: No Ally to Israel
Obama: No Friend of Israel
American Jews are in Denial
Can Jews Afford To “Roll the Dice” on Obama?
Morris: American Jews Misguided
Jackson Confirms Jewish Community Concerns About Obama
Foreign Policy is Reason to Vote McCain
The Jewish Case Against Barack Obama
Obama, McCain and Israel’s National Security
The Obama Voter – Not This Jew

Obama Using the Settlement Issue to Force Israel’s Hand

Stratfor Global Intelligence gives an important analysis of why Obama is using the settlements issue. In reality, if Israel stopped building settlements, or, in fact, if it withdrew from all existing settlements, the attitude of Hamas, Hizbollah, Fatah, or the other Arab countries toward Israel would not change.

Israel is a bastion of democracy and capitalism, where the practice of all religions are welcomed, and is surrounded by countries ruled by dictators or terrorist groups who want Israel’s destruction and do not welcome Jews. One might wonder, as I did, why Obama is making an issue of the settlements when they aren’t the issue?

Stratfor answers that question.

Amid the rhetoric of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech June 4 in Cairo, there was one substantial indication of change, not in the U.S. relationship to the Islamic world but in the U.S. relationship to Israel. This shift actually emerged prior to the speech, and the speech merely touched on it. But it is not a minor change and it must not be underestimated. It has every opportunity of growing into a major breach between Israel and the United States.

The immediate issue concerns Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The United States has long expressed opposition to increasing settlements but has not moved much beyond rhetoric. Certainly the continued expansion and development of new settlements on the West Bank did not cause prior administrations to shift their policies toward Israel. And while the Israelis have occasionally modified their policies, they have continued to build settlements. The basic understanding between the two sides has been that the United States would oppose settlements formally but that this would not evolve into a fundamental disagreement.

The United States has clearly decided to change the game. Obama has said that, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to stop building new settlements, but not to halt what he called the “natural growth” of existing settlements.

Obama has positioned the settlement issue in such a way that it would be difficult for him to back down. He has repeated it several times, including in his speech to the Islamic world. It is an issue on which he is simply following the formal positions of prior administrations. It is an issue on which prior Israeli governments made commitments. What Obama has done is restated formal U.S. policy, on which there are prior Israeli agreements, and demanded Israeli compliance. Given his initiative in the Islamic world, Obama, having elevated the issue to this level, is going to have problems backing off.

Obama is also aware that Netanyahu is not in a political position to comply with the demand, even if he were inclined to. Netanyahu is leading a patchwork coalition in which support from the right is critical. For the Israeli right, settling in what it calls Samaria and Judea is a fundamental principle on which it cannot bend. Unlike Ariel Sharon, a man of the right who was politically powerful, Netanyahu is a man of the right who is politically weak. Netanyahu gave all he could give on this issue when he said there would be no new settlements created. Netanyahu doesn’t have the political ability to give Obama what he is demanding. Netanyahu is locked into place, unless he wants to try to restructure his Cabinet or persuade people like Avigdor Lieberman, his right-wing foreign minister, to change their fundamental view of the world.

Therefore, Obama has decided to create a crisis with Israel. He has chosen a subject on which Republican and Democratic administrations have had the same formal position. He has also picked a subject that does not affect Israeli national security in any immediate sense (he has not made demands for changes of policy toward Gaza, for example). Obama struck at an issue where he had precedent on his side, and where Israel’s immediate safety is not at stake. He also picked an issue on which he would have substantial support in the United States, and he has done this to have a symbolic showdown with Israel. The more Netanyahu resists, the more Obama gets what he wants.

Obama’s read of the Arab-Israeli situation is that it is not insoluble. He believes in the two-state solution, for better or worse. In order to institute the two-state solution, Obama must establish the principle that the West Bank is Palestinian territory by right and not Israeli territory on which the Israelis might make concessions. The settlements issue is fundamental to establishing this principle. Israel has previously agreed both to the two-state solution and to not expanding settlements. If Obama can force Netanyahu to concede on the settlements issue, then he will break the back of the Israeli right and open the door to a rightist-negotiated settlement of the two-state solution.

In the course of all of this, Obama is opening doors in the Islamic world a little wider by demonstrating that the United States is prepared to force Israel to make concessions. By subtext, he wants to drive home the idea that Israel does not control U.S. policy but that, in fact, Israel and the United States are two separate countries with different and sometimes conflicting views. Obama wouldn’t mind an open battle on the settlements one bit.

For Netanyahu, this is the worst terrain on which to fight. If he could have gotten Obama to attack by demanding that Israel not respond to missiles launched from Gaza or Lebanon, Netanyahu would have had the upper hand in the United States. Israel has support in the United States and in Congress, and any action that would appear to leave Israel’s security at risk would trigger an instant strengthening of that support.

But there is not much support in the United States for settlements on the West Bank. This is not a subject around which Israel’s supporters are going to rally very intensely, in large part because there is substantial support for a two-state solution and very little understanding or sympathy for the historic claim of Jews to Judea and Samaria. Obama has picked a topic on which he has political room for maneuver and on which Netanyahu is politically locked in.

Given that, the question is where Obama is going with this. From Obama’s point of view, he wins no matter what Netanyahu decides to do. If Netanyahu gives in, then he has established the principle that the United States can demand concessions from a Likud-controlled government in Israel and get them. There will be more demands. If Netanyahu doesn’t give in, Obama can create a split with Israel over the one issue he can get public support for in the United States (a halt to settlement expansion in the West Bank), and use that split as a lever with Islamic states.

Thus, the question is what Netanyahu is going to do. His best move is to say that this is just a disagreement between friends and assume that the rest of the U.S.-Israeli relationship is intact, from aid to technology transfer to intelligence sharing. That’s where Obama is going to have to make his decision. He has elevated the issue to the forefront of U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israelis have refused to comply. If Obama proceeds with the relationship as if nothing has happened, then he is back where he began.

Obama did not start this confrontation to wind up there. He calculated carefully when he raised this issue and knew perfectly well that Netanyahu couldn’t make concessions on it, so he had to have known that he was going to come to this point. Obviously, he could have made this confrontation as a part of his initiative to the Islamic world. But it is unlikely that he saw that initiative as ending with the speech, and he understands that, for the Islamic world, his relation to Israel is important. Even Islamic countries not warmly inclined toward Palestinians, like Jordan or Egypt, don’t want the United States to back off on this issue.

Netanyahu has argued in the past that Israel’s relationship to the United States was not as important to Israel as it once was. U.S. aid as a percentage of Israel’s gross domestic product has plunged. Israel is not facing powerful states, and it is not facing a situation like 1973, when Israeli survival depended on aid being rushed in from the United States. The technology transfer now runs both ways, and the United States relies on Israeli intelligence quite a bit. In other words, over the past generation, Israel has moved from a dependent relationship with the United States to one of mutual dependence.

This is very much Netanyahu’s point of view, and from this point of view follows the idea that he might simply say no to the United States on the settlements issue and live easily with the consequences. The weakness in this argument is that, while Israel does not now face strategic issues it can’t handle, it could in the future. Indeed, while Netanyahu is urging action on Iran, he knows that action is impossible without U.S. involvement.

This leads to a political problem. As much as the right would like to blow off the United States, the center and the left would be appalled. For Israel, the United States has been the centerpiece of the national psyche since 1967. A breach with the United States would create a massive crisis on the left and could well bring the government down if Ehud Barak and his Labor Party, for example, bolted from the ruling coalition. Netanyahu’s problem is the problem Israel has continually had. It is a politically fragmented country, and there is never an Israeli government that does not consist of fragments. A government that contains Lieberman and Barak is not one likely to be able to make bold moves.

It is therefore difficult to see how Netanyahu can both deal with Obama and hold his government together. It is even harder to see how Obama can reduce the pressure. Indeed, we would expect to see him increase the pressure by suspending minor exchanges and programs. Obama is playing to the Israeli center and left, who would oppose any breach with the United States.

Obama has the strong hand and the options. Netanyahu has the weak hand and fewer options. It is hard to see how he will solve the problem. And that’s what Obama wants. He wants Netanyahu struggling with the problem. In the end, he wants Netanyahu to fold on the settlements issue and keep on folding until he presides over a political settlement with the Palestinians. Obama wants Netanyahu and the right to be responsible for the agreement, as Menachem Begin was responsible for the treaty with Egypt and withdrawal from the Sinai.

We find it difficult to imagine how a two-state solution would work, but that concept is at the heart of U.S. policy and Obama wants the victory. He has put into motion processes to create that solution, first of all, by backing Netanyahu into a corner. Left out of Obama’s equation is the Palestinian interest, willingness and ability to reach a treaty with Israel, but from Obama’s point of view, if the Palestinians reject or undermine an agreement, he will still have leverage in the Islamic world. Right now, given Iraq and Afghanistan, that is where he wants leverage, and backing Netanyahu into a corner is more important than where it all leads in the end.

Obama is determined to force Israel to make concessions to create a Palestinian state next to Israel. He is using the one issue he is likely to win on, because there is little support in the US, even among many Jews, for the settlements. Israel will be forced by Obama to subject itself to having its existential security at risk every day.

Many of us predicted that Obama would not be a supporter of Israel and that Jews who supported Obama for President would find that he was likely to undermine the security of Israel. Unfortunately, many American Jews had their eyes clouded over for many reasons discussed in prior posts. It is now clear that the security of Israel is being placed in jeopardy by the Obama administration.

Prior related posts:
Israel Will be Thrown Under the Bus
Arabs Defend Israel Against American Administration
Obama: No Ally to Israel
Obama: No Friend of Israel
American Jews are in Denial
Can Jews Afford To “Roll the Dice” on Obama?
Morris: American Jews Misguided
Jackson Confirms Jewish Community Concerns About Obama
Foreign Policy is Reason to Vote McCain
The Jewish Case Against Barack Obama
Obama, McCain and Israel’s National Security
The Obama Voter – Not This Jew

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Israel in Peril?

Caroline Glick, writing in the Jerusalem Post, talks about Obama’s advisors on the middle east:

US President-elect Barack Obama has properly sought to maintain a low profile in foreign affairs in this transition period ahead of his January inauguration. But while Obama has stipulated that the US can have only one president at a time, his aides and advisers are signaling that he intends to move US foreign policy in a sharply different direction from its current trajectory once he assumes office.

And they are signaling that this new direction will be applied most immediately and directly to US policy toward the Middle East.

Early in the Democratic Party’s primary season, the Obama campaign released a list of the now-president-elect’s foreign policy advisers to The Washington Post. The list raised a great deal of concern in policy circles, particularly among supporters of the US-Israel alliance. It included outspoken critics of Israel such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser under president Jimmy Carter, and Robert Malley, who served as a junior Middle East aide to president Bill Clinton. Both men are deeply hostile to Israel and both have called repeatedly for the US to end its strategic alliance with Israel.

In the months that followed the list’s publication, the Obama campaign sought to distance itself from both men as the president-elect’s advisers worked to position Obama as a centrist candidate.

Although he was a junior staffer in Clinton’s National Security Council, since 2000 Malley has used his Clinton administration credentials to pave his emergence as one of America’s most outspoken apologists for Palestinian terrorism against Israel. Immediately after the failed July 2000 Camp David peace summit, Malley invented the Palestinian “narrative” of the summit’s proceedings. While Clinton, then-prime minister Ehud Barak, and Ambassador Dennis Ross, who served as Clinton’s chief negotiator, have all concurred that Yasser Arafat torpedoed the prospects of peace when he refused Barak’s offer of Palestinian statehood, Malley claimed falsely that Israel was to blame for the failure of the talks.

In succeeding years, he has expanded his condemnation of Israel. He insists that not only Palestinian aggression, but Syrian, Lebanese and Iranian attacks against Israel are all Israel’s fault. The Obama campaign distanced itself from Malley in May after the Times of London reported that he was meeting regularly with Hamas terror leaders.

As the election drew closer, the Obama campaign expanded its efforts to present its candidate as a foreign policy moderate. Moderate foreign policy advisers such as Ross were paraded before reporters. Both Obama and his surrogates insisted that he supports a strong American alliance with Israel. Obama abandoned his earlier pledge to withdraw all US forces from Iraq by 2010. He attempted to temper and later deny his public pledge to hold direct negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions.

Glick goes on to explain that while Obama insists that he supports a strong Israel, the recent activities by his advisors indicate the opposite.

Two days after his election, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius gave a sense of the direction in which Obama will likely take US foreign policy. And, apparently directed by Obama’s campaign staff, Ignatius based much of his column on his belief that Obama’s foreign policy views have been shaped by his “informal” adviser, Brzezinski.

Based on what Brzezinski and Obama’s “official” campaign told him, Ignatius wrote that the two major issues where Obama’s foreign policy is likely to diverge from Bush’s right off the bat are Israel and Iran. Obama, he claimed, will want to push hard to force Israel to come to an agreement with the Palestinians as soon as he comes into office. As for Iran, Obama plans to move immediately to improve US relations with the nuclear-weapons-building ayatollahs.

As for Malley, an aide of his told Frontpage magazine this week that acting on Obama’s instructions, Malley traveled to Cairo and Damascus after Obama’s electoral victory to tell Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Assad that “the Obama administration would take into greater account Egyptian and Syrian interests.”

In a related story, Hamas terror operative Ahmad Youssef told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper that in the months leading up to his election, Obama’s advisers held steady contacts with the leaders of the terror group in Gaza, and had asked that Hamas keep the meetings secret in order not to harm Obama’s chances of being elected.

Both Obama’s transition team and Hamas leaders were quick to deny Youssef’s statements. Yet, together with the earlier Times of London story about Malley’s contacts with Hamas and the new revelations about Malley serving as Obama’s unofficial Middle East envoy, the Al-Hayat report has the ring of truth.

WHAT IS most alarming about Obama’s emerging foreign policy toward Iran and its proxies on the one hand and Israel on the other is that it will cause actual harm to the Jewish state.

By pressuring Israel to cede land to Syria and the Palestinians, Obama’s apparent foreign policy will provide Iran with still more territory from which to attack Israel both through its terror proxies and with its expanding ballistic missile arsenal. By embracing the Syrian regime in spite of its support for terrorism, its nuclear proliferation activities and its subversion of Lebanon, the incoming Obama administration will embolden Syria to increase its subversion of Lebanon and Iraq, while strengthening its ties to Iran still further.

As for direct talks with Iran itself, the question immediately arises, what could Obama offer Teheran in exchange for an end to its nuclear program that Bush hasn’t already offered?

What it can offer is Israel.

What she means by that is that Obama will attempt to get Iran to back off its nuclear ambitions by getting Israel to give up its nuclear capability.

Over the past few years, Obama’s top nuclear nonproliferation adviser, Joe Cirincione, has repeatedly advocated placing Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the negotiating table and offering it up in exchange for an Iranian pledge to end its nuclear program. Defense Secretary Robert Gates – whom Obama is considering retaining – insinuated in his 2006 confirmation hearings that Iran is only building nuclear weapons to defend itself against Israel. Gates, it should be recalled, has been instrumental in convincing Bush not only not to attack Iran’s nuclear installations, but not to support an Israeli attack against Iran’s nuclear installations.

What is profoundly distressing about statements by men like Cirincione and Gates is what they tell us about the strategic reasoning informing the incoming Obama administration. Their views echo those voiced by advocates of American abandonment of Israel such as Professors Steve Walt and John Mearshimer. Walt and Mearshimer argue that Iran is not a threat to US interests or to global security because in the event that the mullahs acquire nuclear weapons, they are likely to view them merely as a deterrent against Iran’s enemies. And as a result, Iran will respond as the Soviet Union did to a deterrent model based on mutually assured destruction.

This view is contradicted by Iran’s open advocacy of Israel’s destruction, and its declared willingness to absorb a nuclear attack in return for destroying Israel. But assuming that this how the Obama team views Iran, they should be the last ones advocating Israeli disarmament. Because if this is their view, then by their own reasoning, Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal is necessary to deter Teheran from attacking. And if as Cirincione advocates, Obama intends to place Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the negotiating table, he will effectively be giving Iran a green light to attack Israel with nuclear weapons.

All of the Obama team’s post-election/pre-inaugural foreign policy signals place Israel’s next government – which will only be elected on February 10 – in an extraordinarily difficult position.

It is not just that their positions make clear that the Obama administration will do nothing to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The Obama team’s pre-inaugural signals indicate strongly that Israel’s next government will need to strike Iran’s nuclear installations before two rapidly approaching deadlines.

The strike will have to occur before the mullahs enrich sufficient quantities of highly enriched uranium to produce nuclear bombs. And Israel will need to neutralize Iran’s nuclear program before the Obama administration begins implementing America’s new foreign policy.

I have a feeling that many Jews who supported Obama are going to find that they did not elect someone who has the best interest of the Jewish state in his policy program. While Americans support Israel because it is the only democracy in the middle east (with the exception now of Iraq), and because it is the only country in the middle east that supports freedom, democracy, and the United States, that support will now dissipate, it seems, under an Obama administration.

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