Wednesday, June 3, 2009

President Obama beginning to discover that foreign policy is not so easy as campaigning...

.... especially when you touch that non-existent Israel lobby.

The President is trying to keep his campaign promises (and what, incidentally, appears to be his personal belief) to view the Israeli-Palestinian situation more evenly, and has actually placed some demands on Israel:

Scores of Israelis rallied in front of the American Consulate in Jerusalem today, voicing their disapproval at President Barack Obama, whom they labeled “the most anti-Semitic American president.” Their outrage stems from Obama’s calls for Israel to stop expanding settlements in the West Bank, and an apparent ultimatum presented to the Netanyahu government earlier in the week.

According to reports, Obama met briefly with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday, and told him that he expects the Israeli government to provide an “updated position” regarding the West Bank settlements and its overall stance on the two-state solution to the conflict by July.

The Israeli government has repeatedly rejected the administration’s calls to halt settlement expansion, calling the demand “unfair” and insisting that they would continue the expansion as they did under President Bush, with whom they had “understandings.”

It has also previously suggested that it won’t support a two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians, and has mocked the Obama plan as “childish and stupid.” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has insisted that the US will accept whatever position Israel takes on the matter.

The Israelis are portraying this as unwonted interference in their domestic politics:

US President Barack Obama's administration's criticism of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policies has crossed the line into interfering in Israeli politics, top Likud ministers and MKs said Tuesday.

Kadima officials responded to the allegations by disagreeing that the US was meddling but expressing concern that such a perception by the Israeli public would harm their party and end up strengthening the prime minister. They accused Netanyahu's associates of portraying Obama as an enemy of Israel in order to unite the public behind him.

The charges of American interference began April 16 when Yediot Aharonot quoted Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel telling an unnamed Jewish leader: "In the next four years there is going to be a permanent-status arrangement between Israel and the Palestinians on the basis of two states for two peoples, and it doesn't matter to us at all who is prime minister [of Israel]."

Likud Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled said Tuesday that the statement was inappropriate and was just one of many examples of American interference in Israeli politics since Netanyahu's election in February.

While the President is discovering that his own party is not necessarily rushing in to support him:

WASHINGTON – As Barack Obama prepares for his trip to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Democratic Congress members are expressing concern over the pressure exerted by the president on Israel, the Politics website reported.

According to the report, the Congress members asked Obama to moderate his pressure on the settlement freeze issue.

“My concern is that we are applying pressure to the wrong party in this dispute,” Politico quoted Rep. Shelley Berkley as saying. “I think it would serve America’s interest better if we were pressuring the Iranians to eliminate the potential of a nuclear threat from Iran, and less time pressuring our allies and the only democracy in the Middle East to stop the natural growth of their settlements.”

Politico reported that other representatives expressed similar sentiments in respect to Obama and Israel. Rep. Anthony Weiner, for example, said he would have liked to see President Obama pay more attention in his remarks to the Palestinian pledge to fight terrorism.

“There’s a line between articulating US policy and seeming to be pressuring a democracy on what are their domestic policies, and the president is tiptoeing right up to that line," Weiner said.

Rep. Gary Ackerman reiterated the same point, saying he did not think "anybody wants to dictate to an ally what they have to do in their own national security interests."

Two thoughts [one a piece of unsolicited advise for liberal/progressive Democrats]:

1. Conducting foreign policy by fiat pronouncement isn't going to work any better for the Obama administration than it did for the Bush administration.

2. [The free advice] Interventionist foreign policy in the Israeli-Palestinian question has been the graveyard of the political aspirations of Presidents for a long time. The completely non-existent Israel lobby that would never under any circumstances think about interfering in domestic American politcs will get you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Israeli policy has been to continue to expand the settlements into Palestinian territory, to continue to strangle Gaza of the most basic needs, and to continue to put up impossible preconditions to sit down to negotiate a peace settlement. And the overarching Israeli position, as the new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, states, that solution.

And we're supposed to continue supporting this government?

It is about time we had a President willing to put some pressure on Israel. And you know it is hitting home, when you hear them call Obama anti-Semitic. -- That's always the first reaction when someone has the audacity to criticize them.

And Steve, I like your very last statement!