Friday, May 29, 2009

Change We Can Believe In

It turns out unlike just every US President since Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama might actually mean what he says on his Israeli policy: (Via Matt Yglesias)

Last night, shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told journalists that the Obama administration "wants to see a stop to settlements -- not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a confidante. Referring to Clinton's call for a settlement freeze, Netanyahu groused, "What the hell do they want from me?" according to his associate, who added, "I gathered that he heard some bad vibes in his meetings with [U.S.] congressional delegations this week."

In the 10 days since Netanyahu and President Barack Obama held a meeting at the White House, the Obama administration has made clear in public and private meetings with Israeli officials that it intends to hold a firm line on Obama's call to stop Israeli settlements. According to many observers in Washington and Israel, the Israeli prime minister, looking for loopholes and hidden agreements that have often existed in the past with Washington, has been flummoxed by an unusually united line that has come not just from Obama White House and the secretary of state, but also from pro-Israel congressmen and women who have come through Israel for meetings with him over Memorial Day recess. To Netanyahu's dismay, Obama doesn't appear to have a hidden policy. It is what he said it was.

"This is a sea change for Netanyahu," a former senior Clinton administration official who worked on Middle East issues said. The official said that the basis of the Obama White House's resolve is the conviction that it is in the United States' as well as Israel's interest to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "We have significant, existential threats that Israel faces from Iran and that the U.S. faces from this region. It is in our mutual interest to end this conflict, and to begin to build new regional alliances."

Netanyahu needed to engage Obama directly, the former official said. "Now that he has done so, and also sent a team of advisors to meet [special envoy to the Middle East George] Mitchell, he has very clearly received a message: ‘I meant what I said on settlements. No natural growth. No elasticity. There will be a clear settlement freeze.'" (Netanyahu sent a team of advisors including minister for intelligence Dan Meridor for meetings with Mitchell in London Monday.

Traditionally the US president would say something along the lines of what Obama said about the settlements, and then once the Israeli PM returned home they would calmly ignore what was said and proceed to do whatever the fuck they wanted. If there was ever a hitch and the president pushed too hard, the Israelis could always call on AIPAC to flex their muscle and have the president or congressional leaders would cave out of fear of being called Anti-Israel or an anti-Semite.

You can tell the magnitude of this change from Netanyahu's reaction alone, and it will be amazing if they can keep up the pressure. While this is about the new settlements, it undoubtably has Netanyahu nervous about what this new dynamic could mean for larger issues, such as the potential two state solution. Bush spoke about a two state solution, but since he clearly didn't give a hell about it actually happening, it was easy for Israel to play along with the charade. But with a new president who actually means what he says, it has the potential to completely change the US-Israeli relationship of the past 50 years, and that is a very good thing.

1 comment:

  1. ahahahahaha an american politician standing up to AIPAC, the funniest idea ever written on this blog.