Emanuel sends message that Obama will play hardball with Bibi

I’m reproducing this entire blog post by MJ Rosenberg because it made my jaw drop on the floor (in a good way):

Emanuel Says Obama Insists On Implementing Two State Solution, No Ifs, Ands, or Buts | Israel Policy Forum:

“Yedioth Achronoth, the largest circulation daily in Israel, reports today that President Obama intends to see the two-state solution signed, sealed and delivered during his first term.

Rahm Emanuel told 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.’

He also said that the United States will exert pressure to see that deal is put into place.’Any treatment of the Iranian nuclear problem will be contingent upon progress in the negotiations and an Israeli withdrawal from West Bank territory,’ the paper reports Emanuel as saying.  In other words, US sympathy for Israel’s position vis a vis Iran depends on Israel’s willingness to live up to its commitment to get out of the West Bank and permit the establishment of a Palestinian state there, in Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

Yedioth also reports that Obama is conveying his displeasure with the new Israeli government in several ways. ‘US administration officials informed Netanyahu that President Obama will not be able to meet with him in early May, while the AIPAC conference is held in Washington. The meeting between the new Israeli premier and the president of the United States is perceived in Israel as a sign that the formation process of the new government has been completed and as a salutation by Israel’s close friend. Netanyahu had hoped to capitalize on the opportunity and to meet with Obama during the annual AIPAC conference, but the Americans informed the Israelis that Obama was not going to be ‘in town.’ That being the case, the inclination among Netanyahu’s aides is to cancel his trip to attend the AIPAC conference and to try to secure a date for a meeting with Obama later in May.

‘Sources in Washington also said that the Obama administration would not continue the tradition that developed during the Bush administration of hosting Israeli premiers many times during the year, sometimes with just a phone call’s advance notice.’

So far neither the White House or the Israeli government has commented on the report which, it should be noted, comes from Shimon Shiffer, one of Israel’s most highly respected journalists.”

If this is true Obama will have a tough time ahead of him, although postponing ANY meeting with Netanyahu until he comes out clearly in support of the two-state solution is a first. I wish there could be a mechanism to define the two-state solution within the parameters of 242 or Geneva, too.

Update: Along with the report above, read this:

When a group of Jewish liberals formed a lobbying and fundraising group called J Street a year ago, they had modest hopes of raising $50,000 for a handful of congressional candidates.

Instead, the group’s political arm ended up funneling nearly $600,000 to several dozen Democrats and a handful of Republicans in 2008, making it Washington’s leading pro-Israel PAC, according to Federal Election Commission expenditure records. Organizers say 33 of the group’s 41 favored House and Senate candidates won their races.

[Thanks, SP]

Winning the support of the White House for a sane policy towards the Israel/Palestine conflict is important, but not nearly as important as winning the Congress’ support — especially for if and when the time comes to impose sanctions on companies that do business with settlements in the Occupied Territories or withholding loan guarantees. There will have to be a battle, probably against J-Street, to ensure a Palestinian state is viable and fully sovereign (esp. over its airspace, borders and underground resources, notably water.) But that’s a different fight.


I get what happened: he got confused, having just seen the Japanese guy.

Meanwhile this appears to be, aside from the nationalization of the economy and introduction of state socialism, Obama’s biggest gaffe to date for the US conservative movement.

As a card-carrying Saudi-basher, I say, “eeeekh!”

The whole thing is getting quite ridiculous:

The White House is denying that the president bowed to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at a G-20 meeting in London, a scene that drew criticism on the right and praise from some Arab outlets.

“It wasn’t a bow. He grasped his hand with two hands, and he’s taller than King Abdullah,” said an Obama aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Washington Times called the alleged bow a “shocking display of fealty to a foreign potentate” and said it violated centuries of American tradition of not deferring to royalty. The Weekly Standard, meanwhile, noted that American protocol apparently rules out bowing, or at least it reportedly did on the occasion of a Clinton “near-bow” to the emperor of Japan.

Interestingly, a columnist in the Saudi-backed Arabic paper Asharq Alawsat also took the gesture as a bow and appreciated the move.

“Obama wished to demonstrate his respect and appreciation of the personality of King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz, who has made one of the most important calls in the modern era, namely the call for inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue to defuse the hatred, conflict and wars,” wrote the columnist, Muhammah Diyab.

Obama’s Ankara speech

There were two passages in Obama’s speech in Ankara, which I suppose is his much-touted address to the Muslim world, that struck me. The first moved away from the idea that engagement with the Muslim world is a policy solely based on the war on terror and the problem of Islamic fundamentalism. This is a great step, and most of the advocates of public diplomacy in the last few years were deeply wrong in framing the need for outreach in the context of al-Qaeda. The subtext to that idea was, essentially, a conflation of al-Qaeda and Islam that was deeply damaging to America’s image in the Muslim world — and it did not help that President Bush pathetically tried to show his understanding of Islam by holding iftars and other pageants. Here it is:

But I also want to be clear that America’s relationship with the Muslim work cannot and will not be based on opposition to al Qaeda. Far from it. We seek broad engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. We will listen carefully, bridge misunderstanding, and seek common ground. We will be respectful, even when we do not agree. And we will convey our deep appreciation for the Islamic faith, which has done so much over so many centuries to shape the world for the better – including my own country. The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country – I know, because I am one of them.

Above all, we will demonstrate through actions our commitment to a better future. We want to help more children get the education that they need to succeed. We want to promote health care in places where people are vulnerable. We want to expand the trade and investment that can bring prosperity for all people. In the months ahead, I will present specific programs to advance these goals. Our focus will be on what we can do, in partnership with people across the Muslim world, to advance our common hopes, and our common dreams. And when people look back on this time, let it be said of America that we extended the hand of friendship.

The great thing about this approach is that it says to Muslim countries, and societies, that while America has a problem with al-Qaeda it will not deal with Muslims through that problem alone, but in a multilateral fashion that addresses the “normal” global problems we all face: climate change, trade policy, diplomacy, conflict resolution, etc. The focus on education (in a dire state in much of the Arab world at least) encapsulates the universalism of these common concerns. Basically, the difference between Bush and Obama’s approach is a switch from a focus on exceptionalism (Muslim societies as unusually problematic) to one of universalism (all countries and societies face common challenges far beyond the ones that have to do with religion and its excesses.)

The second part is linked to Obama’s choice of Turkey, a Muslim majority country with deeply secular values despite the fact that its current government is Islamist, as the venue for the speech. In many respects it’s an odd choice, considering that for a long time Turkey wore many different hats than “large Muslim country” in US policy circles: NATO partner, prospective EU member, Eastern Mediterranean economic powerhouse, energy crossroad, gateway to Central Asia, etc. I interpret it in the fact that aside from India and possibly Indonesia, no country with a large population has the type of government that could be seen as progressive, at least partly committed to democracy and that can be seen as successful in terms of socio-economic development. Hence the focus on the very particular Turkish heritage of Attaturkism, which for all its faults has helped create a very dynamic, relatively open society in Turkey:

This morning I had the privilege of visiting the tomb of the great founder of your Republic. I was deeply impressed by this beautiful memorial to a man who did so much to shape the course of history. But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Ataturk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong and secular democracy, and that is the work that this assembly carries on today.

This future was not easily assured. At the end of World War I, Turkey could have succumbed to the foreign powers that were trying to claim its territory, or sought to restore an ancient empire. But Turkey chose a different future. You freed yourself from foreign control. And you founded a Republic that commands the respect of the United States and the wider world.

There is a simple truth to this story: Turkey’s democracy is your own achievement. It was not forced upon you by any outside power, nor did it come without struggle and sacrifice. Like any democracy, Turkey draws strength from both the successes of the past, and from the efforts of each generation of Turks that makes new progress for your people.

Not only does Obama here recognize the heroic resistance of Turkish nationalists against efforts by Europeans to carve out their country after World War I, but explicitly rejects the idea of external imposition of democracy (a landmark Bush administration idea) and puts the focus on domestic forces. Beyond this, he also puts the emphasis on Turkey’s achievement as a a secular country whose ruling party, while notionally Islamist, accepts and has thrived within a secular framework. I am probably reading too much into this, but I like to see in it an argument for the secular framework as, in recent history at least, a great model for development, especially compared to the outright Islamist models of Iran, Saudi Arabia or Sudan that have been respectively civic, moral or social failures — or indeed the hybrid pseudo-secular experiments of Egypt, Syria, Morocco, Algeria and most other Arab states.

The problem here is that while it’s an approach that greatly appeals to me ideologically (I believe that the secular model is best), I am not sure it is practical anymore. The contemporary dominance of Islamist ideology, and its recuperation by the power elites of Arab countries even when they claim to cherish secular values, has gone too far. The opportunity that Turkey grabbed (not to disregard Attaturkism’s cultish tendencies and human rights abuses) has passed the Arab world by, and we are left dealing with a bizarre mishmash of the worse that Islamism, socialism, capitalism and nationalism have to offer: intolerance, inefficiency, cronyism and empty jingoism. The trick is now to find the best of those same ideologies, and in this case Islam’s ideal of social justice does have something valuable to offer.

The question for Obama will be whether, in going beyond the idea of democracy promotion that we know is difficult to practice when facing deeply-entrenced anti-democratic forces (first and foremost the regimes in place), he will abandon it altogether. For me the first test of this would be to see him back the formation of a representative national unity government in Palestine that includes legitimately elected Hamas, making new elections possible in which, this time, I hope the United States won’t waste their money interfering in on Fatah’s side.

On US democracy promotion in Egypt

Analysis: Democracy in Egypt appears to wane:

“Four years ago, the United States talked about two laboratories for democracy in the Middle East: Iraq and Egypt.

Egypt was supposed to be the easier one. But now it’s battered Iraq that has shown democratic advances, while Egypt seems to be going backward with President Hosni Mubarak’s government solidifying its hold on the levers of power.

Still, Egypt is hoping for improved ties with the United States under President Barack Obama after the Bush administration called for reform by Mubarak and after years of strains over the staunch U.S. ally’s human rights record.

The Obama administration has already hinted it won’t hinge its relationship with Egypt on human rights demands, moving away from former President George W. Bush’s ambitious — or overreaching, as some in the region felt — claims to seek a democratic transformation in the region.”

Already some people in Cairo are nostalgic (or have been nostalgic for several years) for that 2004-2005 moment when the Bush administration was publicly, relentlessly, critical of Egypt’s lack of political reform. Ironically Obama, with his charisma, could make an even better democracy promoter than Bush, whose neo-conservative version of democracy promotion appeared like a barely concealed fig leaf for a pro-interventionist, pro-Israeli Middle East policy. The problem remains the same: how do you craft a successful democracy-promotion policy? Can you do so when you have a strategic alliance with a repressive state? I think government-to-government pressure has limited effectiveness, especially when Egypt is such as a great counter-terrorism and regional diplomacy ally. Or when you’re unwilling to reconsider over $1bn of military aid that subsidizes your own military-industrial complex and irrigates the backbone of the regime. (sorry for the terrible mixed metaphor.)

The way to go may be lobbying in the US, EU against businesses involved in Egypt and naming and shaming politicians that support Egypt. But even then you run the risk of becoming the useful idiot of those who claim to be concerned about democracy in Egypt but are merely cynically adding a card to play in regional politics.

A Last Chance For A Two-State Israel-Palestine Agreement

From the Executive Summary of a new report [PDF] advising the Obama administration to seize the opportunity for a two-state solution before it’s too late, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Chuck Hagel, Lee Hamilton, Thomas Pickering, Brent Scowcroft, Paul Volcker, James Wolfensohn and others:

We urge the next U.S. administration to engage in prompt, sustained and determined efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Previous initiatives having failed, the incoming administration will no doubt be urged to defer or avoid renewed engagement for three reasons:

1. Prioritizing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would distract the new president from efforts to address critical challenges to the nation’s security: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Russia, and threats from terror organizations.

2. Peace cannot be imposed by the U.S.A. or any outside party. The only enduring solution will be one conceived by the parties themselves.

3. Pressing both sides to reach agreement may risk angering domestic constituencies.

We believe all three arguments are invalid.

Today, when our enemies avoid America’s military superiority by waging information warfare and terror, an early Arab-Israeli peace is indispensable. Although a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace would not erase Al Qaeda, it would help drain the swamp in which it and other violent and terrorist movements thrive, and eliminate a major source of global Muslim anti-Americanism. Iran would find the strategic advantages it recently gained in the Arab world greatly reduced. Far from being a distraction from other Middle Eastern crises, an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would significantly facilitate their amelioration.

Conversely, for the U.S. to avoid effective facilitation and mediation is to cede the field to America’s enemies who are counting on the Arab-Israeli dispute as the gift that keeps on giving.

According to polls, most Israeli and Palestinian public opinions back a fair settlement, and Arab countries now offer unprecedented support for the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002, spurred by the twin threats posed by Iran and radical Islamist movements, and see substantial strategic value in a comprehensive peace accord. In Europe and elsewhere, a strong U.S. initiative would be warmly welcomed.

A new U.S. effort to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement may anger certain domestic constituencies. We do not, however, believe it is beyond the capability of any American President to explain to the American people why this long-running dispute must at long last be ended and why it will take much diplomatic heavy lifting and public expenditure to make it work. In the end the stakes are too high to pursue a hands-off or arm’s-length approach.

Unless the president tackles this problem early it is unlikely to be done at all. Political capital will erode; domestic obstacles will grow; other issues will dominate; and the warring parties will play for time and run the clock.

Failure to act would prove extremely costly. It would not only undermine current efforts to weaken extremist groups, bolster our moderate allies and rally regional support to stabilize Iraq and contain Iran, but would also risk permanent loss of the two-state solution as settlements expand and become entrenched and extremists on both sides consolidate their hold. In short, the next six to twelve months may well represent the last chance for a fair, viable and lasting solution.

It calls for, among other things, engaging Hamas and Palestinian reconciliation (not what Obama is doing now since so far we’ve only heard more West Bank First). I only find this recommendation hard to swallow:

A non-militarized Palestinian state, together with security mechanisms that address Israeli concerns while respecting Palestinian sovereignty, and a U.S.- led multinational force to ensure a peaceful transitional security period. This coalition peacekeeping structure, under UN mandate, would feature American leadership of a NATO force supplemented by Jordanians, Egyptians and Israelis. We can envision a five-year, renewable mandate with the objective of achieving full Palestinian domination of security affairs on the Palestine side of the line within 15 years.

Israeli troops should definitely not be involved in any peacekeeping structure – its job should be keeping the Israelis away from the Palestinians, and vice-versa! Not to mention that a non-militarized state is a rather serious breach of sovereignty, especially unless it is backed by a mutual defense guarantee by the peacekeeping forces against any Israeli attack, incursion or overflight.

Is this Obama’s Middle East strategy?

I’ve been loathe, aside from the quick links, to comment on Barack Obama – the man, his election, his policies and picks. After all, he’s not even president yet.

Like most people I cannot but be impressed by his charisma and talent, but overall I never really bought in to Obamania and he was not my favorite Democrat in the primaries (I fully recognize I was wrong in my choice of John Edwards, though, since his sex scandal would have lost him the race had he been the Democratic candidate). My basic position on Obama’s Middle East policy during the elections was that he would deliver little different, even if one could hope that he would pick different people to work on it than the ones we’ve had for two decades, and that on the Israel question specifically not only did he fail to distinguish himself (aside perhaps from his speech to Jewish-American in Columbus, OH) but bent over backwards to reassure the lobby, all the while neglecting to highlight its responsibility in the warmongering of the last eight years. (I also found his lack of strong reaction to the economic crisis during the election quite shocking, which is my other major beef with him.)

So basically, I already am skeptical that we will see a fundamentally different US Middle East foreign policy than the Clinton and Bush years, which were not that different apart from Bush’s hyper-militarism (before we had more discreet militarism). I was unhappy about Hillary Clinton being picked as SecState, because I associate the Clintons as one of the worst developments in American politics in the past quarter-century, and did not see the political necessity of appointing his ex-rival rather than a more dour and wonky choice. But I don’t really care that much, think that all of the vapid editorializing about the Arab world expecting change from Obama is complete bullshit driven by a US news framing agenda rather than any Arab reality, and am sadly resigned to yet another administration that will miss the point about the centrality of the Israel-Palestine issue in this region (which every elder American statesman has made for years) and the extremely pernicious impact it has had on the US foreign-policymaking process. I just hope Obama can/will/wants to do good on other issues, such as the environment or healthcare – although I remain fundamentally convinced he’s miss one of the most important issues of our time.

Even so,I was surprised to read this albeit speculative article in Haaretz/a about the Obama-Clinton Middle East strategy:

However, senior government sources in Jerusalem said that the information they have received indicates that the new administration is planning a hierarchy of about five special envoys to various regions, overseen by a kind of “super coordinator,” who would answer directly to the president and the secretary of state.

The sources said that the new policy is part of Obama’s and Clinton’s understanding that all the conflicts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia are to some extent connected to the Iranian nuclear program and withdrawal from Iraq. Therefore, it is important to operate in a number of parallel but coordinated channels to attain achievements on all fronts.

The most prominent name in consideration for the top coordinator post is Dennis Ross, who served as President Bill Clinton’s special envoy to the Middle East. Ross’ name has also come up as a possible senior adviser to Hillary Clinton.

The envoy to the Middle East would oversee the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, negotiations between Syria and Israel and the situation in Lebanon.

Short-listed for this job are Colin Powell, who was President George W. Bush’s secretary of state during his first term; Dan Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005; and Martin Indyk, who is close to Hillary Clinton and who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel from 1995 to 1997 and from 2000 to 2001.

All conflicts in the Middle East are connected to Iraq and Iran?!!?! If they see it that way, it’s because they’ve decided the priority will be Iraq and Iran, which is to say it’ll be Iran. Fair enough, the Israeli-Palestinian process does appear at a deadlock with inter-Palestinian rivalry and the prospect of a new Netanyahu administration in Tel Aviv. Nonetheless, considering the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, continued ethnic cleansing and settlement expansion in Jerusalem and the West Bank, one would think the US could have other priorities on its mind (indeed, since a good part of the US defense establishment thinks it can live with a nuclear Iran, one wonders whether this isn’t an Israeli priority).

It’s also extremely depressing to see the list of names for top coordinator (Dennis Ross – nuff said) and for Middle East Envoy: Martin Indyk is AIPAC’s man and Colin Powell was a failure as SecState and obviously overwhelmed by his bureaucratic opponents. Even with Dan Kurtzer, the most palatable and professional of these choices, we have the slight problem that his brother is an Israeli settler.

Now one might put this down to the idea that these are the only acceptable names to Israel, which largely calls the shots with regards to US peace process policy, at least since the first Clinton administration. But it also shows a staggering lack of imagination: in all of the talent pool of Washington, DC, these are the only men one can think of for the job? Where’s the change we can believe in, Mr Obama?

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