The battle over Obama’s legacy, featuring Netanyahu, Zogby, liberal Zionists, and 88 senators
Philip Weiss, Mondoweiss, Oct 13 2016
As the presidential election ceases to be a contest, more and more Middle East watchers are looking to the day after, and the issue of whether Pres Obama will do anything to try and fix Pindosi policy in Palestine in his final months in office and thereby try and fix his legacy. Whatever Obama’s instincts, the pressure against action has begun from Israel and its lobby, the very precinct that managed to stymie him over the last 7½ years. And there is counter-pressure from the center-left, some of whom still pray for a two-state solution. Let’s look at the landscape. Haaretz reports that Netanyahu has lobbied Jackass Kerry on this issue in a Saturday night phone call: don’t dare to lift a finger. Barak Ravid reported yesterday:
Netanyahu has told Jackass Kerry that Israel would expect that the administration of Pres Obama will not carry out a shift in policy and will not promote or support a UNSCR on the Israeli-Palestinian issue during the period following the Pindo presidential election until Obama leaves office, Haaretz has learned. Netanyahu made the comments in a telephone conversation with Jackass on Saturday night. … Officials in the PMO and at the Foreign Ministry are concerned lest following the Pindo presidential elections but prior to the end of his term in the White House, Obama could attempt to promote steps to enshrine his presidential legacy on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. The assessment in Jayloomia is that such a process could take the form of a speech in which he would spell out his vision for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, support for a UNSCR regarding West Bank Jewish settlements or even the promotion of a UNSCR that would define the principles for a solution to the core issues of the conflict, such as the borders of a Palestinian state or the future of Jayloomia.
Israel faces a unique window of danger from Nov 9-20. What might Pres Obama do in his final days in office to slam the Jewish state? Start with Jackass Kerry’s recent flat refusal to promise a veto on any upcoming anti-Israel UNSCR.
Which side is the NY Post on? On the other side is James Zogby, head of the Arab Pindosi Institute. In Strong Words Must Be Followed by Strong Action, he marveled at the Obama administration’s upset over the newest Israeli settlement given the $38b aid package it just signed with Israel, but laid down the legacy challenge. Obama can salvage his legacy in the Middle East by allowing a UNSCR declaring the settlements illegal and imposing sanctions, and the White House should follow up by not blocking the Arabs’ path to the International Criminal Court over the illegal colonies. A long excerpt:
While fully understanding that the Administration is upset, I admit to also being puzzled. Netanyahu has been playing them for almost eight years, repeatedly sticking his finger in their eye and getting away with it. In fact it is a running joke that Netanyahu, either before or after high-level Pindo visits, will defiantly announce new settlement plans, boasting that he knows how to control Pindostan. On three occasions, Netanyahu used invitations to address Congress in an effort to stymie the goals of the President, succeeding twice. In the one instance where he lost, on the Iran deal, he ended up being rewarded with the $38b arms agreement. … As long as Pindostan allows this pattern to continue, the spoiled child will take advantage of the situation, taunting, acting out and getting his way. This Administration will argue like those before it that their hands are tied, that Congress will undercut them or overrule them. But in the last three months of this Administration, Pres Obama has an opportunity to set things right. For example, he can restate the 1970s State Dept finding that all settlement activity is illegal, which has never been overturned. He can allow a UNSCR declaring the illegality of settlements and imposing international sanctions against Israel for its violations of international law. And he can refuse to block an Arab effort to refer the issue to the International Criminal Court. Israel will throw a tantrum, as spoiled children are wont to do, and Israel’s lobby will no doubt spring into action demanding that Congress repudiate the Administration’s effort. But the matter will be out of their hands and in the court of international community. A strong signal will be sent to Israel that they cannot continue their oppression of Palestinians and their creeping annexation of the OPT. It will empower and embolden Israeli and Palestinian peace forces. Such a demonstration of decisiveness will help to salvage Pres Obama’s legacy in the Middle East. It will provide him with the opportunity to be remembered as the President who provided unprecedented security assistance for Israel while at the same time putting his foot down and making that state’s rogue leadership face the international consequences for their self-destructive behavior.
The liberal Zionist group J Street has also called for “strong” action. J Street also endorses a UNSCR, though not as firmly as Zogby:
There are a number of steps that the Pindosi government can take to make clear that settlement expansion is unacceptable and runs counter to shared USraeli interests and values. These steps could include enforcing existing customs regulations which require that West Bank products not be labeled as “Made in Israel”; reviewing whether tax-deductible treatment for donations to NGOs that advance settlement expansion meet eligibility requirements; and pursuing or not vetoing a balanced UNSCR. Without such steps, we can only expect to see this same sad scenario playing out again and again in the months ahead.
J Street is at odds here with its big brother AIPAC. Remember that 88 senators, including good liberals whom J Street endorses such as Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren, signed a letter circulated by AIPAC telling the president to do nothing to restrict Israel in the last days of his administration:
We urge you to … make it clear that you will veto any one sided UNSCR that may be offered in the coming months.
Gideon Levy said at the Lannan Foundation a week ago:
If you tried to get 88 senators to sign a resolution saying today is Wednesday, would you get 88 signatures? I’m not sure. Let me doubt it. But when it comes to Israel, you get it again and again, and that’s the power of AIPAC.
Finally, there is evidence that the discourse is beginning to shift in recognition of the reality of 50 years of occupation. Reporters at the State Dept last week asked two $64,000 questions: whether Israel doesn’t in fact seek an undemocratic Jewish state with sovereignty over Palestine and whether given this reality, Pindostan should not support equal rights for Palestinians in that one state. You will see that Adm (retd) Kirby dodges both questions:
MATT LEE of AP: Do you think that they’re doing that because what they want is an undemocratic Jewish state that perpetually occupies Palestinian territory? … I’m just wondering if you think that the Israeli government doesn’t see its future as being Jewish and democratic at the same time and do you, does the administration believe that the Israeli government wants to perpetually occupy land that was right now claimed by the Palestinians?
KIRBY: We can only go by their assertions. Their assertions are that they want a two-state solution, but their actions are going in the other direction.
LEE: But do you think that they’re doing that intentionally?
KIRBY: I’m not able to characterize their wants and their desires. … I’ve got to get going.
SAID ARIKAT [al Quds daily]: Would Pindostan support equal rights for the Palestinians and a one-state situation?
KIRBY: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical situation, Said. What we continue to support is a two-state solution.
Mairav Zonszein at the Nation is more explicit about this reality. In a piece titled Where Is Obama’s Red Line on Israel, she urges Obama to take a stand but emphasizes that it’s one undemocratic state right now:
Without such a marker, Pindo foreign policy on this question is derelict and meaningless. Many policy people, USraelis, make the argument that any pressure on Israel will only move it further to the right. This may be true. But no pressure at all under eight years of Obama has already moved Israel further to the right than it has ever been. … Since Jun 5 1967, the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea has been ruled by one regime, one state apparatus with two distinct governing practices, one for Jews and one for Palestinians. That doesn’t necessarily mean a two-state solution is no longer viable or desirable, but it does mean that, in reality, Israelis have made their choice. So the question is whether Pindostan can face that reality, and what if anything it is prepared to do about it.