Obama outmaneuvers Netanyahu, at last

Netanyahu and Obama at the United Nations, 2011. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Netanyahu and Obama at the United Nations, 2011. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

For most of Obama’s time in office, Netanyahu and the Israel lobby tied him down like Gulliver. After initially confronting Netanyahu on settlements, Obama retreated in humiliating defeat. This time round, however, Obama outmaneuvered Bibi, apparently using anonymous proxies to pin the blame for the recent talks’ failure where it belongs: on Israel, for failing to end its theft and colonization of Palestinian land.

When Kerry proposed to exhume the two state solution and champion a new round of processing that everyone knew would lead nowhere in the face of Israel’s Iron Wall of obstinacy, what could possibly have been the President’s response? I imagine him saying: “Only do this if it’s a win either way… It’s a win if the impossible happens and we get a positive outcome, and it’s also a win if it produces nothing and we seize the moment to set the record straight as to who’s fundamentally at fault.”

If Netanyahu received any assurances Israel wouldn’t be blamed, he probably shouldn’t have believed them, just as Arafat shouldn’t have believed such assurances before walking into Camp David. Only this time, unlike after Camp David, the oppressor state is receiving the criticism it deserves.

By now Obama has to know that a) Israel is a full blown Apartheid state; b) the United States has been complicit for decades in funding crimes against humanity. And, Israel’s unchecked ethnocentric policies surely cause our first African-American executive to seethe inside. Although Obama felt his political options to be limited, and he wasn’t willing to go so far as withholding loan guarantees like the first President Bush, using unnamed officials to indict Israeli colonial policies upon the talks’ failure must have been his call.

“They [American officials] had one condition, in line with instructions they had received – that I didn’t name them,”

writes interviewer Nahum Barnea. Instructions received from whom? Kerry, who no doubt cleared this with his boss.

“But what they told me is the closest thing to an official American version of what happened.”

Obama clearly doesn’t feel he has the political space to sign his name to these disclosures. In the coming days he may direct Kerry to qualify, retract, or even contradict the contents of the interview, in a pro forma response to Israel lobby pressure. But the word is out and can never be repealed. Haaretz is reporting that Martin Indyk may have been responsible for the anonymous interview. However, would such a seasoned diplomat have done this without his boss’ boss’ approval?

The interview’s disclosures could impact the entire Israel/Palestine political calculus. Netanyahu tried to interfere in U.S. politics, backing Mitt Romney in 2012. Well now Obama has inserted himself into Israeli politics, but for just reasons and out of a positive motivation. Through anonymous staff members, he’s presented a strong case directly to the Israeli public in their most widely-read news outlet that the current Israeli government must be replaced in order to resurrect the two-state solution. If not, Israel’s status in the world will soon be completely delegitimized, and before long Israel will be on its way to becoming a binational, equal rights state. We can never know whether President Obama, in his heart, believes any form of ethnocracy is legitimate, but surely anyone insistent upon Israel as a Jewish-majority state (I am not one of them) would say Obama’s actions and words are more in that state’s interests than Netanyahu’s.

“Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer,”

President Obama said in his speech to Israeli youth in March 2013, hinting at the outrage he must feel. The Ynet interview is, I think, the only way he has of expressing more of his true feelings, using unnamed proxies.

Not only is this remarkable in how it might affect Israeli politics (although I’m not holding my breath for a leftist Israeli gov’t), more importantly, now the whole world knows who’s to blame for the collapse of the peace process. I predict this story will become widely read in the international community.

“The international blame game,” says Israeli analyst Mark Heller, “has been the main subtext of the negotiations all along.”

The Palestinians, deservedly, just won that game. Or, more accurately, Israel lost. The Palestinians haven’t won anything — yet. But their position has improved.

Here in the U.S., the mainstream media has as of this writing completely ignored the revelations. With its track record of self-censorship and repeatedly claiming “both sides are to blame” so as to avoid any honest characterization of Israeli policies, will the New York Times ever set the record straight? From a recent NYT editorial eulogizing the talks:

The two sides are still unwilling to move on the core issues…

Really? What core issue were the Palestinians unwilling to move on? Barnea’s interview outlines an exhaustive list of major concessions Abbas agreed to on borders, land rights, a demilitarized state, a foreign military presence on Palestinian soil, the rights of Palestinian refugees, and ceding areas of occupied East Jerusalem. Compare that to Netanyahu, who gave no more than “an inch” and agreed to zero meaningful concessions.

Oh, wait, Abbas refused to cry Uncle to Netanyahu’s preposterous demand that he recognize Israel “as a Jewish state,” (which means what exactly?). Why is it surprising that Abbas would say no to a definition that, while vague, at minimum clearly implies Zionist militias had every right to expel hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in order to manufacture a Jewish-majority state by force, and to continue to discriminate against non-Jews in perpetuity?

Are the NYT’s editors implying that the PLO negotiating team should join the Likud party as guest Members of the Knesset and raise their hands in favor of Netanyahu’s new basic law defining Israel as a Jewish state, a measure whose passage is hardly assured given that several prominent Israeli Zionist political parties oppose it, such as Labor, Israel’s founding political party? Haaretz’s editorial page says the implication of this new law is that:

“the occupation, the settlement enterprise and the apartheid regime imposed on the Palestinian population are a foundation of Israel’s existence…. Indeed, this bill lays the groundwork for discriminating between Israeli citizens and violating the civil rights of Arab citizens, and for annexing territory while violating the rights of its inhabitants.”

Apparently only total Palestinian capitulation to Israel’s extreme right would satisfy the NYT’s editors, and then they wouldn’t blame the Palestinians as much as they blame the Israelis for the collapse of the talks. Even Israel’s lawyer backpedaled on insisting Abbas support the Israel as Jewish state demand, calling it a “mistake.”

Even if the biased/clueless U.S. media fails to report the facts on who killed the peace process and how (hint: it wasn’t Colonel Mustard in the study with a lead pipe), the exposure of responsibility may become a landmark moment and contribute to the PLO finding an even more receptive audience at the UN to its rightful claims. The future is wide open. In the coming months, we could see any combination of the following:

  • The PLO/State of Palestine seeking to join the International Criminal Court and prosecuting Israel for war crimes;
  • The PLO/State of Palestine demanding Israel’s UN membership be suspended until and unless it abides by international law and UN resolutions, including the Right of Return of Palestinian refugees to which Israel agreed as a condition of its membership;
  • Exponential growth in the BDS Movement;
  • An international Palestinian Israeli equality movement advocating one person, one vote throughout historic Palestine;
  • U.S. public opinion shifting toward Palestinian human rights and equality with increasing awareness of Israeli oppression;
  • A new, less-biased body attempting to step into the mediator role abandoned by Israel’s lawyer;
  • Enough outrage from the Israeli public that it elects a new government serious about negotiating (least likely).

In its closing argumentIsrael’s lawyer has indicted its own client. Absent the rightful assigning of blame, Israel’s apologists would have had an easier time beseeching the world for more peace charades, perhaps with Tony Blair on behalf of the Quartet replacing the outgoing lawyer. Now that will be a much heavier lift for the Israel lobby.

Congratulations to our President and/or to whoever on his team decided to reveal the truth. A small dose of anonymous honesty is better than next to none. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” Just as that day arrived for King and Vietnam, that time is here now at last.

on May 4, 2014