On Wednesday night in Washington Israeli and American officials worked feverishly—but failed—to produce a document stating Israel’s commitments regarding proximity talks with the Palestinian Authority. The U.S. was reportedly supposed to take the document to the Palestinians and then to the Arab League meeting in Tripoli, Libya, this weekend.
Days earlier Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had outlined such commitments in a letter to secretary of state Hillary Clinton. It was deemed insufficient and, in Washington, President Barack Obama sent Netanyahu and his accompanying officials back to the drawing board. According to one report, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman advised Netanyahu not to sign any such document that night, and to wait to return home and discuss the matter with the Israeli inner cabinet.
The commitments Obama seeks are variously reported to be: some sort of Israeli undertaking about a construction moratorium in the West Bank (where one is already in place) and East Jerusalem; a promise to engage in such final-status issues as refugees, borders, and Jerusalem in the proximity talks; and “gestures” to the Palestinian Authority such as the removal of additional checkpoints and the freeing of Palestinian security prisoners.
The pressures Obama directed at Netanyahu were severe, in one account even inducing a “panic” reaction in the Israeli leader. The total media blackout that accompanied their meeting led the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl to comment that “Netanyahu is being treated as if he were an unsavory Third World dictator, needed for strategic reasons but conspicuously held at arm’s length.” Obama was further riled by news about an approval to build 20 apartments for Jews in a compound in East Jerusalem owned by an American Jewish millionaire since 1985—situated in a mostly-Arab neighborhood.
By Thursday night, with Netanyahu and his inner cabinet set to convene, many of his ministers had praised his refusal while in Washington to cave on the Jerusalem-construction issue, Netanyahu having stated to AIPAC on Monday night that “The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 year ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today.”
Meanwhile an Arab-affairs correspondent of Yediot Aharonot, Israel’s largest newspaper, reported on Thursday based on Palestinian Authority sources that
“the drama taking place on Wednesday in Washington has not gone unnoticed by the Palestinians, but…as of now there is no change in their position regarding the possibility for proximity talks.… even a declaration that indirect talks will address core issues such as Jerusalem and borders is not sufficient. ‘What is necessary [said a senior Palestinian official] is a clear American commitment that building in the settlements will be frozen completely, both in Jerusalem and in the West Bank.’”
As many have noted, just as Obama’s earlier call for a total freeze on Israeli settlements apparently led Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas to stonewall direct talks with Israel, so the recent brouhaha Obama created over Israeli building in Jerusalem seems to have led Abbas to back out, for now, from the proximity talks as well. In other words, even those who see such talks as leading to peace should not be happy with how Obama has handled the matter. What such optimists are likely to miss, though, is that the Palestinian Authority is hardly eager for either talks or peace and jumps at opportunities to back out of the former.
The larger Arab world is almost very much part of Obama’s grandiose plans for peace between Israel and its neighbors, but there too discouraging news surfaced on Thursday. It was reported that the Saudi MBC1 television network, along with Dubai Television, had bought and started airing Ayrilik, a 13-part anti-Semitic Turkish series. Ayrilik depicts Israeli soldiers as satanic and shows them engaging in such acts as murdering Palestinians of all ages, including a newborn baby, and kicking the corpses.
Dubai is, of course, considered an amenable Arab country, a financial hub and tourist playground. It’s suggested that Dubai may be broadcasting the series to get back at Israel for the alleged assassination on its soil of a single Hamas terrorist two months ago. As for Saudi Arabia, it’s the famed source of the “Saudi peace plan” and one of the reputedly “moderate” Arab countries Obama supplicated some months ago to make “gestures” to Israel—only to be contemptuously rebuffed.
In light of all this, the spectacle of the intensive, harried American-Israeli consultations lasting well into Wednesday night emerges as grotesque. The face the Obama administration has turned toward Israel these past two weeks is an ugly one. The news about 20 apartments for Jews in a Jerusalem neighborhood that the U.S. president sees as off limits for Jews has him incensed. Neither the Palestinians’ obvious disdain for his obsessive efforts to induce them into talks, nor ongoing Palestinian and Arab barbaric anti-Semitism, has ever been seen to evoke even a twinge of annoyance in him. Instead Obama’s capacity to insult and humiliate the Israeli prime minister—the only one to make an effort to go along with his plans—is ongoing and disgraceful.
Meanwhile over 250 members of Congress from both parties have written to Clinton to “reaffirm our commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists between our country and the State of Israel and to express to you our deep concern over recent tension,” stating that “differences are best resolved quietly, in trust and confidence, as befits longstanding strategic allies.” It is a relief to see the authentic, decent face of America again. Obama’s policy toward Israel shames that decency.