Photo: Gabi Menashe
The threat issued by Special Presidential Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, to withhold US loan guarantees, in order to extract excessive concessions from Israel, constitutes a wake-up call for wishful-thinkers.
Senator Mitchell's January 7, 2010 interview with PBS' Charlie Rose refutes the notion that the Obama Administration will accept anything but full Israeli compliance with Washington's terms.
Obama's confidant, George Mitchell, known for his deliberate style, made clear that submission to pressure is not rewarded but punishable by further pressure. That is certainly the case with a White House run by Rahm Emanuel, who is "the meanest shark in town."
Emanuel and President Obama, his Chicago-politics pal, were elated when Prime Minister Netanyahu rushed on June 14, 2009 to Bar Ilan University, as soon as he returned from a "cold shower" at Obama's White House, to enunciate a major transformation of his worldview: The acceptance of the Two States Solution. They realized that their pressure was effective following Netanyahu's September 24, 2009 speech at the UN – which reaffirmed his newly found worldview – and the full freeze of construction in east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
Leveraging their initial success, they now employ the threat of withholding loan guarantees and intensify the pressure on Israel to accelerate the timetable of concessions, to exclude the Jordan Valley from Israel's map of defensible borders, to release more Palestinian terrorists, to make more concessions to Mahmoud Abbas, to refrain from construction even in Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhood, etc.
Israel's retreat in the face of Obama's pressure is a rarity in a world that has not been kind to the newly-installed president. His precipitous drop in the polls is the sharpest in recent decades, other than President Ford's. A growing number of Democratic legislators distance themselves from him, lest they be defeated in November, 2010. Furthermore, President Obama is increasingly identified with a 10% unemployment rate, a 17% under-employment rate, a budget deficit which is the highest since 1945, a bigger government, a failed war in Afghanistan and rapidly destabilizing Iraq.
Obama's Liberal power-base is unhappy with legislative compromises concluded with Blue Dog Democrats. Republicans are energized by Obama's difficulties and the 30% bloc of Independents, which accorded Obama the 2008 victory, is turning its back on Obama in 2010. Since assuming power in January, 2009, Obama has received slaps in the face from Iran, North Korea, Russia, China, Venezuela, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has also been targeted by French and West European cynicism. However, Jerusalem is acting as if it is facing an Imperial President.
Israel still doesn’t get itIn 1992, at the height of the Shamir-Bush battle over loan guarantees, I was told by then Majority Leader, Senator George Mitchell: "Doesn't Israel know that the US is not a monarchy, that the president is not omnipotent and that the Legislature is equal in power to the Executive?!"
In 2010, Israel still does not get it. Instead of leveraging critical public and Congressional platforms of support – which will determine the success or oblivion of Obama's policy – Israel approaches Congress as the best supporting-actor in Washington, DC. Jerusalem is intimidated by Emanuel's warning to "avoid bypassing the Administration via Congress." Jerusalem fails to realize that kowtowing to Emanuel's warning amounts to a slap in the face for US democracy, the US public and its representatives on Capitol Hill, while severely undermining Israel's own cardinal interests.
Senator Mitchell's PBS interview reflects Obama's determination to dictate to the Jewish State a full withdrawal to the 1949 and 1967 ceasefire lines, the uprooting of Jewish communities in the Golan Heights, Judea and Samaria, the repartitioning of Jerusalem, the negotiation of the "claim of return" by 1948 Arab refugees and the exchange of land.
Such an approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a derivative of Obama’s worldview, which highlights the UN as a quarterback of international relations, considers Europe as a role model and Foggy Bottom bureaucracy as luminaries on international relations, burdens the West with partial-blame for international terrorism, regards the Jewish State as part of the exploiting West and the Arabs part of the exploited Third World.
In facing Obama's pressure, Israel should follow in the footsteps of all Prime Ministers from Ben Gurion to Yitzhak Shamir (1948-1992): Advancing Israel's national security while fending off US presidential pressure. For instance, Ben Gurion declared independence in 1948 and constructed Israel's nuclear reactor in defiance of brutal pressure by Secretary of State George Marshall and President Kennedy respectively. Levy Eshkol and Golda Meir built the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Ramot, Neve Ya'akov and Gilo in response to presidential pressure. And, Menachem Begin destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor irrespective of painful US, European, global and domestic pressure. He initialed the Israel-Egypt peace process by overcoming opposition by President Carter, who preferred an international conference over direct negotiations.
Such steadfastness yielded short-term US-Israel tension. However, it was rapidly transformed into long-term enhanced strategic respect, by American and Middle Eastern leaders, toward the Jewish State.
In 2010, Israeli leaders are endowed with a critical mass – which was not enjoyed by the 1948-1992 leaders - demographically (6 million Jews!), economically, technologically and militarily, bolstered by a formidable infrastructure of support in the US. Are the current leaders also endowed with the vision, faith, wisdom and backbone, which are the prerequisite to leverage this critical mass and advance key Israeli interests, while deflecting the Obama Administration’s pressure?