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Tuesday, March 05, 2013

March Madness: Formation of Netanyahu's Coalition and Obama's Visit

There is a vague feeling of unease about what this month will bring Israel.
It was present in an undertone at the AIPAC conference.

In writing about the just-finished AIPAC conference, Shmuel Rosner writes about Shushing the Elephant
There’s [an] elephant in the room in this AIPAC conference, and this elephant is American policy in the region. In one session after another one hears criticism of American inaction, American hesitation, American lack of coherence. The criticism is at times subtler, and at times more direct, but it’s almost always there.
You hear it from the experts on the different panels, from Americans and Israelis. You get less of it, but still some, even in the larger gatherings where the politicians and the leaders speak, where the politicians attempt to make it seem as if there are no problems and no daylight between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government. Americans and Israelis are now all walking on eggshells, making sure not to interfere with the “reset” of relations, not to add new tensions into the delicate relations between the second Obama administration and the second Netanyahu government.

The elephant is there though. It is there when, in panels, Chuck Hagel’s name keeps coming up, usually as pretext for amused exchanges, but it was also there when Hagel was praised by Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak. “He will no doubt serve his country with the same pride and honor with which he served both on the battlefield and in Congress", Barak said. And as is often the case, when he has to say that there’s “no doubt” it seems like a sign that there’s doubt. There’s surely doubt in Israel, and there’s concern in pro-Israel circles in the US (“we need a national security team that is pro-Israel”, senator McCain said Monday morning). Barak was right to try and put the Hagel brouhaha to rest and begin the relations with him on a positive note. Yet the message that Obama was sending with the Hagel nomination is one that can hardly be interpreted in ways favorable to Israel.
Left unsaid is the growing indication that predictions about Obama putting aside pressing for Middle East peace during his second term appear to have been overrated.

Apparently there are problems and there is daylight, and perhaps there is some tiptoeing about Obama's trip as well.

A lot of what is being said about what Obama will demand of Netanyahu during his visit this month is rumor -- but rumors of a timetable imposed on Israel by Obama persist.
U.S. President Barack Obama has demanded a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, according to an unconfirmed report by World Tribune.

The report quotes anonymous "Israeli sources."

According to the report, Obama, who is scheduled to arrive in Israel on March 20, wants Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to present him with a detailed Israeli withdrawal plan during his visit to Israel. The sources said the Israeli plan "would be considered in what could be an imminent U.S. initiative to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2014."
Obama's trip to Israel will either dispel the rumors or will prove the fears of new pressure for unilateral concessions to be justified.

But first, Netanyahu will have to form his coalition.
And rumors about Netanyahu's intentions in forming that coalition are also a cause for concern -- is Bibi really looking to assemble a coalition that will allow him to remove settlements?

Arlene Kushner writes concerns Ehud Barak raised at the AIPAC conference:
The AIPAC convention has been going on in Washington, and lame duck Defense Minister Ehud Barak addressed the thousands gathered there.

A "full fledged peace deal with the Palestinians" was not possible now, Barak said.
Good that he says this upfront, I thought.

Then he said that an interim agreement should be attempted to protect Israel's security.
I was no longer sure this was good, depending on what he was referring to.

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And then...he said that if this couldn't be achieved, it might be necessary for Israel to take unilateral steps to prevent a bi-national state: Israel may need to "consider unilateral steps that would include demarcating a line within which Israel would keep the settlement blocs and ensure a Jewish majority for generations to come." Israel would establish a "long term security presence on the Jordan River." (Emphasis added)
Between Netanyahu's coalition and Obama's visit, by the end of the month matters will hopefully be clearer.

For better or for worse.

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