Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Arlene Kushner on Netanyahu and Obama, Abbas & Putin (Oh My!)

From Arlene Kushner:
March 4, 2014

Tracking an Insane Time

There are few things more insane than Arabs throwing large rocks at cars, and thereby causing lethal injury to children. But this is what I begin with today.
It is a year ago that Adva Biton was driving in her car with other members of her family, including three children, when an Arab terrorist threw a concrete block at them.  It caused Adva to loose control of the car, which rammed into a truck and ended up trapped beneath it.  Other members of the family were moderately injured. But little Adele Biton, then two, was critically injured.  A full year later, she is still unconscious, and sits that way in a wheel chair.  Her family stays with her constantly, and hopes to bring her home, where she will secure all sorts of therapeutic treatment.
The request here is that you pray for Adele Biton. Adele Bat Adva.  Pray for her recovery daily and continue to pray until we learn that, with the help of Heaven, she has regained her life.

Credit: jewsnews
Prime Minister Netanyahu has not yet addressed the AIPAC Policy Conference as I begin this posting.  But I am eager, nonetheless, to look at what has transpired in the last day, and to share some analysis.
Before going into his lengthy closed-door meeting with President Obama in the White House last night, our prime minister conducted himself with firmness at an opening press conference.  He stood his ground.

Barack Obama meets with Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN in 2012.
Credit: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Photo not from original post

I admit, I cringe when he speaks about two states for two peoples – but this is how he is playing it.  Yet, this aside, he said, quite explicitly, that he knows the position he represents is not the conventional wisdom, but it is the truth. 
Netanyahu tracked all that Israel has done “for peace” in the last 20 years, i.e., since the beginning of Oslo.  And then he took a look at what Israel has gotten in return from the Palestinian Arabs: rockets launched on our civilians, incessant incitement, etc. 
Chiding Obama before the cameras, he said:
“Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t. The people of Israel know that it’s the case.
Declared Netanyahu (emphasis added):
“What we want is peace – not a piece of paper...real peace... based on mutual recognition.

Israel, the Jewish state, is the realization of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. I think it’s about time they recognized a nation state for the Jewish people.  We’ve only been here for about 4,000 years.”

Read: Obama gets lecture on peace talks from Netanyahu in White House meeting

You can see a video of Netanyahu saying this via the above link.  What he says here is, I believe, as close as we’ll get right now to his speaking for our rights.  And it’s solid in several respects.  He speaks about the self-determination of the Jewish People, and about our presence in the land for 4,000 years.  This effectively counters all those Arab claims that they were here first. 
The great irony, of course, is that the very areas the Palestinian Arabs claim as theirs are the ones that were central to our heritage over those 4,000 years.  Hevron, Beit El, Shilo are all in Judea and Samaria.  Eastern Jerusalem, which the Palestinian Arabs want as their capital, WAS Jerusalem: the Temple Mount, the City of David, etc.  Our prime minister, by implication is laying our claim and – let us hope – moving in the direction of giving the PA an answer regarding their outrageous demands.  What is clear as clear can be is that these areas of ancient Jewish heritage belong to the Jewish people and should never be surrendered to anyone else.
You will note in the above video that the tone Obama used in welcoming Netanyahu was far more moderate and pleasant than the tone of his vile article had been.
Raphael Ahren gives us a most plausible explanation in The Times of Israel: “With Putin making trouble, Obama goes easy on Netanyahu” (emphasis added):
“The Ukraine crisis changed everything. After the unusually harsh comments US President Barack Obama made in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg last week – it was published on Sunday — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was expected to receive another verbal lashing Monday in the Oval Office. But Obama’s tone was surprisingly gentle.

“Obviously, the president knows not to offend his guests by attacking and accusing them in person. But there’s more to the sudden change of tone. Obama’s interview with Goldberg took place last Thursday, before the Russian-Ukrainian crisis escalated. By Monday, Obama understood that Russian President Vladimir Putin was serious about his ambitions regarding Crimea, and that a possible military showdown near the Black Sea could become the defining moment of his presidency.

“The US public isn’t really that worried about Iran becoming a nuclear threshold state, and the fact that Bashar Assad is still killing in Syria doesn’t keep many Americans awake at night. While in the eyes of Israelis, and the Sunni Arab states in the region, Obama is a weak leader who cannot be trusted to enforce the red lines he occasionally draws, when he has no other choice, the average Joe in the US has other worries.

But the Crimea crisis, a throwback to the Cold War, is a different ballgame. Putin’s challenge to the West, and particularly the US — which has vowed that “there is a huge price to pay” for violating Ukrainian sovereignty – is a bigger headache for Obama than the entire Middle East. And the last thing the president needs right now is a public spat with Netanyahu, who enjoys near-universal admiration in Congress. And Obama might need Congress if he is to act decisively against Moscow’s territorial appetite in Eastern Europe.

“Does that mean that the US administration is going to decrease pressure on Israel in the coming weeks and months? Certainly not.”

Read: With Putin making trouble, Obama goes easy on Netanyahu 
With all of the distressing import of what is going on now, there are moments that are amusing – inadvertently so, but amusing nonetheless.
Secretary of State Kerry spoke at AIPAC last night and assured his listeners that, “we will never let the West Bank turn into another Gaza.”

Read: Kerry: US will not allow the West Bank to become Gaza
Yes, sure, absolutely. 
What I would like to know is how he would expect to achieve this, once his goal of turning Judea and Samaria over to the Palestinian Arabs should be realized (Heaven forbid!).  The scary part is that Kerry may believe this can be managed, which would indicate precisely how little the US administration understands the Arabs here.
We know that Hamas is just waiting to take down the PA, once it should achieve statehood.
But here’s another look – offered by Khaled Abu Toameh - at just how weak Abbas is.  (Emphasis added)
“As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to talk with Israel and the U.S. about ways of achieving peace in the Middle East, senior members of his ruling Fatah faction have stepped up their efforts to remove him from power.

“These efforts seem to be worrying Abbas these days more than anything else, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's proposed ‘framework agreement’ for peace between the Palestinians and Israel – which has thus far been rejected by Abbas and the Palestinian Authority [PA] leadership.

“The internal squabbling in Fatah casts doubts on Abbas' ability or willingness to sign any peace agreement with Israel.

“These are not mere tensions or disagreements among politicians. Rather, they mark the beginning of an inevitable split that could result in the creation of a rival, anti-Abbas Fatah group, headed by some of his arch-enemies.”

“Abbas’s challenger is former Fatah Central Committee member and former PA security chief Mohammed Dahlan.  Sources close to Abbas accuse Dahlan of ‘secretly planning a coup against the PA leader. According to the sources, Dahlan, who has been living in exile in the United Arab Emirates for the past four years, has his eyes set on the Palestinian Authority presidency and regards himself as a successor to Abbas.’”

“...Recently, Abbas dispatched a high-level Fatah delegation to the Gaza Strip, prompting many Palestinians to speculate that the purpose of the trip was to achieve reconciliation with Hamas. But it quickly transpired that the Fatah delegation, headed by Abbas loyalist Nabil Sha'ath, was sent to the Gaza Strip as part of Abbas's attempt to crush a Dahlan-engineered rebellion against his leadership.

“...Some reports have suggested that Sha'ath and members of his delegation had to flee the Gaza Strip three days after their arrival following threats to their lives from Dahlan and his supporters. According to the reports, Sha'ath even appealed to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to beef up security at the hotel where he was staying in Gaza City, out of fear that disgruntled Fatah activists might assassinate him or members of his delegation.

“...Palestinians in Ramallah said that the increased tensions in Fatah mean that Abbas is beginning to lose his grip over the faction -- a fact that Kerry and his team would not be able to ignore if and when they force Abbas to sign any agreement with Israel.

“...Once, the claim was that Abbas does not represent the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who are under the control of Hamas. Today, however, it is not incorrect to argue that Israel's peace partner, Abbas, does not even represent his own party.”

Read: Fatah Infighting Jeopardizes Kerry's Peace Process
Just this week, as I was tracking Obama statements on the “peace process,” I noted that, when he spoke about the closing window of opportunity,” he mentioned that no one knew how long Abbas would be in power.  His implied message was one of “striking while the iron was hot,” so to speak. 
But my thought then was that this was outrageous – proposing an agreement with Abbas when it seemed he might be out of power soon, and there would be no telling what would come next.  If a stable continuity of power were expected, then rushing to sign with Abbas would not be necessary.  This smelled like Obama attempting to grab his moment of diplomatic victory and to hell with what might happen to Israel thereafter.
And so, Kerry promises the US would not let the “West Bank” turn into another Gaza. Does he also promise to make sure Fatah radicals opposed to a peace agreement do not seize control after that agreement were signed?
Apparently as of two days ago, Abbas was saying that he would continue negotiations beyond the nine months only if “Netanyahu declares a freeze in settlement construction and releases additional prisoners beyond the next installment.”
Well, we cannot take Abbas at his word, as he makes innumerable threats.  But what he is saying – this was in a Ramallah meeting with MK Zahava Gal-on, head of the very left Meretz party - is that if these conditions are not met, he will quit negotiations and go to the international courts.

Read: Abbas insists on settlement freeze before more talks
His chances of having Israel meet these demands is nil. 
As to“the next installment of prisoners” – all presumably having committed their terrorist crimes before Oslo - there is a heightened mood in the country in opposition to their being released.  Netanyahu had committed to this as a way to bring Abbas to the table, but although there have been three groups released to date, there has been nothing forthcoming from the PA.  What is more, this time the PA is insisting that Arabs with Israeli citizenship be included.  Totally and completely unacceptable in the eyes of much of the nation.
And to demand even MORE than this, just so we might have the privilege of sitting at the table with his negotiators?
As to a full settlement building freeze, Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz (Likud), who is in Washington DC with Netanyahu, told Israel Radio today that this is not even on the table.
Why does Abbas make these threats?  Because he finds they work. His experience has been that the US is so eager to keep him at the table that he merely has to propose these actions and the Americans turn to pressure Israel.
But this time it isn’t going to work.  Had the Americans not catered to him all this time, we’d be in a different place.
The good news is that Steinitz also reported that Israel is receiving wall-to-wall Congressional support.
The Washington Post reported that after his conference with Obama, Netanyahu met with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Capitol Hill. Cantor said the Palestinians must “accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state” and “uniformly and aggressively” combat terrorism while confronting, not condoning, “incitement against the Jews.”
Now, my friends, as I complete this posting, Netanyahu has spoken at AIPAC.  I will return to this in my next post as necessary – I would like to locate a transcript, to be certain I haven’t missed anything of import. But I am fairly sure it will not be necessary.
What I can say here is that I was underwhelmed. No drama, no fire and brimstone. He spoke cautiously and, as one commentator put it, showed “a kinder, gentler Netanyahu.” He even seemed to be marking time as he spoke. Whatever I may share next time is simply likely to circle back on content we’ve all heard from him in different contexts: Iran must not be permitted capacity for nuclear development -  “I will do what I must to defend the Jewish State of Israel;” additional sanctions on Iran are necessary; the PA must recognize Israel as the Jewish state but true peace would do great things for the region; Israel is nice and treats wounded Syrians and Syria is inhumane; the BDS movement is immoral; etc. The low point perhaps: “Who believes the BS of the BDS movement?” Not his finest moment.
Netanyahu is treading with care.  The best that can be said, perhaps, is that he did not declare any concessions for the sake of “peace.”  And, once again, at least, he spoke about the long-standing Jewish connection to Judea and Samaria.
I am reminded that we do not know what went on in his talk yesterday with Obama.  Netanyahu spoke about “good meetings,” but said nothing more.
You can see a topic-by-topic summary of his talk here: Recognize Jewish Israel to show you want peace, PM tells Abbas
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution. 

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