MIDEAST MIRROR 05.06.15, SECTION A (ISRAEL)
With the exception of Haaretz, all Israeli newspapers lead their weekend editions with the fallout from the comments in Cairo by the CEO of Orange, who said that he would cut ties with Israel if it were not for the threat of costly legal action. The comments were seen by the Israeli government as an endorsement of the BDS movement, despite the fact that Stéphane Richard made it quite clear that any such decision would be 'business, not politics.'
In an exclusive interview with Yedioth Ahronoth, Richard rejected accusations of anti-Semitism and support of the world-wide BDS saying, 'We love Israel. This has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of political debate in which I don't want to be.' Richard rejected the notion that he had caved into pressure by BDS activists. 'I was not aware that there is an international campaign regarding this; I'm very sorry about this. It is a purely commercial point regarding the use of our brand by a company under a license agreement,' he added. 'We don't want to do that. Now we have a contract with Partner with an option for us to stop the use of the brand in the future, but not tomorrow of course. I have never said that Orange wanted to withdraw from Israel.'
Nonetheless, as Israel Hayom reports in its lead story, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has urged the French government to distance itself from Richard's comments. 'I call on the French government to publicly repudiate the miserable statement and miserable action by a company that is under its partial ownership,' Netanyahu said at a memorial ceremony in Tel Aviv for the victims of the 1948 Altalena sinking.
Netanyahu called on Israel’s allies 'to unconditionally declare – in a loud and clear voice – that they oppose any kind of boycott of the Jewish state. 'The absurd drama in which the democracy that observes human rights – the State of Israel – and which defends itself from barrages of missiles and terrorist tunnels, and then absorbs automatic condemnations and attempted boycotts; this absurd drama will not be forgiven,' Netanyahu added.
Cabinet minister Miri Regev – apparently aware that the president of the French Republic does not have the power to fire the CEO of a private company – called on Francois Hollande to fire immediately Richard 'if he does not apologize for his anti-Semitic comments.' In a similar message, the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center urged Hollande to act to reverse Orange Telecom's Israel boycott move. In a statement the center urged Hollande to intervene in what they termed a 'shocking betrayal of the world's only democracy in the Middle East.' The center also sent a letter to the UN's 193 member-state International Telecommunication Union secretary general, noting that 'as the French government owns 25 percent of Orange, it is for France to keep its non-discriminatory and universalist responsibilities to the ITU vision.'
Speaking on Friday, meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that his country is firmly opposed to a boycott of Israel, but insisted that Orange has the right to decide on its business strategy. The French FM added that France, along with the European Union, holds a consistent and well known stance against Israel's settlements in the West Bank.
In other news, Maariv reports that, minutes after Wednesday night's rocket attack that was claimed by a Salafist group in Gaza affiliated with ISIS, Hamas told Israel that it was not behind the attack and that the ISIS affiliate was trying to cause conflict between Hamas and Israel. As Hamas rushed to clear out of sites fearing the IDF retaliation that was quickly forthcoming in the wake of the rocket strike, a senior Hamas source sent a message to Israel via Egypt. In the message, the Hamas source said an ISIS affiliate in Gaza, which is in a state of conflict with his group, intentionally fired the rocket to cause Israel to strike back at Hamas and escalate the situation.
The Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigades, which claimed the rocket attack, said in a statement on Thursday that the strike was in revenge for 'the death of an Islamic State member in Gaza by Hamas members.' The statement apparently refers to a Salafist leader affiliated with ISIS who on Tuesday was shot dead by Hamas forces in Gaza City as they tried to arrest him and he allegedly opened fire on them.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon responded to the message on Thursday, saying, 'even if those firing on Israeli territory are gangs of rebels from global jihad organizations interested in challenging Hamas by firing at us, we view Hamas as responsible for the goings-on in the Gaza Strip, and we won't tolerate attempts to harm our citizens. Tonight the IDF responded with strikes to the (rocket) fire. And if needed - we will strike even harder, and last summer proved that.'
In related news, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, is to visit Israel next week to meet Ya'alon, and likewise hold his first working meeting with the recently appointed IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. The defense leaders will discuss the threats from Syria and Gaza.
Finally, in its lead story, Haaretz reports that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is upping the pressure on Netanyahu. In a closed meeting of Kulanu’s MKs on Monday in the Knesset, Kahlon stated, 'It will be difficult to impossible to continue functioning in this coalition for the long term with 61 MKs.' That comment, which was not reported in the media, was reported to the Prime Minister’s Bureau, where it lit up one or two – or maybe 10 – red lights.
OH, BOYCOTT: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Nahum Barnea says that the beautiful Israel that many in the West long for never existed and that they want to punish the ugly Israel that they see today.
"Speaking at the start of his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made the following heartfelt speech: 'We are in the midst of a great struggle being waged against the State of Israel, an international campaign to blacken its name. It is not connected to our actions; it is connected to our very existence. It does not matter what we do; but what we symbolize and what we are matters. This is a phenomenon that we have known in the history of our people – what hasn’t been said about the Jewish People? They said that we are the focus of all evil in the world. They said that we poison wells. They said that we drink the blood of little children. All of these things are being said about us today as well.'
Speaking in the Knesset, new Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked argued that the BDS movement was, at its root, anti-Semitic. 'In the previous century, it was the Jews who were dehumanized,' she said. 'Now, it is the State of Israel that is being dehumanized.'
There is a grain of truth in this assertion. Efforts to isolate and boycott Israel on the international stage are not clean of anti-Semitism, hypocrisy and double-standards. Better men than I can spell out exactly where the world has sinned on this issue and everything they say would be confirmed and documented.
The comments at a press conference by the CEO of global mobile provider Orange, Stéphane Richard, are an example. Orange (which was previously known as France Telecom) provides mobile phone services for some 230 million people across the globe. In Israel, Orange provides the company that shares its name with nothing more than a name. Pro-boycott organizations in France have consistently been demanding that Orange sever its ties with Israel and that demand is weighing heavily on the company's directors. Richard said that he would be delighted to cut ties with Israeli company Partner, but that he was concerned that the company would be slapped with massive fines in the Israeli courts. If the CEO of an American company had said something along those lines, he would be fired within a day. Richard, it seems, will merely have to apologize.
But back to Netanyahu. 'It does not matter what we do,' he said. 'The struggle against Israel has nothing to do with our actions; it is all about our very existence.' The kind of Zionism with which I grew up disagrees with the prime minister. It matters a lot what we do – for good and for bad. It's convenient to think that all the global criticism of Israel stems from anti-Semitic motives. It's convenient because that frees us of the need to deal with our actions and our shortcomings. Before it was split apart, the Ministry for Intelligence and Strategic Affairs prepared a 150 million shekel budget for fighting the BDS movement. Wealthy Jews from overseas would be asked to contribute an equal sum, if not more. Not one single shekel of this will be spent on examining how our actions in the West Bank impact on the BDS movement.
Molad, the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, recently published a survey about the boycott movement. According to the organization, 90 percent of the demands of the Western effort calls for a boycott related to Israeli activity in the territories. The remaining 10 percent seeks to undermine the existence of the State of Israel, under the flag of the BDS movement. According to Molad officials, 'on every issue that we examined, the existing obstacles and obstacles that are likely to emerge in the future are directly linked to Israel's control of the territories and to its treatment of the Palestinian population.' They go on to detail these obstacles: first and foremost, the settlement enterprise, which is seen as a serious violation of international law and then Israel's military actions and legal system in the territories. There is no Western country which questions Israel's right to exist, but there is no Western country that is willing to recognize additional settlement construction.
The reality on the ground is more complex. Anti-Israel propaganda on campuses across the United States and in Western Europe does not stop at the Green Line. The occupation is the accusation, but the enemy is Israel. The students who are exposed to these arguments will one day sit in parliament, on the boards of major companies and in the courts. They will be the backbone of the Jewish community. Political parties and human rights organizations are gradually adopting similar generalizations. When Israel financially compensates businesses and colleges in the territories that are harmed by the partial boycott, it is helping the cause of the BDS movement. Their propaganda is toxic and false, but our government is making life easy for them.
With the exception of some Evangelical churches, no one in the West can be persuaded that Israel's West Bank settlements are justified. It doesn't matter how many lecturers we send or how much money we invest in our campaign. It's impossible. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely can tell them that God promised us this land until she's blue in the face, but her god is not their god.
Anti-Semitism was prevalent a decade ago and three decades ago. And still, boycotting Israel was seen in the West as something that must not be done. Any Western boycott was part of the crude oil economy and had nothing to do with human rights. When Israel became more economically powerful, that boycott disappeared. Without improving our performance in terms of human rights, the current boycott with not go away.
U.S. President Barack Obama gave a special interview to Channel 2's Ilana Dayan. In the interview, which was aired this week, he positioned hope against fear: Netanyahu is offering Israelis fear (fear of Iran, fear of concessions to the Palestinians and fear of change), while he was offering us hope.
I used to believe that the Fear vs. Hope equation was true. The outcome of the recent election has made me question this. I am not sure that fear is the right word. It is possible that Israelis, or at least some of them, are like supporters of a soccer team. Say, Beitar Jerusalem, for example. It is not fear that causes Beitar supporters to run riot whenever their team plays Bnei Sakhnin. It's hatred. Netanyahu has used his considerable talents to unify a large proportion of the Israeli public against a common enemy. Not nation versus nation, but people versus people, tribe versus tribe. The Arabs are a perfect enemy. In fact, all non-Jews. They're all anti-Semites, each and every one of them.
Faced with this depressing picture, Obama invited us to look at pre-1967 Israel. He imagines us as a kind of utopia: committed to peace, humanistic values and human rights. That is a myth, of course. In many respects, Israel today is a much better place than it was in its early years. The main thing we have lost is the confidence that things will be more just, more correct and more humane. We are flapping about in the puddle that we created.
It's little wonder that foreigners compare Israel today to that myth: the former kibbutz volunteer who is now his country's foreign minister; someone who heard how Jews were in the vanguard of the civil rights movement; someone who is religious and reads the bible; someone else who remembers the horrors of the Holocaust. They all compared the reality to the myth and they cannot accept it. They want a beautiful Israel that doesn't exist. And they want to punish the ugly Israel."
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS: Writing in Yedioth Ahronoth, Ben-Dror Yemini answers some of the questions that the BDS movement has forced many people – including staunch supporters of Israel – to ask.
"The 'Fighting the Boycott' campaign launched by this newspaper has sparked numerous reactions and questions – some challenging and significant. They attest to the challenges posed by the BDS movement. The questioners are not anti-Semites. A portion of the BDS supporters are falling under the spell of the movement because it purports to be tackling a real problem. Yes, the Muslims and Arabs are killing Arabs and Muslims as a matter of routine, far more – and it's only intensifying. But the focus on Israel, some critics of the country argue, stems from the fact that Israel is a democracy. There are other questions and issues too – concerning the occupation, human rights, the settlements, the blockade, and more. Look, says the man on the fence to himself, the occupation has been around for decades, and there's no peace and no hope. So perhaps the non-violent approach offered by the boycott campaign is in fact the right way?
Let's try to answer some of these questions – because they represent the questions of many a good man and woman who are being sucked into the rhetoric of the BDS campaign not out of hatred for Israel or anti-Semitism, but because they truly believe in human rights, non-violence and fixing the world. They deserve answers.
Perhaps the problem is the occupation and not the BDS campaign?
This appears to be the most widespread argument among those who understand, explain and justify the boycott. Omar Barghouti, a leader of the BDS campaign, was once asked: Will an end to the occupation also bring an end to the campaign? 'No,' he replied bluntly. More importantly, the BDS campaign wasn't suspended even for a moment when Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni spoke for Israel. They actually wanted to end the occupation. It didn't work out for them.
Would an agreement with the Palestinians silence the BDS movement?
On the contrary. The initiators and leaders of the campaign are opposed to a peace settlement based on two states for two peoples. Their guiding principle is the so-called right of return, which would mean an end to Israel; and one of their main slogans reads: 'From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.' We need to find a compromise, and we need to fight for a settlement and peace – and that's exactly why we also need to oppose the boycott campaign.
Perhaps the BDS campaign is intensifying because Israel has rejected the peace proposals?
In early 2001, Yasser Arafat went to the White House and turned down Clinton's peace proposal. In 2008, Mahmoud Abbas rejected a similar proposal from Ehud Olmert. In March 2014, Abbas again said no – this time, to a proposal drafted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Thus, even if the lie about Israeli rejectionism is repeated a thousand times, it still remains a lie.
Perhaps the fact that Israel continues to build settlements is proof that it doesn't want peace?
The settlement enterprise is the focus of intense public debate within Israel. Not every piece of criticism aimed at Israel is demonization; and criticism of the settlement enterprise is certainly not demonization. In any event, the construction in the West Bank, for the most part, is taking place inside the existing settlement blocs, which even under Clinton's proposal will remain in Israeli hands. Justified criticism is one thing, but support for BDS is a different story altogether.
Perhaps it's worth trying the non-violent BDS approach in light of the failed diplomatic efforts and armed struggles?
A campaign led by people who deny Israel's right to exist cannot hide under a blanket of 'a non-violent campaign.' Negating Israel's right to exist is 'politicide,' political annihilation, a blatant violation of international law. We're not dealing with a fight for rights, but a fight rather to single out and deny one particular nation's right to self-determination.
Perhaps international pressure is a legitimate means to achieve political goals?
International pressure is a legitimate tool. Therefore, and as unpleasant as it may be, the European Union has every right to pressure Israel regarding the settlements, to mark products and the like. But don't get things mixed up. There's a big difference between international pressure designed to promote a peace settlement and the BDS campaign, the stated aim of which is to oppose any peace arrangement based on two states for two peoples.
Just because Iran and North Korea violate human rights, does that mean Israel can do so too?
Violating human rights is unjust, regardless of the national or religious identity of the state. The problem is that while dozens of countries are involved in conflicts and human rights violations, an international campaign is waged almost exclusively against just one country – Israel. Hypocrisy isn't morality. Double standards aren't standards. The criticism aimed against Israel isn't criticism; it's racism.
And what about the blockade on Gaza?
Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip. It didn't want a blockade. The blockade is not against the residents of the Strip; it's against the supreme effort on the part of Hamas to acquire weapons. A flourishing and prosperous Gaza Strip is in Israel's interests. The BDS movement and Hamas have other interests at heart.
There are many more questions; and some of the claims against Israel are indeed justified. Feel free to ask anything you like. The dialogue has just begun. To be continued."
THE DOOR'S STILL OPEN: Writing in Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit says that it is not too late for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to rescue his relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama.
"Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu instructed his ministers not to respond to the polite but damning comments that U.S. President Barack Obama made during his interview with Ilana Dayan. According to one of Dayan's colleagues at Channel 2, the reason he told them to remain silent is that Obama's comments had very little impact. That's one interpretation. But I believe that Netanyahu recognized that, for the first time, the massive gulf between him and the U.S. president manifested itself in the latter saying outright that he doesn't believe the former. This is unprecedented, and Netanyahu does not want to get into another argument over issues of trust.
The lack of faith between Obama and Netanyahu could mean that the American leader gives the green light to a French resolution which would embarrass Israel in the United Nations Security Council and which could end up at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. But if Netanyahu had the courage and if he was not afraid of his coalition partners, he could – at the expense of a few uncomfortable days in the media – rectify the situation.
The Americans know that Netanyahu's concerns about the Iranian nuclear deal are reasonable. They want to compensate Israel in order to bury the hatchet. It may be unpleasant for him, but – even if it means alienating and upsetting his coalition partners and his rivals in the Likud – Netanyahu must accept this peace offering. Literally: he must travel to Washington, meet with Obama and graciously accept the compensation that the Americans are willing to pay in exchange for him lowering the tone of his anti-Iran deal campaign. In any case, the outcome of the negotiations between the six world powers and Iran is not up to Netanyahu. He must reach some understanding with the White House, which includes an American message to Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas that there can be no alternatives to direct negotiations: not the Security Council, not The Hague and not FIFA.
Obama said some harsh things about Netanyahu and to Netanyahu. But he has not slammed the door to the White House in his face."
WHERE ARE THE HEROES?: Writing in Globes, Mati Golan urges Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to go on the offensive and show the world the truth about the Palestinians – rather than react too late to the BDS campaign.
"Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said this week that, 'Israel will not stand idly by while an organization that is dedicated to blackening the name of IDF soldiers operates on the international stage and does grave damage to the honor of the country.'
What exactly does Hotovely plan to do to 'Breaking the Silence,' the organization at which her terrifying threat was directed? The answer: she will use the full force of the Foreign Ministry to act against the group. Wow. All of the Foreign Ministry? Did her predecessor, Avigdor Lieberman, even leave behind anyone who can do something?
When will the people of Israel recognize that, when a right-wing government says that it will act, it will do and it will struggle, it almost always means that it will respond after the fact to some offense? Remember how, just a year ago, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his colleagues threatened to wipe Hamas off the map in Gaza? If speeches were weapons, Hamas would have been eradicated long ago. We know that didn't happen and isn't happening today. These right-wing heroes didn't even initiate last summer's war – they merely responded to Hamas' rocket attacks.
Our right-wing heroes need to stop being so defensive in the face of those who seek to delegitimize Israel and who portray us as a cruel occupier. Instead, they must start showing the world the root cause of the conflict, the rejection by the Palestinians and the Arabs of the United Nations partition plan and the peace proposals that Israel has made over the years. They must use solid facts to show that the Palestinians are rejecting peace and that their goal is nothing short of ending Israel's existence. Any time that Palestinians and their supporters hold a rally and shout 'Free Palestine,' there should be a group of Israelis and their supporters answering with shouts of 'Free Israel' – from terror, from boycotts, from besmirching and from lies. They must show the world clearly that these 'peace-loving' Palestinians inculcate in their children a hatred of Israel and a desire to destroy the Jewish state. They need to show to the international community that all of this – the hatred of Israel and the refusal to live in peace – did not start with the 'occupation,' but long before Israel was even established. When the Arabs rioted in Hebron in 1928, there was no occupation and no Israel. Why don't we tell that to the world, instead of whining about how right we are?
Have we played some role in creating this situation? Obviously. But the impression that people overseas are getting is that the Palestinians want peace, they are an oppressed people and we don't want to give them a state. That isn't true. It's certainly not the whole truth. Doesn't Netanyahu know that the best form of defense is attack, not a threat of attack? Didn't they teach you that in your elite IDF unit? So why are you being so defensive all the time? Instead of shutting down art exhibitions, why not try to organize some long-term and broad campaign to show the world the truth about the Palestinians and their incitement?
Sometimes I feel like I am wasting my breath. Who am I talking to? At this critical time for Israel's foreign relations, our prime minister appointed someone like Hotovely to run the most important diplomatic campaign in Israeli history? Hotovely? Seriously?"
OBAMA'S KID-GLOVE ULTIMATUM: Writing in Haaretz, Yoel Marcus says that U.S. President Barack Obama is not pushing Israel to do what the United States wants – but what Israel must do for its own good.
"Can I tell you something? Watching the interview with President Obama on TV Channel 2’s 'Uvda' ('Fact') magazine filled me with envy. Why don’t we have leaders like that, without tricks and gimmicks, ones who present their core beliefs without waving around silly diagrams and illustrations? How soothing it was to listen to a leader who doesn’t trigger an anxiety attack after every sentence he utters, by imparting a feeling that our end is nigh.
He didn’t even look like French President Charles De Gaulle, who called us 'our friend and ally,' yet imposed an arms embargo on the eve of the 1967 war. With one stroke he broke off the wonderful friendship we were so sure was there for eternity, sending us straight into the bosom of the 'Orient.' How could we not understand that the 'Orient' for French diplomacy was always biased toward the Arab world?
When asked by his interviewer Ilana Dayan whether he holds a grudge against Bibi, especially after his shameful conduct in deciding to appear before the United States Congress, he hesitated for a few seconds. It was clear that if he is angry, he would not express it during that interview. 'Imagine if I came before the Knesset without an invitation and negotiated with the Labor Party and its leader.' Then he paused, smiled and moved on. 'I understand you’re not a hugger,' Dayan suggested helpfully.
The president was unwilling to retract positive words he had said about Netanyahu in the early stages of the latter’s term. He was willing to add a few statements that every Israeli should take to heart and internalize: The issue is not what America wants but what Israel must do for its own good; the issue is who is acting in a way that will make Israel secure; I was there when Israel’s security was on the line; I have to tell the truth as I see it; there is a politics of trust and one of intimidation. He added another important point: I’m appealing to the Israeli public. In other words, not to Netanyahu.
Obama is not a back-slapping, chummy kind of team player. Between the lines it was evident that he doesn’t really appreciate being bad-mouthed by Netanyahu in the U.S. He won’t behave as De Gaulle did, telling an enthusiastic million Frenchmen who gathered to welcome him in Algeria that he understood them, only to go ahead and do the opposite of what they wanted, repatriating settlers – excuse me, Frenchmen – to France.
On a personal level, the relations between Bibi and Obama are at an unprecedented nadir. What has transpired in Europe, with its various types of boycott, is gradually creeping into the U.S., starting with isolated pockets of opposition on campuses and continuing with a sharp turn in the attitude of U.S. media toward Israel. This includes professional journals that refuse to publish work by Israeli academics.
We are digging our own pit. The harsher the criticism becomes, the harder it will be to stop it. That’s what it was like in South Africa during the apartheid years. This writer remembers the words of a senior official in the apartheid regime, who said that if South Africa had five million South Africans in the U.S. (the number of Jews there at the time), no one would boycott it. He was wrong, as is anyone else who thinks so. The creeping sanctions against Bibi’s Israel may reach a point at which it is too large even for influential billionaires Haim Saban and Sheldon Adelson.
One can’t rule only on the basis of intimidation – you are a country that was established on a basis of human rights, the president complimented us. He views the neutralization of a nuclear Iran as his greatest task. Let me get this deal done, he said, since it’s a good one. When I finish I’ll return to the peace process here.
That’s what the president is telling us: I’ll get you security in all areas but, my friends; you are losing the world and the values that underpin your independence. It wasn’t difficult to understand – this was a kid-glove ultimatum."
A MATTER OF TRUST: Writing in The Jerusalem Post, Herb Keinon says that U.S. President Barack Obama told Israelis this week that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cares greatly about their security, but that he does as well.
"A video clip from December 4, 1991, is currently making the rounds, showing a younger, darker-haired Binyamin Netanyahu, then the country’s deputy foreign minister, at a press conference in Washington alongside then-ambassador to the U.S. Zalman Shoval. It was just after the Madrid Conference, and in the midst of the intense procedural jockeying taking place before the start of bilateral talks between Israel and Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinians.
This was nearly 24 years ago, before YouTube was born, when there were only 1 million Internet users, when Silence of the Lambs was a new hit movie, the airbag was just invented and Boris Yeltsin ruled Russia. Yet the relevance of what Netanyahu said back then is astounding in the context of the diplomatic jockeying taking place today.
Fast-forward to Wednesday, and a meeting Prime Minister Netanyahu held with New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully in Jerusalem. 'The main thing we have learned is that peace is achieved, as we did with Jordan and with Egypt, through direct negotiations between parties, and not by fiat – it just doesn’t work that way. I hope it works, but it has to work through direct negotiations.' Twenty-four years later, and Netanyahu is using the same argument – even the same words – to try and deflect the same thing: efforts to impose an agreement on Israel.
Netanyahu made his comments to McCully not because New Zealand is a diplomatic heavyweight, but rather because it is punching above its weight these days as a member of the UN Security Council (it will assume the rotating presidency of the council next month). It is also, according to reports, working together with France on a proposal that will be brought to the UN Security Council before September, to enshrine in a UN resolution the parameters of a two-state solution, and set a deadline for the establishment of a Palestinian state and an Israeli withdrawal from the territories.
Israel is adamantly opposed to the move, concerned the resolution will give the Palestinians what they want – a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 borders with mutually agreed land swaps and a capital in east Jerusalem – without spelling out any of the concessions the Palestinians will need to make regarding Israel’s security issues or their demand for a right of return for refugees. In other words, Israel is concerned this is just the newest incarnation of an oft-tried attempt to impose a solution from the outside.
Netanyahu’s most recent comments against the idea came at the top of a meeting with McCully, but they could have just as easily been said in response to U.S. President Barack Obama’s sit-down Tuesday night on Channel 2. Netanyahu was careful this week not to respond directly or get into a tit-for-tat with Obama over the interview – an interview at times very critical of him and his policies.
Tuesday’s interview was part of a concerted effort by the president over the last few weeks to assuage Jewish and Israeli fears over the impending Iran deal and U.S. Mideast policy. Prior to that, he gave an interview to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that dealt heavily with Israel and Jews, and delivered a speech a few days later to the Adas Israel Synagogue in Washington.
In the Channel 2 conversation, Obama was tellingly noncommittal regarding how the U.S. would react to moves at the UN. He stressed that when it comes to the 'most important thing' the U.S. provides Israel – security, military and intelligence assistance – those elements were sacrosanct and not 'conditioned on any particular policy.' Yet regarding the UN, he said that 'up until this point, we have pushed away against European efforts, for example, or other efforts, because we’ve said that the only way this gets resolved is if the two parties work together.'
But now, he stated, it is becoming more challenging to do so, because Israel does not seem committed to a two-state solution. 'If, in fact, there’s no prospect of an actual peace process, if nobody believes there’s a peace process, then it becomes more difficult to argue with those who are concerned about settlement construction, those who are concerned about the current situation. It’s more difficult for me to say to them, be patient and wait because we have a process here; because all they need to do is to point to the statements that have been made saying there is no process.'
This interview, taken together with The Atlantic piece and Obama’s synagogue speech, help create an impression that Obama is placing the preponderance of the onus for the failure on Israel and Netanyahu – who he indicated was playing 'the politics of fear.' Even perhaps without intending to do so, the impression one could reasonably take away is that Israel is limiting opportunities for Palestinians because of the color of their skin or the nature of their faith, and not because of anything the Palestinians have done – either through maximalist demands or violence.
That impression will lead many Israelis to conclude that Obama is not being fair with them or their reality, an impression borne out in poll after poll. But why is that important? Why should the U.S. president really care whether Israelis think he is being fair? Because in the same breath, in the same interview, he is asking them to trust him – to trust him regarding the Palestinians, and trust him regarding Iran.
Regarding the Palestinians, Obama maintained he has never suggested that 'Israel should ever trade away its security for the prospect of peace.' In fact, he emphasized that in the heat of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s negotiations in 2013-2014, he sent over top U.S. military advisers and asked Jerusalem what it needed to protect itself against 'the worst-case scenario.'
'And the truth is,' he said, 'we have ways we could deal with issues like the Jordan Valley. ‘The problem, however, is that Netanyahu and his military advisers don’t think that in the current, uncertain Middle East, those ways are sufficient. As he said last week in a briefing with Israeli journalists, Israel will need to retain a security presence under any agreement throughout the entire West Bank. Not only along the Jordan River, to prevent arms smuggling from Jordan, but throughout Judea and Samaria – to keep tunnels from being built into Israel, or rocket manufacturing facilities from sprouting up in Nablus and Jenin, like they have in Gaza.
As far as Tehran is concerned, Obama said Netanyahu 'cares very much about the security of the Israeli people, and I think that in his mind, he is doing what’s right.' He then added, 'I care very much about the people of Israel as well, and in my mind, it is very much in Israel’s interest to make sure that Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. And I can, I think, demonstrate – not based on any hope, but on facts and evidence and analysis – that the best way to prevent Iran from having a nuclear weapon is a verifiable, tough agreement.'
Both Netanyahu and Obama want to prevent Iran from getting a bomb. The difference and the problem is that while Obama feels his path will do just that, Netanyahu believes it will have the opposite effect.
The American president has, over the last few weeks, articulated abundant empathy and sympathy and respect and appreciation for Israel, Jews and his interpretation of core Jewish values. But by being perceived as placing most of the onus for the status quo on Netanyahu, and creating a construct that if only the prime minister would do more, then there would be peace, Obama is – as he did in 2009 – misreading an Israeli public that just recently went to the polls and made it clear it doesn’t see Netanyahu as primarily responsible for the moribund diplomatic situation.
This connects to the Iranian issue in that Obama – by saying that he, like Netanyahu, cares greatly about the people of Israel and has concluded that the current, negotiated path is better for Israel’s security – is essentially asking Israelis to choose who they trust more."
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