On the day when Israel’s ambassador, Michael Oren, met formally with J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami for the first time, the right-wing leadership of what has come to be known as the “Israel Lobby” expressed genuine alarm that the administration of President Barack Obama may be prepared to exert serious pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to revive and impart momentum to the long-moribund “peace process.”
That alarm appears based, at least most immediately, on last month’s contretemps over Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and Netanyahu’s apparent failure so far to meet minimal U.S. demands for a number of commitments which the administration thinks would actually get its proposed “proximity talks” with the Palestinians underway. That was evident in the anguished full-page ad taken out by the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and its president, Netanyahu buddy Ron Lauder, in Thursday’s edition of the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. The ad, which takes the form of an open letter to Obama, speaks of the “dramatic deterioration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Israel” and suggests that Washington’s current strategy — “Is it assumed worsening relations with Israel can improve relations with Muslims?” asks Lauder — amounts to “appeasement.” It was interesting to note that Lauder told the New York Times that he “discussed the letter with Mr. Netanyahu and received his support before taking out the ad.”
The Times article that cited Lauder’s words was the latest — and most definitive — in a recent series of stories published over the past ten days indicating that Obama himself is running out of patience with Netanyahu and may increasingly be inclined to put forward his own peace plan if Israel proves unwilling to make serious concessions on settlements in East Jerusalem and related issues in the coming months.
But, while settlements and related issues are obviously key catalysts for the ongoing crisis, the deeper issue — about which the Israel Lobby is most concerned — is the taboo but self-evident notion that U.S. and Israeli interests in the Greater Middle East may not be precisely the same and that, in reality, Israeli policies toward Palestinians and the wider Arab world may actually be undermining Washington’s strategic position in the region. That indeed was the notion elaborated by Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, who led Thursday’s article with the assertion that there has been a “far-reaching shift in how the United States views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Noting Obama’s reference during his press conference concluding this week’s Nuclear Summit to resolving the conflict as a “vital national security interest of the United States,” the two reporters went on:
“Mr. Obama said conflicts like the one in the Middle East ended up ‘costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure’ — drawing an explicit link between the Israeli-Palestinian strife and the safety of American soldiers as they battle Islamic extremism and terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Mr. Obama’s words reverberated through diplomatic circles in large part because they echoed those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent Congressional testimony, the general said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States. He has denied reports that he was suggesting that soldiers were being put in harm’s way by American support for Israel.
But the impasse in negotiations ‘does create an environment,’ he said Tuesday in a speech in Washington. ‘It does contribute, if you will, to the overall environment within which we operate.'”
This article, in turn, appears to have put Abraham Foxman, the long-standing director of the Anti-Defamation League and pillar of the Lobby leadership, into something of a lather for the second time in less than a month. Thursday afternoon, he put out the following statement:
“The significant shift in U.S. policy toward Israel and the peace process, which has been evident in comments from various members of the Obama Administration and has now been confirmed by the president himself in his press conference at the Nuclear Security Summit, is deeply distressing. Saying that the absence of a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict undermines U.S. interests in the broader Middle East and the larger issue of resolving other conflicts is a faulty strategy. It is an incorrect approach on which to base America’s foreign policy in the Middle East and its relationship with its longtime friend and ally, Israel.
ADL has long expressed its concern from the very beginning of the Obama Administration about advisers to the president who see the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major impediment to achieving the administration’s foreign policy and military goals in the wider region. The net effect of this dangerous thinking is to shift responsibility for success of American foreign policy away from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and directly onto Israel. It is particularly disturbing in light of the blatantly disproportionate number and the nature of statements issued by this administration criticizing Israel as compared to what has been said about the Palestinians.”
The best way to move the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians forward is for all parties to demand that the Palestinians abandon their tactic of “just saying no” and insist that the rest of the Arab world move toward normalization [sic] relations with Israel.
So we now have Ronald Lauder, speaking on behalf the World Jewish Congress and presumably with Netanyahu’s clearance, hurling the poisonous word “appeasement” at Obama, and a “deeply distressed” Abe Foxman — intemperately, in my opinion — confirming the actual existence of a “significant shift in U.S. policy toward Israel and the peace process” and dismissing any notion that the persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may negatively affect U.S. security interests in the larger region as “Israeli and U.S. security interests are not identical as “faulty,” “incorrect,” and “dangerous.” This comes after similar letters and statements — although not quite so strong or confrontational as Lauder’s and Foxman’s — by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last month.
Yet, as M.J. Rosenberg pointed out on his excellent Media Matters blog today, “a clear majority of the American Jewish community supports the Obama approach to U.S.-Israel relations, with only 37% disapproving,” according to a recent poll (conducted during the contentious month of March) by the American Jewish Committee.
It’s pretty clear that the right-wing leadership of the organized Jewish community believes that a major crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations — perhaps the most important in 35 years, as Amb. Oren himself reportedly warned (and then unconvincingly denied) last month — is really upon us.