Monday, May 31, 2010

Flash: Obama Administration Slaps Israel on Verge of Netanyahu Visit

Please be a subscriber. Put your email address in the box, upper right-hand of the page.

We depend on your contributions. Tax-deductible donation through PayPal or credit card: click Donate button, upper-right hand corner of this page. By check: "American Friends of IDC.” “For GLORIA Center” on memo line. Mail: American Friends of IDC, 116 East 16th St., 11th Floor, NY, NY 10003.

By Barry Rubin

One simply cannot overestimate the Obama Administration's capacity for--in the words of one of its top officials--"screwing up the message" especially when it comes to Israel. Mere hours before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Washington, the U.S. government supported the non-binding final statement of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference calling for a nuclear-free Middle East as soon as possible and urging Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and, in effect, to give up its nuclear weapons in the not-distant future.

Iran's nuclear program wasn't mentioned.

According to Yediot Aharnot, Israel's government was "furious" at this reversal of historic U.S. policy in not only failing to prevent the resolution but actually supporting it. The action was "a complete surprise," said Israel's largest newspaper. It  reported that U.S. officials had told Israel's government that the United States would campaign against a resolution singling out Israel and would vote against any resolution that did so.  That promise was broken. The implication is that Netanyahu was not even informed in advance of what was about to happen and that the effect on Israeli interests and U.S.-Israel relations wasn't seriously considered in Washington.  

Haaretz, which represents an Israeli left that would like to be more sympathetic to Obama, angrily stated that Israel had been "sacrificed by the United States on the altar of a successful conference." The main country pushing for this resolution was Egypt.

At about the same time, by the way, Muhammad El-Baradei, the opposition candidate in the Egyptian presidential elections, came out against any sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program. Yet is even the Egyptian government going to be more cooperative and supportive of U.S. policy than it was before because Washington backed its resolution? Of course not.

What was the administration's motive? The belief that treating Israel and Iran "equally" would win support for sanctions against Iran. Really? Who's going to change their vote? This step also emerges from the administration's mania on getting a ban on all nuclear weapons, something which isn't likely to happen.

The action could be explained as a response to immediate needs, to make sure that there was a final resolution and the conference could be termed a success. The U.S. government was unwilling to risk a failure to achieve a final resolution--something that has happened several times before without the roof falling in--by standing firm on the Israel issue. It did say that it "deeply regrets" that Israel is singled out. It seems that the final draft might also mention India, Pakistan, and North Korea.

This justifies the administration's action in its own eyes and shows that one should not exaggerate what it thought was being done. One might add what will happen in future when the Obama Administration doesn't want some conference or negotiation to appear to be a failure and has the option of salvaging it by breaking commitments made to Israel?

All the rationalizations, then, are cold comfort for Israel. Note, for example, the Haaretz reaction quoted above, based on a clear understanding of what has happened. So the signal sent to Israel is once again that this U.S. government is simply not reliable and does not keep its promises. Following on the mistreatment of  Netanyahu during his previous visit to Washington, this behavior now undermines the trip he is making there now at Obama's request.

Is this going to make Israel's government more conducive on taking risks and making concessions on the "peace process," depend on U.S. commitments in exchange for such steps, or try to please a U.S. government that simply doesn't act like a historic ally? Will it make Israelis more favorably inclined toward Obama and get them to urge their government to take more risks and make more concessions to please Washington and to try to make peace with the Palestinians? Of course not. The exact opposite is true.

Will Israel be offered anything by the Obama Administration to compensate for this action? Not at all. And in a bit more than three months with Israel's freeze on construction in settlements will end, the administration will demand that it be renewed despite the fact that the Palestinians have made no concession, the talks have gone nowhere, and the United States has not given anything to Israel for going along with its wishes once more.

Am I exaggerating here? I don't think so. Hasn't this been the Obama government's  record repeatedly? Yes it has.

And when the administration loudly proclaims that it has learned its lesson--last October after Israel agreed to the freeze on construction in existing settlements on the West Bank, or in recent months when the administration acted apologetic after an internal policy review and before the November elections--suddenly it reverts to hostile behavior toward Israel.

Are Americans in general and American Jews in particular going to persist in believing that this administration really does view Israel as a good friend and a close ally? It's hard to believe, though of course many will. Perhaps the next round or the one after that will convince them otherwise.

And here's a final point for people to think about: As the U.S. government proves unreliable and somewhat unfriendly, Israel has all the more need for nuclear weapons so that it can defend itself against Iran and deter Iran from ever launching a nuclear attack. The Obama Administration itself has subverted any belief that Israel can depend on the current U.S. government in that regard.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.