Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Myth: Obama has no way forward on Mideast peace; his efforts have collapsed and are bound to fail. (Republican Jewish Coalition, Barry Rubin).

The Facts: President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have reached a breakthrough agreement on new terms for renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a basis which is likely to be acceptable to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Steven J. Rosen reports in the “Mideast Peace Deal You Haven’t Heard About,” Foreign Policy, Dec. 19, 2009:

"Now, below the radar, Netanyahu is making a series of additional concessions to Barack Obama and his Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell. Their current priority is negotiating 'terms of reference' to permit the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (TORs in negotiators' vernacular). Dismissed by some as mere 'talking about talking,' TORs are in fact vital elements to create the parameters for serious negotiations….

"Mitchell's challenge today is to define such a framework that can bridge differences between Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas. Defying skeptics who say you can bridge a river but not an ocean, Mitchell keeps going at it, and his perseverance is paying off. While no one was watching, Netanyahu has in fact agreed to language that Mitchell can accept. With the Israeli agreement in his pocket, Mitchell is now working to bring Abbas around, according to sources close to the discussions.

"…Netanyahu has accepted a solution based on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's formulation: 'an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.'"

The breakthrough is in Netanyahu's acceptance of the Clinton formula, which represents a recognition of the principle that Israel will ultimately have to withdraw from the West Bank, with agreed land swaps enabling Israel to retain what it defines as "settlement blocs."

Netanyahu met with Egyptian president Mubarak this week to present the agreements he has reached with the Obama administration to renew peace talks with the Palestinians, and is reported to have asked for Mubarak's help in swaying Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to move forward with negotiations.

For more on the terms of the agreement, see “Netanyahu: No more excuses - time is ripe for Mideast peace,” Ha’aretz, Dec. 28, 2009

And for insightful commentary see Moshe Yaroni, “A Most Unlikely Source of Hope,” Zeek:

“…if Mitchell has been able to establish a framework for the talks and if the Obama Administration, now that the healthcare reform battle seems largely over, is ready to take an active role in the talks that come out of this, there is a real chance something could happen.

"To be sure, the issues themselves remain thorny and none of this addresses the issue of Gaza and the split among the Palestinians. Still, given the events of the past year, if serious talks in a realistic framework begin, that is a major step forward and would go a long way to restoring both the credibility of Barack Obama on this issue and rekindling the hope he campaigned on.”

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Will new negotiations under Obama's leadership result in the emergence of a Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have brought about important security and economic achievements in the West Bank over the last two years in close cooperation with Israel and the U.S.

Three-time Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times foreign affairs correspondent Thomas Friedman reports that:

“…[F]or the first time since Oslo, there is an economic-security dynamic emerging on the ground in the West Bank that has the potential…to give the post-Yasir Arafat Palestinians another chance to build the sort of self-governing authority, army and economy that are prerequisites for securing their own independent state. A Palestinian peace partner for Israel may be taking shape again. The key to this rebirth was the recruitment, training and deployment of four battalions of new Palestinian National Security Forces — a move spearheaded by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority.”[1]

Israeli columnist Ari Shavit reports in Ha’aretz that:

“The quiet [in the West Bank] is maintained by unprecedented cooperation between the IDF and the five Palestinian security branches. The coordination among the branches, and between them and the Palestinian Authority and Israel, has never been so close. Unlike the Oslo era, this time there is no whitewashing, overlooking and pretending. There are no revolving doors. Two Israeli field commanders…and five Palestinian field operators have achieved a security miracle in the West Bank…[T]he overwhelming majority in the West Bank [has] finally started functioning as a secular-pragmatic public. Many Palestinians [have] stopped acting and thinking as victims. Under Fayyad’s leadership they have taken their fate into their own hands and started building their future.”[2]

Friedman concludes: “The only way the Palestinian leadership running this show can maintain its legitimacy is if it is eventually given political authority, not just policing powers, over the West Bank – or at least a map that indicates they are on a pathway there. America must nurture this virtuous cycle: more money to train credible Palestinian troops, more encouragement for Israel’s risk-taking in eliminating checkpoints, more Palestinian economic growth and quicker negotiations on the contours of a Palestinian state in the West Bank…”

Shavit concurs: “If U.S. special envoy George Mitchell develops a creative peace plan for his president, it may be possible to avoid past mistakes. This new plan must be based on Fayyad and his way. It must bring the Palestinians closer to a state in a decisive but realistic way…it must establish a practical dynamic of hope. Obama’s challenge this autumn is to give the West Bank revolution a peace horizon…”

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[1] Thomas Freidman, “Green Shoots in Palestine II,” The New York Times, August 9, 2009.

[2] Ari Shavit, “A Peace Horizon,” Ha’aretz, August 20, 2009.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Myth: Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and his diplomacy with Iran and the Arabs, show that he won the prize for appeasement. Nonsense!

President Obama’s speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10th in Oslo, “A Just and Lasting Peace,”[1] has prompted a new wave of smear emails, blog posts and TV punditry claiming that Obama won the prize for a “policy of abject capitulation to our enemies” (Erick Erickson, Wayne Simmons), weakening and neutering the U.S. (Rush Limbaugh, Barry Rubin). “Obama is reaching out his open hand to the Islamic radicals in disregard of how many times they slap it away,” charges Simmons. “Today, Barack Obama, giving a pallid imitation of a President, has chosen to appease our enemies around the world in his misguided effort to mollify those that would kill us.”[2]

Charles Krauthammer mocks Obama’s belief in diplomacy with Iran combined with sanctions as based on “nonsense,” while John Bolton panned Obama’s speech as “filled with misconceptions about everything from human nature to the US role in the world.” Barry Rubin says that “Obama sounded like a Winston Churchill impersonator reading a speech written by Neville Chamberlain....In Afghanistan as with almost every other international issue, the Obama Administration takes pride in being weak, refusing to face up to confrontations, rejecting pressure, always seeing the other (enemy) guy’s point of view, and seeking consensus as the highest priority. This Administration doesn’t understand the use of threats, leverage, credibility, and deterrence in international relations. It has only one gear in its policy: be nice and hope the other side will reciprocate.”

Now, as when the Nobel award was announced, Obama’s critics have accused him of following a Chamberlain-like “pacifist agenda” by engaging in Middle East diplomacy (Dennis Prager and the Republican Jewish Coalition).
[4] “Perhaps they should change the award's name to the Neville rather than the Nobel,” the critics sneer, implying that all negotiations are like Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, and all countries in conflict with the US or Israel are like Nazi Germany, requiring the same response: preventive war.

But a reality check shows that it’s Obama’s critics who are spinning fictions, recklessly substituting dogma for facts.

1. In fact, negotiating with repressive governments has often enhanced U.S. and Israeli national security. Engagement with “rogue” regimes has been used effectively by American presidents, Republican and Democrat. As Obama explained in his Nobel acceptance speech:

“In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable -- and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There's no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

What’s more, the Clinton administration brokered peace accords in Northern Ireland, where one side, the IRA and Sinn Fein, had supported or engaged in terrorism against Britain, and in Bosnia, where Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic led a genocidal regime. The Bush administration successfully arranged the elimination of Libya’s weapons of mass destruction.

With President Carter’s help, Israel negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, the largest Arab country, ending a cycle of multi-front Arab-Israeli wars which had plagued the Jewish state during its first 25 years. The Egyptian-Israeli treaty has saved thousands of Israeli, and Arab, lives, freeing the Israel Defense Forces to focus its resources on defending Israel from other threats. Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan has bolstered its security on its long eastern frontier. Israeli Military Intelligence and the IDF top brass support peace talks with Syria,[5] and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican originally appointed by Bush, has long favored direct U.S. talks with Iran combined with sanctions.

Negotiating with Iran: At the same time, Iran's leadership may be too fractured by internal power struggles at this point to conclude a negotiated deal on the nuclear issue. Ahmadinejad is reported to have favored the Geneva deal proposed by the U.S. and other major powers which would send most of Iran's low-enriched uranium to Russia, and then France, where it would be converted into fuel rods to power an Iranian medical reactor. This would buy the international community about a year during which Iran would no longer have enough nuclear fuel to make a nuclear weapon, allowing time to work out a broader agreement putting in place a robust regime of intrusive inspections, monitoring and safeguards to prevent Iran from weaponizing its low-enriched uranium in future. But Ahmadinejad's political enemies within the regime opposed the deal, eager to undermine his credibility and legitimacy.

This is "the first time that real power brokers [in Iran] are divided, and that is something Obama has achieved with the Geneva deal much more so than street protests..." noted one Washington-based Iran expert speaking to the New York Times. For now, negotiations may serve to better unite the international community around new sanctions against Iran - by showing that the US and its partners have, unlike Bush, genuinely pursued diplomatic talks - and help to exacerbate divisions within the Iranian regime. But the talks are also laying the basis for a future agreement which could ultimately bring about detente with Iran, significantly reducing its potential to threaten Israel's security and that of our Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. (Michael Slackman, "Hard-Line Rise in Iran Alters View of Nuclear Ambition," The New York Times, Dec. 25, 2009)

2. Myth: Sanctions can stop Iran's nuclear weapons program without negotiations; sanctions without diplomacy worked with Rhodesia. (Charles Krauthammer)

Fact: Krauthammer attacks Obama’s Mideast diplomacy with outright falsehoods: Requesting comment from Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, Fox TV News played a segment of Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech defending the need for combining diplomacy with sanctions in dealing with countries like Iran:

"The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.”

Krauthammer responded[6]:

“The premise here, the idea that sanctions without engagement is useless, that’s nonsense. We had sanctions against Rhodesia in the 70's. There was no engagement and it worked. The Rhodesians in the end gave up. Obama's trying to explain why he's pursuing sanctions on Iran but he's got this open hand, these negotiations which are endless in which he's being played for the fool by the Iranians. They have rejected one offer after another. So he's trying to explain it away.”

But Krauthammer's claim that sanctions worked without engagement against Rhodesia is a gross distortion. In fact, the white minority Rhodesian government surrendered power because it also faced military defeat in the “Bush war” waged by the Zimbabwe African National Union. Krauthammer neglects to tell us that it took war combined with diplomatic isolation and sanctions which brought Rhodesia to the point of economic collapse. Is this what Krauthammer really proposes for the US, Israel and international community in dealing with Iran: sanctions, which are unlikely to be as effective against Iran as they were against Rhodesia, and a preventive war against Iran?

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3. Pursuing direct talks with potential adversaries as a first resort isn’t pacifism, as Prager charges. Pacifism is opposition to war under all circumstances. Obama is no pacifist; he has always recognized that military force is sometimes necessary and just. “In his 2002 speech opposing an invasion of Iraq he emphasized that he was only against ‘dumb war.’”[7] He has backed Israel’s right to retaliate against rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon and Gaza. But unlike many of his bellicose critics, who fervently believe that the most aggressive military response is always the right answer, Obama holds that military force should be used selectively, smartly and judiciously – and only when morally justified as “a last resort or in self-defense, when the force used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”

4. William Kristol goes so far as to suggest that Obama’s defense in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech of just war – that force under certain circumstances is necessary and morally justified, against Nazism and now Al Qaeda – is tantamount to embracing the “conservative” belief in the primacy of war in foreign relations, including Bush’s doctrine of preventive war, as in the US attack on Iraq.[8] Now that’s really nonsense: preventive wars of choice like Iraq are not just, and Obama has always rejected them. The notion that some wars are necessary and right isn’t conservatism; it’s a philosophy enshrined in international law and in Jewish, Christian and Islamic moral traditions.

5. Who’s naïve about evil? Dennis Prager mocks the left and the Europeans as “naïve about evil” because they believe that “dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts,” as the Nobel Committee put it in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. Prager calls this a “pacifist agenda,” the dogma that “War is not the answer.”

Time for a reality check. In fact, it’s the neoconservative right that has consistently blundered in responding to the threats facing America and our allies. They subscribe to the reckless notion that once we recognize a regime as tyrannical, we automatically know what our response must be – sanctions and isolation, then war and regime change, avoiding all diplomatic efforts to modify its behavior. They would embroil the U.S. and Israel in endless war. Americans now widely recognize that the Iraq war was a strategic blunder which strengthened Iran, trading Saddam, Iran’s main adversary, for a pro-Iranian Shiite regime. The American invasion and occupation of Iraq were a gift to Al Qaeda, helping to “spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism” and worsening the global terrorist threat, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.[9]

Hitler and Nazi Germany are irrelevant to many of the security challenges Israel and U.S. face today. The world isn’t stuck in 1933, in an endless loop.

President Obama’s commitment to engagement has given Americans and people the world over new hope for a more peaceful and secure world.[10] In presenting the award to Obama yesterday, “Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland argued that Obama has already changed the temperature in the international climate since he was sworn in in January, simply by insisting on negotiations and diplomacy first. The committee didn't want to wait to voice its support for Obama's ideals, Jagland said, suggesting the award will help the president achieve his goals. ‘It is now, today, [that] we have the opportunity to support President Obama's ideas,’ said Jagland. ‘This year's prize is a call to action for all of us.’”[11]

Help us help President Obama fight back and get the truth out to the American Jewish community and the wider American public.


[1]"Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize," Oslo, December 10, 2009
[2]Wayne Simmons, “Cheerleader in Chief,” Human Events, December 10, 2009
[3]Barry Rubin, “Let’s Get Real: Obama’s Foreign Policy is Failing; Time to Wake Up, Change Course, and Do It Right,” The Rubin Report, December 10, 2009
[4]Republican Jewish Coalition email, October 15, 2009, Dennis Prager, “Why President Obama Was Awarded the Nobel Prize,” Townhall.com, October 13, 2009
[5]"Head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Research Division supports Obama’s approach to Syria," ObamaSmearBusters
[6]“Happening Now,” John Scott, anchor, Fox TV News, December 10, 2009
[7]Michael Powell, “Tracing the Disparate Threads In Obama's Political Philosophy,” The New York Times, August 25, 2008
[8]William Kristol, “Plus ca change,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2009
[9]Mark Mazzetti, “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” The New York Times, September 24, 2006
[10]“The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 Press Release,” October 9, 2009; “Building a World that Gives Life to the Promise of Our Founding Documents,” WhiteHouse.gov, October 9, 2009
[11]Christi Parsons, “Obama accepts Nobel Peace Prize as he defends the need for war,” The Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Myth: Obama is bad for Israel. Not a chance.

"Setting the record straight: Obama deserves praise, not denigration, for commitment to Israel’s security," says Yitzhak Benhorin, YNET 's US correspondent, and

In "U.S.-Israeli Arms Cooperation Quietly Growing" (Forward, Dec. 25, 2009), Nathan Guttman reports that “behind the scenes, strategic security relations between the two countries are flourishing. Israeli officials have been singing the praises of President Obama for his willingness to address their defense concerns and for actions taken by his administration to bolster Israel’s qualitative military edge — an edge eroded, according to Israel, during the final year of the George W. Bush presidency."

1. Yitzhak Benhorin, YNET:

Plenty of nonsense had been uttered in Israel in respect to the Obama Administration and its attitude to Israel. This was the case both in baseless articles and in statements attributed to close associations of Prime Minister Netanyahu in the wake of his first meetings with the American president. After the meeting in Washington in May, a senior official in the PM’s plane was said to have uttered a statement about the “idiot who speaks about a two-state solution.” Meanwhile, after the meeting at the sidelines of the UN general assembly in September we saw headlines claiming that Netanyahu was able to stare Obama down.

Foolish Remark

However, our Sports Minister, Limor Livnat, went further than ever. Foolish talk such as “we’ve stumbled upon a terrible administration” was never heard before, and American officials are asking why Obama deserves this.

The time has come to set the record straight and look into what exactly is being done by the current American president for the State of Israel’s sake. Ten months after he entered the White House, we can clearly say that Obama continues to safeguard of all the major interests pertaining to Israel’s security and welfare. He makes sure to maintain its qualitative advantage and preserves the intimate intelligence and security ties.

Israel continues to be at the top of the list of US aid recipients – about $3 billion annually in ongoing defense aid, and further aid beyond it aimed at developing special arms and mostly anti-missile defense systems, topped by the Arrow 3 project. The administration, which cut America’s defense budget, could have undermined its aid to the project and insisted on a US-made missile, yet it did not do it. A terrible president could have also ordered the removal of the American radar system from Israel. This radar can spot a moving baseball 2,000 kilometers away and is being operated by Americans.

Indeed, the current administration has been declaring in every opportunity its obligation to protect the State of Israel’s security, while backing up its words in practice.

President Obama promised Netanyahu to enter tactical and time-limited dialogue with Iran, and assess the move’s success by the end of the year. In practice, Obama is not even waiting for year’s end. At this time, the Americans are pressing on all diplomatic fronts in a bid to advance Iran sanctions. Obama also promised Netanyahu to shift to harsh sanctions and keep the military option on the table, despite pressure by leftist supporters in the US to stop talking about it.

Meanwhile, the president adopted significant steps vis-à-vis the Russians in order to enlist their support to the Iran cause, including a change in priorities in deploying American missiles. It is unclear whether annulling President Bush’s plan to deploy US missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic was made in the framework of a deal with Russia for the sake of the effort against Iran, yet in practice it appears that President Medvedev is cooperating with Obama on the Iranian front.

Part II Obama not the enemy: Current US Administration not free of mistakes, but far from being hostile to Israel, Yitzhak Benhorin, YNET

The Goldstone Report was and still is a grave problem for Israel. Yet from day one, the Obama Administration pointed to the report’s absurdity and made an effort to prevent a UN discussion on the matter. While the US failed on this front, it voted against the anti-Israel decision, engaged in diplomatic efforts to convince other states to object or abstain, and continues to operate behind the scenes in order to prevent the report from being brought before the Security Council. Should the report eventually get there, the US is expected to veto it.

Moreover, despite the importance of the UN in the Obama Administration’s view as part of its foreign policy, in all matters pertaining to Israel he proved that he can act against his own ideology. The Administration embarked on talks ahead of the so-called “Durban II” convention in Geneva, yet the moment the Americans realized they will be unable to prevent an anti-Israeli text, they quit the conference.

When it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians and with the Arabs in General, Obama continues to speak about Israel’s right to defend itself. In his UN speech he stressed that in the framework of implementing the two-state vision, Israel will be a Jewish state, with all this entails in respect to the refugees.

Meanwhile, in his Cairo speech, Obama was the first American president who in the heart of the Arab world spoke about the unbreakable bond between Israel and the US.

The Israeli public does not grasp the extent of Israel’s dependence on the US, and takes the security and intelligence cooperation for granted. But is there any other state that enjoys this kind of cooperation with the US? Is it possible that Limor Livnat is part of our government yet doesn’t know this?

All American Administrations since the Six-Day War, including George W. Bush’s Administration, objected to the settlements and endorsed the two-state solution. As opposed to previous governments, the Obama Administration is serious in its intention to advance this solution, which Israeli governments ranging from Sharon’s to Netanyahu’s current cabinet openly endorsed.

The Obama Administration’s great mistake was to turn the pressure on Israel in respect to a settlement freeze into a public issue. Several weeks passed in Washington before officials there realized the gravity of the mistake. Now, they aspire to get the sides to talk as soon as possible in order to first resolve the issue of borders, which will make the volatile debate over settlement construction irrelevant.

There is one more issue that needs to be figured out: The personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. It is quite clear that we lost the intimacy that Rabin had with Clinton and that Sharon and mostly Olmert had with George W. Bush. The latter two spoke twice a week on occasion, while today there are almost no phone conversations between the leaders.

It is unclear whether this is merely a personal issue, or whether it has to do with Obama’s character; he is not an emotional person, but rather, very methodical. Indeed, it appears that Obama does not develop personal relations with world leaders. Even during British PM Gordon Brown’s visit, headlines in London addressed the dissipation of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the US.

The Obama Administration is not free of mistakes, yet it is far from being the hostile Administration that is being portrayed in Israel.

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2. In addition, Nathan Guttman reports in "U.S.-Israeli Arms Cooperation Quietly Growing," (Forward, Dec. 25, 2009) that “behind the scenes, strategic security relations between the two countries are flourishing.

"Israeli officials have been singing the praises of President Obama for his willingness to address their defense concerns and for actions taken by his administration to bolster Israel’s qualitative military edge — an edge eroded, according to Israel, during the final year of the George W. Bush presidency.

"Among the new initiatives taken by the administration, the Forward has learned, are adjustments in a massive arms deal the Bush administration made with Arab Gulf states in response to Israeli concerns. There have also been upgrades in U.S.-Israeli military cooperation on missile defense. And a deal is expected next year that will see one of the United States’ most advanced fighter jets go to Israel with some of America’s most sensitive new technology.”

Yitzhak Benhorin is Ynet’s correspondent in Washington

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3813307,00.html Published 12/1/09