Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TOMORROW11 BLOG - Israel and America – Has the Love Cooled?

(via live Blog Carl-IsraelMatzav).Recently, there have been fissions in this relationship revolving around such issues as the peace process, the settlements and the policy regarding Iran. Are these passing disagreements or are we witness to a worrisome slump in the relationship?

Moderator: Mr. Ethan Bronner (Jerusalem Bureau Chief, The New York Times), Participants: Mr. Elliott Abrams, Ambassador Dr. Martin Indyk, Ambassador Professor Itamar Rabinovich, Former Rep. Robert Wexler and Brig.-Gen. (ret.) Ruth Yaron:

Elliott Abrams says that Obama does not have the view of Israel that Clinton and Bush had. No great love for Israel, but deeper question is relationship between the two societies where there has been remarkably little change.

America has Christians and Europe has former Christians and that's the difference between them. That's who supports Israel. Jewish community keeps getting smaller. Fewer young Jews are Jewish in any meaningful sense.

Democrats much less enthusiastic about Israel but that pre-dates Obama and Netanyahu. Not personal. The left around the world hates Israel.

Ethan Bronner asked Abrams if he's offended by the term 1967 lines. Abrams said that it's only offensive if it's not Israel's policy and it's being imposed on it. That drew some applause.

Martin Indyk says that tension has existed in US-Israel relationship since time immemorial.

Indyk describes Obama's speech as James Baker done over - claims it's nothing new. He says that whether the two sides can find a way to get back to the table is going to be tested now. He refers to September as a train wreck. Israelis have never considered UN cause for concern so why are they panicking now? (Because no one is sure Obama will actually veto). Indyk claims that Obama doesn't want negotiations either because he doesn't believe anything will come of them. Obama afraid he will have to veto, putting him on the wrong side in the Middle East. Indyk thinks that US and Israel will find partnership to relaunch negotiations but not likely they will produce anything.

Itamar Rabinovich  thinks there is a personality conflict between Obama and Netanyahu, which he calls a train wreck. He says that change in the Middle East may not be worse for Israel but it is more difficult. Depends what Israel does with it.

Rabinovich raises linkage issue and infamous Petraeus speech. Does Petraeus believe it or is it what the White House wanted him to say? Obama himself said linkage to Tom Brokaw during campaign and that is a negative in and of itself.

Rabinovich talks about base of support for Israel. He doesn't like what he sees on US campuses - specifically mentions Jewish faculty and students. He says it's a function of where and when Obama went to school.

Robert Wexler says love is still present in US-Israel relationship. He says it's a passionate love affair. He takes issue with Abrams claim that President Obama does not have in his heart the requisite love for Israel. Wexler says he doesn't know what love any President had for Israel, but can judge them on statement, deeds and actions.

Wexler touts security relationship with US-Israel and says that can't happen despite the President of the US.

Wexler says that Obama got Israel into OECD - called every country voting to make sure they would vote for Israel. He thinks that's a fair amount of love.

Regarding last 3-4 weeks - Obama spent his time trying to convince Germany, France and UK not to support unilateral resolution of 'statehood.' As a result, French Foreign Minister wanted peace conference. Abu Mazen said yes, Netanyahu said give me a week, Israel asked US to throw cold water on idea and US did.

Wexler says African-Americans over age 45 have warm feeling for Israel but younger African Americans don't because of different set of formative events. Same with Latino community. Says we have to work on that.

Says young Americans (including Jews) aren't liberal - they're progressive. Gay rights, abortion, etc. are givens. There's a degree of liberal thought that's a given among American Jews that has not necessarily been reflected in Israeli society.

Ruth Yaron says that Israel wants to feel the love. Says that it's not enough to tell me that you're giving me more aid. We want the rest of the world to know. If we don't feel secure with US support we won't take risks. We need to feel we have support (we being Israeli public). That's a huge difference on what we do with the 'Palestinians.'

Where was Obama's love during the Cairo speech? Where was sign of affection? Living in an era where the whole Middle East is changing (and not the way Peres envisioned 15-20 years ago), if there is a gap between Israel and US radical forces could sneak in and this will undermine Israeli public's willingness to make compromises necessary for peace.

This seems to have eluded Barack Obama. He has to make sure that the love is seen Any gap is dangerous for the State of Israel. She draws lots of applause.

Ethan Bronner to ask questions and then let audience ask questions. Bronner said Gazans were concerned that Netanyahu got so much applause. So why doesn't Israel feel the love (he asks Yaron)? Gazans said that US run by Netanyahu and not just leaders - average 'Palestinian' said that. Yaron responds by saying that Obama has to speak to Israeli public and come here. Gets lots of applause. I doubt Obama will take that chance before the elections.

Bronner asks Wexler about Petraeus idea. Wexler says he's uncomfortable with notion that American blood being spilled because of Israel. Bronner says that was a misquote. Wexler says it's unwise. Bronner asks if it's untrue. Wexler says that you can't says that there is no effect. Wexler says that Yaron asks them to show us some love, while Prince Turki says that America is an unabashed Israel lover. How can Turki say what he said and Ruth said what she said and both feel as they do?

Rabinovich picks up point and says Turki was angry at passage in Obama speech that criticized Bahrain. Rabinovich says take out love and introduce intimacy. Rabinovich says there's a way to say yes, US a close friend to Israel, let's see how we can make it to the Palestinians advantage. Rabinovich says that Israelis are nervous because they see how the US treated Egypt.

He says that Netanyahu needs to lay out to Obama what he is willing to do, which is what Sharon and Rabin and others did. Obama has to have Israeli partner who levels with him.

Rabinovich said that what happened in Congress is good. Arabs think time is on their side. The message of the Netanyahu speech and Congress' reaction is that time is not on the Arabs' side.

Bronner asks if problem is policy gaps or if there is something at the core that is troubled. Abrams says that for some people it's both. He says to forget the Europeans but as far as the Democrats are concerned, if Israel only country criticized that has nothing to do with Netanyahu. In Europe there's a fundamental issue of anti-Semitism. But is Democrat problem existence of State of Israel? No, but it goes too far to say that the problem is just the policies.

Abrams said that when Bibi said that we would only keep the blocs - which no Likud Prime Minister has ever said - Obama didn't give him any credit. That's where we're missing the love. Obama attitude is sooner we get rid of Bibi and Likud the better - you can do no right.

Indyk addresses Abrams' point about Bibi Knesset speech about only keeping blocs. Says that Bibi's coalition makes it sound like his concessions aren't concessions. Bibi may have made important statements but they were cloaked in other language that made it sound like he wasn't making concessions at all. Bibi heads coalition that does not support two-state solution. That is not Obama's fault.

Indyk agrees that Obama should have come to Israel and addressed Knesset and said we can't get explanation from anyone who works for him why he won't come. Obama has ignored Israeli public opinion and Israelis can't stand it. Especially since he's chasing the other woman (Palestinians).

The only relationship Obama seems to have that's intimate and close is Russian President. He's not warm and cuddly. No drama. He says Israelis should get over it and that Yaron is describing a neurotic nation (lots of laughs). Israel is already 60 years old and it's time to grow up. Get over whether he loves me or he loves me not. Israel has to find solution to problem with 'Palestinians.' Not acceptable to continue 'occupation.' When Israel solves this problem, it will have the love of President Obama.

Abrams agrees that Obama doesn't have this relationship with anyone else but that doesn't matter because no one is trying to kill or eliminate anyone else. The reason Obama has not come to Israel is that he does not want to come to Israel.

Ruth Yaron says that there is a solid majority of 70% in Israel that supports two-state solution but tapping that majority is difficult because of political system. Says Israeli public is not shifting to the right and that Obama could tap into reservoir by speaking to the public.

Wexler agrees with Indyk, Says Obama agreed to Israeli military presence in Jordan Valley and don't have to leave until demonstrated that 'Palestinians' are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Where's the applause from the Knesset?

Audience question: No one has addressed the questions of Obama putting us in corner by settlement freeze and 1967 line surprises. Does anyone disagree that the President cornered Israel and therefore people believe he doesn't love them.

Rabinovich says that settlement focus was a mistake and that Netanyahu should have made Bar Ilan speech earlier.