Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Get Behind Obama--And Push

Daniel Gordis's op-ed in the this morning's Times leaves one wondering if Israel's brand managers still believe in Oldsmobiles. Only democracy. Settlements may be unwise but. Repressive Arabs coddled. Throw weight behind Netanyhu. Would even Pavlov imagine this kind of bell would cause the dogs to salivate?

On the other hand, Gordis's piece is useful in reflecting the inertia the Obama administration would have to overcome to seize the moment. Obama has been trying a difficult balancing act over the past week, advocating change without getting too far out in front of what the Egyptian protest movement can hope to achieve. What he can do, if he is not going to lose the Arab street for a generation, is signal change by changing the conversation on Palestine.

I wrote about the Olmert-Abbas talks in the hope (hubristic, but there you are) that the climate for the administration could be changed; that if columnists, bloggers, pundits, foreign policy experts,etc., broadly understood how doable a deal was, they would encourage a change of course from the administration and cover Obama's back. I still believe that there is a very narrow window here; that if Obama does not act on Palestine--formulating a plan based on the Olmert-Abbas gaps, and rallying the Quartet and the countries of the OECD to it--not only will young Arabs turn decisively on America, but Abbas will soon be gone, and Jerusalem will blow.

In response, many have written me over the past couple of days expressing their skepticism--their disappointment in the president, and so forth. But surely they miss the point. People like Gordis have framed things for many years. Obama needs others to change the conversation if he is to act.  Instead of expecting him to lead on all things, and complaining when he fails to slay dragons, we ought to be mobilizing, if not on the streets, then in the blogosphere and other media. Obama has many world-historical problems between now and November, 2012.  And other bullies have pulpits.


Larry Rosenwald said...

Bernie, you write, "Instead of expecting [Obama] to lead on all things, and complaining when he fails to slay dragons, we ought to be mobilizing, if not on the streets, then in the blogosphere and other media." Who are "we" here? I - as you know, but others don't - don't live in the blogosphere, I don't have access to other media. What are you asking of those of us who don't have your sort of access? I can publish an op-ed in the _Wellesley Townsman_, but will that op-ed produce any significant movement towards the goal you (and I) seek to attain?
One reason that I at any rate am more sympathetic than you are to boycotts and such is that boycotts and such are activities I can actually participate in.
Apologies for the grumpiness; I value the work you do, more than I can say.

Y. Ben-David said...

I will repeat the three questions that I think beg answers based on the Avishai interviews:
(1) If they were so close to an agreement, why didn't Olmert hold off the war with HAMAS? He could have told his cabinet that was pushing for military action that they were on the verge of an historic peace agreement and a war would put it on ice. Why, I ask?

(2) If they were so close to an agreement, why didn't Abbas, Olmert and Livni call a press conference during the election campaign and tell the voters that an historic agreement was within reach and the people of Israel should vote for KADIMA which was a vote for peace. Why?

(3) If they were so close to an agreement, why wasn't Obama informed and then encouraged to make the final, minimal steps needed for the agreement and then impose it on Israel, telling the people of Israel that peace was here? Instead, Obama wasted his time, energy and political capital on the settlement freeze, something that was TOTALLY SUPERFLUOUS since Avishai, Olmert and Abbas tells us that the settlements, except for Ariel were not an issue any more since they were either going to be plowed under or accepted by the Palestinians. Why, why, why?
If we receive no answer to these questions, the only conclusion I can come to is that someone here is deceiving the public.

Another question:
We see from the Al-Jazeera leaks that Abbas has been excoriated as a traitor to the Palestinian cause, not only by HAMAS and other Arabs, but by the Guardian and even by so-called "Zionists" like Richard Silverstein and MJ Rosenberg ("Abbas gave away everything and received nothing") so could Avishai explain to us why Avishai now thinks he would now make even more concessions so that he can make Avishai and the others who think like him happy while leaving himself open to the charge of being the ultimate betrayer of the Palestinian and Arab cause?

A final question: According to the grotesque scenario that Olmert cooked up in order to convince everyone that the world really wants Avishai's peace plan, in which EVERYONE who is ANYONE is going to come to some gigantic international powpow to order the wogs (i.e. the Israelis and Palestinians) to do as they are told and accept the Avishai-Obama plan, how exactly are the Arab players going to be persuaded to come and show up and pressure the Palestinians to carry out a sell-out of the Arab cause, against their will?..remember, the "Arab street" is a lot more powerful now and the Arab street is not pushing for more concessions to Israel.

Potter said...

A big push!!

I read the Gordis article this AM and shook my head--unbelievable!

I think the anti-Obama vibes, the disappointment, starting to come from the the street protest in Egypt and possibly elsewhere will actually make a dent in Obama more than, say, any voices here particularly from the left to which Obama seems to have an allergic reaction... sorry to say. This includes the blogosphere and whatever other media might also join in. If he needs bolstering, it would have to come from centrists -- Tom Friedman is doing his bit ( I think). Maybe Roger Cohen too.

Frankly, I don't have much hope that Obama will be so bold,will take chances, nor that he has those around him either ( not Hilary Clinton, not Biden sorry to say) that can appeal to him strongly enough to get him to overcome his conservatism especially prior to the 2012 election, to put forth an "American Plan". Someone I was listening allowed as to how inexperienced he still is!

I hope I am wrong.

What might work is a group of wise elders requesting a meeting with Obama.

P said...


Your #1: Good question for Olmert. Apparently he could not hold off Cast Lead; he was too weak?- or he was not sincere about his offer ( had nothing to lose leaving office) and did not feel he had the time left, or he did not feel he could muster support. Olmert did not have an actual agreement either. The point of the article it seems to me is to say that a bridging was and still is necessary and not that hard since they were SO close. My question is why ( oh why) does all that work and issues agreed upon get swept away with each new (right wing) Israeli government? Why?

Your #2 The people did vote for Kadima, the majority did. Why did Perez choose Netanyahu to form a government? Why? Or how is this kind of government serving Israel?

Your #3- Obama should now be informed. The work that was done should still be viable/valid. Ask Netanyahu this question. Then look to Obama to bridge. The settlement freeze ( NOT their removal) was minimal to show seriousness to the Palestinians- their demand. And yet Israel could not muster even a freeze!!! Lo retzini- Israel is not serious is the conclusion to be drawn. By the time Obama was our president, Netanyahu was your PM… a major roadblock. You cannot proceed in good faith if you are a Palestinian, when your land is being stolen day by day. There must be an end to facts on the ground. THEN negotiations can begin about what stays what goes.

RE: What Abbas gave and did not get (so-called) - BOTH sides will be so excoriated by their own for giving and not getting enough, for “betraying” their respective sides. You mean to say that no one on the Israeli side said that Olmert gave too much??? Betrayed?

This accusation is going to be heard with a real deal. What Avishai shows is that both sides were in fact bargaining.

Your “final question”: Arab “players” have offered the Arab Peace Initiative which will be tested after an I/P deal. It’s up to Palestinians and Israeli’s.

Potter said...

That was me Potter.

Y. Ben-David said...

KADIMA did NOT get a majority in the election. Far from it. They got a plurality-i.e. they are the largest party by one seat. However, it is the party that can form a coalition of the majority of the Knesset which is made up of numerous parties. KADIMA got 28 seats IIRC which is less that one-quarter. Their natural allies, Labor, the Arab parties, MERETZ only had a total of 54 (approx) whereas the Likud and the right-wing parties had 66.

The point you made about seeminly having to start over fresh with the negotiations when a new gov't is formed in Israel strengthens the point I am making....that there never was a really serious proposal, or that Abbas never viewed it as such. That is why I believe that had there been a serious agreement within sight, Abbas and KADIMA would have announced this before the election and they would have said that a vote for KADIMA is a vote for a pending agreement. Abbas never said any such thing, which proves to me he never wanted an agreement.
In fact, the Palestnians, both HAMAS and the FATAH-PA prefer having the Likud in power because they feel this will isolate Israel further in their long-term political war of attrition against Israel which is their REAL goal. That way they ultimately get everything they want without having to make ANY concessions. Remember, all Arab school children are taught that it took 2 centuries to rid the country of the Crusaders. They have the time and they have the patience, which unfortunately, the Jewish/Israeli Left doesn't have. That is why there is a Leftist organization called Peace NOW!

Potter said...

Ben-David:You are right, a plurality. I asked if this form of government, where minorities can hold it hostage, serves Israel.

IF Netanyahu had the guts and REALLY wanted a peace deal, REALLY was sincere, he would have picked up where Olmert left off and formed a collation for that purpose with KADIMA. Netanyahu is the blockage. And Israeli's are not out in the streets either. But it is Netanyahu now who puts one obstacle up after another ( including continuing settlements) and pretends otherwise- that he wants two states.

Israeli’s instead have been lectured to a fright about the Iran boogieman, NOT the possibilities for peace with Palestinians.

The so-called lack of seriousness from Abbas is a total myth- if you read the article.

Had I been Abbas I would not have been able to continue talks during and after the Gaza War’s devastation, with the settlements creeping on and on ( the freeze was claimed but building and stealing land continued ), with Olmert about to leave office and no support in Israel. Olmert was, it seems, out there solo, working on his legacy.

I still hear the excuse, a thin and harmful one, that Abbas will not recognize a Jewish state. That is not so. A Jewish state has been implicitly and explicitly recognized but informally. The formality is for an agreement..

NO “pending agreement” right, but the MAKINGS of one.

As for Israel’s movement into further isolation in the international realm, Israel’s policies are entirely responsible. Entirely.

The cherry on your cake “what Arab children are taught”. It’s what they live through and see everyday that matter. You must be unaware of what Israeli/Jewish children are being taught about Arabs and about history. I have firsthand been horrified at what I was hearing in my own family in Israel and here in the US.

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