Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Just Gets Worse and Worse

Posted in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict by Dan on March 16, 2010

By this time, most people have probably heard about Israel’s new housing plan, which permits the construction of another 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem…an area, by the way, that has long been regarded as the capital of a future Palestinian state.  Likewise, most Americans have either heard or read about America’s strong opposition to this latest announcement, which has the potential of severely derailing the start of new Mideast peace talks between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Authority.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spent most of her day on Friday venting her displeasure to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the telephone, calling the recent settlement decision a terrible and destructive step in the U.S.-Israel relationship.  President Obama’s senior political advisor, David Axelrod, jumped on the Sunday morning talk shows to vehemently denounce the Israeli action as an “insult” to the United State.  Mideast Envoy George Mitchell went so far as to cancel his scheduled trip to Israel,  in what is obviously construed as one of the strongest forms of diplomatic protest.

When both the United States and Israel confirm that there is a serious crisis going on between the two countries, you know that an alliance is stretched to the brim.  The question now is whether President Obama and P.M. Netanyahu can mend their many differences for the sake of a new Mideast peace dialog.  They at least owe George Mitchell this little bit of satisfaction.

What does Congress have to say about all of this?  Well, nothing constructive as usual.

There is a bipartisan outraged over the administration’s public relations tour this weekend, so much so that a number of powerful Senators spent hours on the floor accusing Obama, Clinton, and Axelrod of misplaced anger.  Here are a few noteworthy segments:

Senator John McCain: “It might be well if our friends in the administration and other places in the United States could start refocusing our efforts on the peace process.  Now we’ve had our spat. We’ve had our family fight, and it’s time for us now to stop and get our eye back on the goal, which is the commencement of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.”

Senator Joseph Lieberman: “Let’s cut the family fighting, the family feud.  It’s unnecessary; it’s destructive of our shared national interest. It’s time to lower voices, to get over the family feud between the U.S. and Israel. It just doesn’t serve anybody’s interests but our enemies.”

Senator Sam Brownback: “It’s hard to see how spending a weekend condemning Israel for a zoning decision in its capital city amounts to a positive step towards peace.”

Representative Shelley Berkeley: “The administration’s strong implication that the enduring alliance between the U.S. and Israel has been weakened, and that America’s ability to broker talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities has been undermined, is an irresponsible overreaction.”

Here is a question for Congress; if you want this saga to be over with, why engage in speech that will provoke the White House to respond?

Besides, the Obama administration has every right to let their voices be heard.  As the maker and executor of U.S. foreign policy, the Commander-in-Chief has an ethical responsibility to defend his (or her) record if it’s indeed under attack.  Just ask President Bush, someone who spent most of his second term combating the media on the Iraq War.  Even President Clinton before him spoke up (for a different reason of course…cough cough).  If the White House formulates policy, they have the liberty to protect that same policy if it is being compromised.  This is an even bigger requirement if the official White House line is being challenged by a so-called friendly nation.

I personally don’t have a problem with political advisers giving their opinions on foreign-policy issues. In fact, I believe that major advisers have an obligation to provide alternatives to the President.

I will concede to Congress on one point.  David Axelrod should keep his mouth shut, especially when he lacks any firm expertise on the matter at hand.  Stick to politics Mr. Axelrod, and let the policy wonks take care of this one.

-Daniel R. DePetris

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**Comments courtesy of Daniel Drezner at FP.com**


3 Responses

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  1. Engineer said, on March 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Given what transpired, it’s entirely appropriate that the Obama administration make its displeasure felt publicly.

    Axelrod stated that the US had always been opposed to building in Jerusalem. But this actually represents a significant shift for US policy, which had regarded Jerusalem as “disputed” and a topic for “final status” negotiations. Now he is calling it a “settlement” and causing shock and consternation among Israelis.

    In particular this comes after Bibi imposed a temporary building freeze on the West Bank that did not include Jerusalem and got some faint praise from the state dept.

    The question is what is really going on here? Was it just an amateurish faux pas? If it’s a real change in policy, what is the purpose?

    Possibilities: “Regime changing” Bibi out of the picture; sending the message that the US is now “neutral” regarding the Arab/Israeli conflict (as it did with the Falklands conflict); positioning for an imposed solution along the lines being demanded by the Palestinians (ie. full Israel withdrawal to ’67 lines, open borders, staged “resettling” for refugee camps)

  2. Ernestine said, on March 16, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    Secretary Clinton on CNN very cleary stated the point of view and used the term insulting when explaining Israel’s behavior last week, why Obama let his studdering advisor axlerod go on the morning show baffels me why he lets them go on the morning shows week after week, he should let hid cabinet speak instead of his buddies.

  3. StacyX said, on March 16, 2010 at 3:24 pm

    I can’t stand when I see Axelrod out there discussing this stuff. That said, I agree that someone like the SOS maybe would have been more apporpriate but given her strong statements to Andrea Mitchell and CNN. perhaps the admin. simply wanted one more[different] person coming out and saying the same thing so as to look even more united? I honestly don’t know. Also, the AIPAC conference is next week and Hillary is speaking, maybe they figured it would be awkward enough without sending her out again to deliver the administraton’s condemnation.

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