Timing is everything – Netanyahu returns from Washington

Posted: May 20th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Here are my two cents on the Obama-Netanyahu meeting:

- There were no gestures made after the meeting: Obama showed concern on the issue of Iran, but made no specific obligations. Netanyhu didn’t try to please his hosts – as some imagined he would – with talks about concessions. It mights suggest that there were no gestures inside the meeting as well, or that both sides estimated that it was in their best interest to keep these matters under the table.

- There were also no reports of personal gestures, small-talk or anecdotes – the kind that usually follows a meeting between an American president and an Israeli PM. My guess is that Netanyahu felt that this image of the meeting would serve him better at home. He probably understood well before the meeting that sooner or later he would reach some sort of confrontation with the administration, and he wants to present a tough and consistent line (but not to create the fire himself). The PM is much more careful than in his previous term – when a meeting with Bill Clinton ended with the frustrated president asking “who’s the fucking superpower here?”

- The Syrian channel wasn’t mentioned. It is all but officially off the table.

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Fair & Balanced

Posted: November 19th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , | 3 Comments »

Exactly one year ago, “HOT”, Israel’s only cable TV provider, had decided to terminate its contract with CNN news channel. When asked what alternative will they give their one million subscribers, HOT spokesman replied: Fox News.
So that’s what most Israelis get to see when they want to check out what’s going on in the US:

No wonder that even on election day, so many here were convinced that John McCain is about to become the next president.

An Obama Effect?

Posted: November 5th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Most Israelis were just waking up when John McCain conceded and Barack Obama was officially declared the next president of the United States. On Monday you could still find articles predicting [in Hebrew] that in the end “The Real America” will have the last word and McCain will win. On election day there was an ugly article on Ynet by Naomi Ragan, the right-wing religious novelist, who quoted most of the rumors about Obama as if they were facts (for example: Obama’s campaign was funded mostly by rich Arabs, some of them from Gaza). Reading this article again this morning was particularly fun.

As for myself, I guessed a 318-220 victory for Obama and 52-48 on popular vote, which was not that far-off.

We will have to wait for tomorrow’s papers to see what the pundits have to say about the outcomes effect on Israel and the middle east. Meanwhile, here are some of my thoughts.

The US support of Israel– both diplomatically and financially –will remain the same. Assuming Israel will continue asking the US for permission to use military force (like it probably did before the attack on the nuclear facility in Syria) we will not see major change in security issues. The million dollar question is what will happen if Israel wishes to attack the Iranian nuclear facilities. My guess is that for as long as the US is in Iraq, nobody in Washington will care to open a third front (this goes for W as well on his two remaining months in the White House).

So what difference does the presidential election make? Well, the US has direct influence on two key issues here: the peace negotiations and the settlements, especially those around Jerusalem.

In his eight years in office, George W. Bush didn’t do much to reignite the peace process. Instead, he supported unilateral steps taken by Israel, such as reoccupying the West Bank cities and the withdrawal from Gaza. The result was an increase in the power of all extremist groups in the region, most of all the Hamas. Lately, there have been signs of a change in policy, the result of Condoleezza Rice’s efforts. As I wrote before, there is a learning period for any new administration, so it will take some time before we can evaluate if there is a real change in policy.

During this time, Israel will build settlements. We have been doing it for more then 40 years, regardless of the identity of the guy in the oval office – or in the PM office in Jerusalem for that matter.

All settlements are harmful, but some are worst than others. Even the neo-cons and neo-Zionists around Bush didn’t allow Israel to build in the area called E1, east of Jerusalem. The Israeli plan is to build there a Jewish neighborhood, an industrail park and even a few hotels, that will eventually be part of Jerusalem, thus diminishing the last option to divide the city into Israeli and Palestinian capitals. And if Bush didn’t allow it, nobody else will. Hopefully, Obama’s people will also keep a closer eye on other construction project in the West Bank, which only serve to to prevent the two states solution.

Finally, there has been some talk on the influence of an Obama victory on Israeli politics, and especially on the results of the general election in February. Some people, both here [Hebrew] and in the US, think that the “Change” massage coming from America will help those candidates who are perceived as “fresh” (aka Tzipi Livni). It has also been speculated that Netanyahu will be considered as someone who will find it harder to deal with the new president, given his hawkish stands. However, one might also claim that some voters will move to the right, in hope of a government that will stand up to American and international pressure towards concessions. But most importantly – in order to have an Obama-like spirit of change, you must have an Obama-like candidate. We don’t.


In the tank for McCain

Posted: October 29th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Barak Ravid had an international scoop yesterday in “Haartz” daily. According to Israeli sources, Ravid reported, French president Nicolas Sarkozy has expressed deep disappointment with Barack Obama’s positions regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Sarkozy had met the democratic nominee during Obama’s visit to Paris last summer, and found his positions are, according to Haaretz, “’utterly immature’ and comprised of ‘formulations empty of all content’”.

I believe Ravid is an excellent reporter, and I don’t doubt the accuracy of his quotes. His sources – probably in the foreign office – might have even reported the French position accurately, though the French embassy denied it later on. But one can’t imagine a more foolish move by Jerusalem than leaking out the information at such a critical time.

Ravid’s source probably knew that such a statement, so close to the election, will be made public world wide almost instantly, and it’s actually surprising that it didn’t get THAT big an attention (I found a report on ABC news and a handful of Internet sites). It should also have been clear to them that this will be perceived by a lot of people as an attempt to interfere with the election at the last minute, just as Americans are headed to the polls. And with Obama on his way for a clear victory, what possible interest would Israel have in starting its relations with the new administration on the wrong foot, and on the most delicate issue of all?

For if Obama does get elected, there will be plenty of time before his inauguration to send him whichever massage Jerusalem wishes on the issue of Iran (and hopefully, in a more diplomatic way). And if McCain wins, the whole thing will only be remembered as a clumsy attempt to influence the election at the last minute – a move that won’t be appreciated by either the Democrats nor by the Republicans.

It is not the first time an Israeli official has hinted that a MaCain victory would serve Israel’s interests better. Danny Ayalon, our former ambassador to Washington, who spent most of his time on the capitol praising President Bush as Israel’s best allay in history (the guy even said in one of his interviews that he bought a pair of boots identical to those worn by the president) has published an article in the Jerusalem Post, stating that “The four years ahead are far too critical for global security to place the presidency of the United States in the hands of a leader whose campaign is leaving us with more questions than answers”. That was in January, at the beginning of the primary season, only a few months after Ayalon had left his office in Washington. Since then, he has joined the extreme-right “Israel-Beitenu” party, and while his motives and believes are now clear, it is inexcusable for Jerusalem to repeat this stupid and arrogant move.


Today’s Poll, 27.10

Posted: October 27th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: Polls | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The paper I work for, Maariv, published the first poll for the upcoming election. Here are the results:

Kadima: 31 Members of Knesset

Likud: 29 MKs

Israel Beitenu (Avigdor Liberman’s party), Labor, Arab Parties (Hadash + Balad + Raa’m): 11 MKs each

Shas (Sephardic orthodox): 8 MKs

Ihud Leumi (the right wing front): 7 MKs

Meretz (left wing liberal party): 5 MKs

Yahadut Hatorah (Ashkenazi orthodox): 4 MKs

Green Party (not present in the current Knesset): 3 MKs

The magic number in the Knesset is 60 (out of 120 seats). This poll gives the center-left (Kadima + Labor + Meretz + Arabs + Green) a block of 61 MKs, meaning Tzipi Livni will have the upper hand in the battle to form the next government.

However, there are a few things to consider:

First, the left and center usually underperform in the election (or, more accurately, over perform in the polls), and given the current political atmosphere, it is hard to see Livni get over the 30 mark, which is still better than Ehud Olmert did.

Second, Shas hasn’t gotten bellow 10 since the 1992 election, and it’s not going to happen this time either.

Third, Liberman hasn’t reached his full potential, which should be around 14-15 MK. With his anti Arab rhetoric, he has the ability to take votes not only from Likud, but also from Kadima and even Labor.

If I had to guess today, I would estimate the right-religious block crossing the 60, even by as much as 5-6 seats. But we still have a lot of time before the election. For now, it’s clear that Livni is going into the campaign much stronger than one could expect, given her failure to form a government.

By the way, the same pollster (Teleseker) just ran a survey in Israel on the upcoming US presidential election. The winner: John McCain, by a 12% margin. Exactly as in Texas.


Obama for President

Posted: October 25th, 2008 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Aluf Benn predicts in today’s Haaretz, that the next president of the US won’t be too involved in the Arab-Israeli peace process. “Ever since efforts failed to achieve final-status agreements between Israel and Syria, and Israel and the Palestinians, in 2000, U.S. policy has been to ‘contain’ the Israeli-Arab conflict”, writes Benn, and concludes that more urgent problems – such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the economic crisis – will prevent a change of policy, regardless the identity of the winner in the upcoming election.

To that we can add the fact that no administration has ever been very effective in the Palestinian-Israeli front on the first two years in office: it takes time before the administration forms its own ideas in regards to the middle east, and more time before medium level envoys (and above) arrive, and even then, both sides here are very good at playing tricks on the new guy: the Israelis promise him to stop building settlements and to dismantle some of the road blocks, but somehow by the next visit of the American envoy, there are new Jewish neighborhoods on the shrinking Palestinian land and more road blocks. The same goes for the Palestinian promises to fight terrorism and stop the anti-Israeli, and sometimes anti-Semitic, propaganda (though most observers agree there has been a significant improvement on these issues in the West Bank recently).

It took Bush the father three years to drag PM Yitzhak Shamir to the peace conference in Madrid, and Clinton offered his peace plan only when the negotiation reached a deadlock in 1999. By this time, it was too late. With McCain or Obama we might not have to wait seven years, but it’s clear that there won’t be any peace initiative coming from Washington before 2010.

With all this in mind, there will still be a big difference between the effects that each of the candidates might have, if elected, on the dynamics in the region. McCain’s, one must admit, will probably have a shorter learning period of the issues. But the real danger is that he will follow the policies of the current administration towards Israel, and that’s not something we can afford.

Already, some people wonder if the two states solution is still applicable, and with the growing settlements and the Hamas gaining power, it’s clear that in five years or so, establishing a Palestinian state will be all but impossible. Even now it’s hard to see an Israeli prime minister who will be able to pay the political price of taking down more than a handful of settlements. The Bush administration has practically given Israel a carte blanche in all of the west bank but Jerusalem. An Obama administration might change that.

Obama also seems more careful with the idea of using military force to change the political dynamics – something both PM Sharon (in the territories) and Olmert (in Lebanon) – tried to do, again, with America’s support. It is more than likely that Netanyahu will be Israel’s next PM, so we could use someone in the White House who can restrain him a bit. And finally, there is the Syrian front, where the Bush administration actually prevented the negotiations between Olmerts government and Assad after the war in Lebanon. It’s hard to see Obama taking the same approach.

So I support Obama, but we shouldn’t get our hopes up too high. No American president will save the Israelis from themselves.