There’s something happening here….

I usually only post once a day, with maybe a little update later on, but today I’ve got two very different things running around in my head — ergo, it’s not even noon, and here I am, posting a second time. Don’t miss the first one!


On Friday, MJ Rosenberg wrote (in the piece that I mentioned briefly) that the current state of US-Israel relations reminds him of that great Buffalo Springfield song: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.”

Today Rosenberg draws our attention to the current Foreign Policy, wherein we find some reporting that may go a long way to clarifying things.

Mark Perry (author of the absolutely recommended Talking to Terrorists) writes in Foreign Policy that last week’s events are rooted in an unprecedented briefing prepared in January by senior CENTCOM officers for Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

The 33-slide, 45-minute PowerPoint briefing stunned Mullen. The briefers reported that there was a growing perception among Arab leaders that the U.S. was incapable of standing up to Israel, that CENTCOM’s mostly Arab constituency was losing faith in American promises, that Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region, and that Mitchell himself was (as a senior Pentagon officer later bluntly described it) “too old, too slow … and too late.”

…the Obama administration decided it would redouble its efforts — pressing Israel once again on the settlements issue, sending Mitchell on a visit to a number of Arab capitals and dispatching Mullen for a carefully arranged meeting with the chief of the Israeli General Staff, Lt. General Gabi Ashkenazi. While the American press speculated that Mullen’s trip focused on Iran, the JCS Chairman actually carried a blunt, and tough, message on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that Israel had  to see its conflict with the Palestinians “in a larger, regional, context” — as having a direct impact on America’s status in the region. Certainly, it was thought, Israel would get the message.

Israel didn’t.

Israel, in a word, didn’t. Which puts Friday’s harsh rebuke of Netanyahu by Secretary of State Clinton in an even clearer light:

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley described the nearly 45-minute phone conversation in unusually undiplomatic terms, signaling that the close allies are facing their deepest crisis in two decades after the embarrassment suffered by Vice President Biden this week when Israel announced during his visit that it plans to build 1,600 housing units in a disputed area of Jerusalem.

Clinton called Netanyahu “to make clear the United States considered the announcement a deeply negative signal about Israel’s approach to the bilateral relationship and counter to the spirit of the vice president’s trip,” Crowley said. Clinton, he said, emphasized that “this action had undermined trust and confidence in the peace process and in America’s interests.” [emphasis mine]

I cannot say this strongly, or often, enough: If you think that it’s time that the US start really pushing back against Israeli intransigence, call/write the White House, the Department of State, your Senators (that goes double if s/he’s on the Foreign Affairs Committee), and your Representative in the House (ditto the House Foreign Affairs Committee). If you’re Jewish, mention it. (And, come to that, if you’re Jewish, you might also: write to your local newspaper, send a note to AIPAC, and/or join J Street or Americans for Peace Now).

Remember back when I wished that Israel would keep screwing up? I certainly seem to be getting my wish.

(Oh, and not for nothing, but have you noticed that American officials have begun to consistently refer to the Israeli communities in what was once Palestinian East Jerusalem as “settlements”? This is also, believe it or not, a damn big deal).

Thanks to Daniel Seidemann for the tweet on today’s Rosenberg piece.


UPDATE: Criminy, I just barely posted the above, and then saw this:

As an unusual public showdown between the Israeli and American administrations plays out, Hill sources say leading Congressional Democrats would be with the administration on this but would really like to get a phone call from Middle East peace envoy George Mitchell.

Call your elected representatives!

Here’s a sample script:

Hello, my name is XXXX, and I’m calling from [city, state]. [As a Jewish-American] I’ve been following the recent diplomatic tensions with Israel closely, and I just wanted to let the President/Secretary/Senator/Representative know that I really hope that the US will not simply accept Israel’s behavior last week, but will instead insist that it keep to its signed international agreements and work with the US toward establishing real peace with the Palestinians. I firmly believe that this not only for the best of Israelis and Palestinians, but also in the best interests of America’s own security needs.


  1. Aubrey Maturin

     /  March 15, 2010

    Came over from TNC’s site. Interesting post.

    As an American, I was upset last week that Biden got blindsided by the unhelpful announcement. Definitely insulting. But the escalating harshness with which the Obama administration has flamed the issue since is so disproportionate and out of bounds that I’m starting to think that Obama is pleased (as you are) that the Israelis “screwed it up.”

    Think about it:

    1. When the Chinese violently clamped down on the Uirghurs last year, what did the Obama administration do? Nothing. In fact, the administration deferred the visit of the Dalai Lama to this year (letting the guy out the backdoor afterwards).

    2. When Iran cracked down on peaceful protesters last year, Obama was so modest in his rebuke of the Iranian regime. Hundreds were killed on the streets, many more rounded up. Did Clinton give the Iranians a tongue-lashing? Nope.

    The Israelis announce an urban zoning decision that falls within a (generally) undisputed patch of Jersualem that won’t lead to development for a couple of years. And you have Biden, Clinton, Axelrod blasting away like Israel bombed an orphanage. Maybe something good is coming of all this, but I’m disappointed in Obama. He’s lashing out a friend who made a mistake. Now, there’s all this talk of Israelis and their policies endangering American soldiers’ lives?? Are you kidding me?

    • We don’t give the Chinese or Iranians any taxpayer money. Those dollars are being used to support a government that is in violation of international law.

      • Matt

         /  March 15, 2010

        Not only that, but the relationship with those two countries is apples and oranges. China and the US are in a precarious balancing act to keep both economies from crashing down. And the US has absolutely no bargaining power with Iran. We can’t sanction them more, or cut off diplomatic ties more. Obama absolutely did the right thing by remaining silent during the protests.

        Israel is not a ‘friend who made a mistake.’ The 1600 housing units weren’t accidentally approved. And I think it’s fallacious to refer to a political entity as a ‘friend’ (I also think the same about calling one an ‘enemy,’ but that’s for another discussion). We’re beginning to see daylight between the US and Israel and I, for one, think it can’t be anything but good for both parties.

    • rec

       /  March 15, 2010

      Calling this a zoning issue is like calling the Rosa Parks story a public transportation dispute.

  2. old f*rt

     /  March 15, 2010

    Right on, Aubrey! I just have to second your comment; every word rings true. As Meryl Yourish would say, it’s Israel double standard time again. But although the Israelis have been foolish to needlessly antagonize a friend, America has been an equivocal friend to Israel at best. And Obama is really not much worse than every American president since LBJ. Each one started out by trying to curry favor with the Palestinians, but the Palestinians always managed to mess things up by holding out for all or nothing or by doing something to show their true colors (backing Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, cheering 9/11), leaving America no choice but to back Israel all the way. They have been smarter this time around, but we will see how long that lasts. (And let me put in a plug once again for “A letter to all good people” by the late Amos Kenan. Most of what he wrote then is as true today as it was in 1968. Even then he saw that the world’s attitude would inevitably lead to the Israel intransigence that Ms. Hauser so decries.

    Click to access the-case-for-israel-appendix5.pdf

    Kenan’s obituary in the Forward:

    • Matt

       /  March 15, 2010

      American elected officials are constantly affirming that they will act in Israel’s best interests. We are finally hearing voices saying it should be the other way around as well.

      I don’t see a double standard in that.

  3. BlueHampshire has a live web chat scheduled for Wednesday with Senator Shaheen (Foreign Relations committee member!) so I posted a question for her about this particular matter. I will report back and let you know what the response is the my question.

  4. Cat Lady

     /  March 15, 2010

    Hey ellaesther! Thanks for all of your insight into this… mess. I’m not a Jew, and have never understood why the US has equated all of Israel’s interests as our own, and believe me when I say, I’m not alone. My non-Jewish friends and family will say in private what they won’t say in public, which is that they don’t care what happens to Israel one way or another, resent the warmongering talk about Iran and before that, Iraq, and basically, that Israel to a non-Jew is just like any other country, except with superior (read: US supplied) armies and weapons who can fight their own battles. I’m from German heritage on both sides of my family, but I pay no attention to what goes on there and if it were threatened, I wouldn’t really feel anything other than they’re on their own. Why should Israel be any different?

    I asked this question on BJ – after all the money we’ve poured into Israel, what’s in it for me?

  5. Betsy

     /  March 15, 2010

    Hi ellaesther! Came over via Balloon Juice.
    Thank you for the post. As 1) a Jew who 2) lives in MA, I will surely give Kerry (chairman of the foreign relations committee) a call.
    I find the Israel/Palestine mess so disheartening. I find Israel’s actions totally repugnant so much of the time, which is doubly painful for me as a Jew; it feels (irrationally, perhaps) as though I am somehow implicated in it. I DO feel differently about Israel than any other country, and not only because my stepfather is Israeli (now an American citizen). Perhaps the most frustrating thing is that Israel hurts ultimately hurts ITSELF when it pursues aggressive or abusive policies. But somehow the governing majority doesn’t see it that way.

  6. amichel

     /  March 15, 2010

    I think the administration is completely out of bounds with its response to Israel. Since 1980, Jerusalem has been declared the eternal, undivided capital of Israel. In every negotiation since 1967, Israel has maintained that Jerusalem, in its entirety, is a part of Israel. It has generally been accepted that the Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem would be a part of Israel after any peace agreement with the Palestinians. I agree with the administration calling for a stop to expanding settlements in the West Bank, and Netanyahu froze settlements in the West Bank. East Jerusalem has always been considered separately from the West Bank, and frankly, I think that Israel can expand housing in their own capital without foreign interference. The double standard employed against Israel by this administration is sickening. They have coddled China, Iran, and North Korea while damaging relations with our allies in Eastern Europe, Britain, Honduras, and Israel.

  7. Deeemer

     /  March 16, 2010

    [redacted for rudeness – email sent with explanation]

    • Deeemer

       /  March 22, 2010

      [Comment redacted for rudeness; commenter now banned. Let me clarify, using a question that the commenter herself asked: “I’m sure you understand that by placing your thoughts on the internet, people are not always going to agree with you?”

      The comments left on this very post indicate that not only do I know that people don’t always agree with me, but I have provided a space for them to express that disagreement. That’s only to be expected, and in fact, it’s in order to avoid fights in what I think of as my own home that I don’t comment in my own commenting section.

      However, I have said several times that it’s important to me that people who comment here treat each other with with respect, not contempt (barely veiled or otherwise), and demonstrate common courtesy, not bad manners. That certainly applies to me as well. This commenter was unable to maintain that level of civil discourse on two occasions, and so she has been banned.]

  8. Pearl of the World

     /  March 16, 2010

    Can you clarify on the significance of American officials referring to the housing communities as ‘settlements’? Is this good or bad?

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