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Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

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March 17, 2010

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In-Depth Issues:

Ahmadinejad: "Islamic Revolution Reaching Beyond Iran" (Iran Tracker-American Enterprise Institute)
    Iranian President Ahmadinejad said: "The Islamic revolution of Iran is a humane revolution reaching beyond the geographic boundaries of Iran."
    "Our existence and our breathing room require that we expand our borders of conflict even closer to the command centers of the enemy. One who sits and waits for the enemy approaching the borders and pressure him will be forced to dress in the robe of misery. We see that they say 'we are concerned about Iran's presence in Latin America, Asia and Africa'."

Taking Relations with Israel to the Brink? - Elise Labott (CNN)
    Aaron Miller, a Mideast adviser for Democratic and Republican administrations, says it's OK to fight with Israel, but that "the fight has to be worthwhile."
    In other words, he says, the fight has to make the president look good, it must advance the American national interest, and it also has to create some measure of a breakthrough in the negotiations.
    The problem is, the current fight with Israel doesn't do any of these things, least of all improve the climate for peace talks.
    See also How to Heal the U.S.-Israel Rift - Aaron David Miller (New York Daily News)
    The current crisis over Israeli housing construction in east Jerusalem has escalated into a perfect storm driven by Israeli ineptness and American overkill. If it's not corrected, this could lead to real damage in the U.S.-Israeli relationship at the worst possible time.
    No Israeli government will freeze all settlement activity or want to appear to be caving to U.S. demands.
    The elephant in the room is this reality: Right now, a conflict-ending agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians on Jerusalem, refugees, security and borders is just not possible. The gaps are too big.
    Israel and the U.S. need to get a grip. Israel can often drive America to distraction, but it is not some banana republic that can be pushed around. Israelis live on the knife's edge; Obama must understand the existential realities that affect their politics and attitudes.
    The essence of the relationship, America's commitment to Israel's identity and security, must not be compromised.

Testing Obama, at Home and Abroad - David E. Sanger (New York Times)
    As one of the president's foreign policy advisers said on Monday, after Mr. Netanyahu gave another defiant speech, "our Israeli friends are not asking themselves the question, if Obama can't set some parameters for our allies, how is he going to set some for the mullahs?"
    "The key way that you project strength is to show that you mean what you say," Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama and his foreign-policy speechwriter, said on Monday.
    However, David Rothkopf, a noted expert in the exercise of presidential power, noted, "He's in the position of appearing fierce with the Israelis over an insult, but timid with the Iranians over nuclear weapons."

Obama and Israel: Not Smart - John Podhoretz (Commentary)
    Matters escalated because the U.S. escalated them. Hillary Clinton called up Bibi Netanyahu on Friday and, if one reads between the lines in the reporting on their conversation, basically screamed at him for 45 minutes. Then her spokesman went out and told the world she had done so.
    While Jews are divided over Israel's policies, most of them do not want the U.S. to become part of the beat-up-on-Israel forces.

A Telling Tiff - George Jonas (National Post-Canada)
    Netanyahu ordered an investigation into "the events that unfolded during U.S. Vice-President Biden's visit to Israel." What exactly was there for a commission to investigate?
    Why Israel builds apartments? That's what countries do. Why it builds on disputed territory? Every inch of Israel is disputed. That's what the Middle East conflict is about.
    With Barack Obama in the Oval Office, America may be Israel's ally but it isn't Israel's friend.

Overkill: Rebuke of Israel Goes Overboard - Editorial (The Oklahoman)
    Just in case anyone wondered, the State Department announced Monday that the Obama administration still considers Israel a friend of the United States.
    That Washington felt the need to clear that up shows how difficult things have gotten with Tel Aviv after last week's kerfuffle over Israeli plans - years in the future - to build housing units in north Jerusalem, an area considered off limits to Jews by Arabs and, obviously, the Obama team.
    We suspect lots of Americans are wondering about the Obama administration's sense of proportionality: Iran's government cuts down opponents in the streets and barely creates a ripple with the Obama crew, which has no problem reaming our most valuable friend in the Middle East.
    We realize Netanyahu's reluctance to deal away Israel's security to its enemies is inconvenient to the administration's hope of a breakthrough in the peace process, but really, it's no way to treat a strategic ally.
    Unfortunately, it is this president's pattern: tread lightly with America's adversaries and land like a ton of bricks on friends - especially dangerous for Israel because of those who will be emboldened by it.

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  • Israel Rejects U.S. Demands on Building in East Jerusalem - Ethan Bronner
    The discord between the U.S. and Israel over Jewish building in East Jerusalem deepened Tuesday with Israeli officials rejecting demands by Washington and expressing anger over the public upbraiding of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the Obama administration. Since Israel annexed East Jerusalem, Israeli officials say, a request to scrap Jewish building projects there is both legally unfeasible and a betrayal of the mandate of the current government, elected on a platform of keeping Jerusalem united under Israeli sovereignty.
        Israeli officials say the Obama administration misread the situation, and that stopping building in Jerusalem was never an option. "We must tell the American government that there are things we can do and things we cannot do," said Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the UN, who was reflecting the current government's thinking. "Freezing building in east Jerusalem is one of those things we cannot do."  (New York Times)
  • Clinton Dismisses Any Crisis with Israel - Jill Dougherty
    Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dismisses the view that relations between the U.S. and Israel are in crisis. "Oh, I don't buy that," Clinton told reporters Tuesday at the State Department. "We have an absolute commitment to Israel's security. We have a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American and Israeli people." She said U.S. and Israeli officials are in intense talks "over steps that we think would demonstrate the requisite commitment to this [peace] process." "Our goal now is to make sure that we have the full commitment from both our Palestinian and Israeli partners to this effort."  (CNN)
        See also Remarks of Secretary of State Clinton (State Department)
        See also White House: Commitment to Israel's Security Is Unchanged (White House)
  • Netanyahu: Israel Has Proven Its Commitment to Peace
    In response to Secretary of State Clinton's remarks, the Prime Minister's Office issued the following statement Tuesday: "The State of Israel appreciates and esteems U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's warm remarks regarding the deep bond between the United States and Israel and the U.S. commitment to Israel's security. Regarding the commitment to peace: In the past year, the Government of Israel has proven its commitment to peace in both word and deed, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 14 June 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech, the dismantling of hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks in Judea and Samaria, and the decision to suspend new construction starts in Judea and Samaria for ten months, which Secretary of State Clinton defined as 'unprecedented.'
        By contrast, the Palestinians have raised preconditions for the resumption of the diplomatic process, such as they have not done in the past 16 years. They are waging an assault to delegitimize Israel in international institutions via the Goldstone report. They are also continuing to incite towards hatred and violence; included in this is the decision to dedicate a square in Ramallah after the woman terrorist responsible for murdering 38 Israelis. Prime Minister Netanyahu again calls on the Palestinians to enter into the tent of peace without preconditions because this is the only way to reach an agreement that will ensure peace, security and prosperity for both peoples." (Prime Minister's Office)
  • Democrats Begin to Criticize Obama on Israel - Ben Smith
    Pro-Israel Democrats have begun to criticize the Obama administration's stern stance toward Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As the stalemate continues, Democratic critics have begun to question the White House's public pressure on Netanyahu to reverse plans for controversial new housing and make other, unspecified concessions. Rep. Christopher Carney (D-PA) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) sent a letter Tuesday to President Obama asking the administration to climb down.
        "We urge your Administration to refrain from further public criticism of Israel and to focus on more pressing issues affecting this vital relationship, such as signing and enforcing the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act when it comes to your desk," they write. "While the recent controversy is regrettable, it should not overshadow the importance of the U.S.-Israel alliance. A zoning dispute over 143 acres of Jewish land in Israel's capital city should not eclipse the growing threat we face from Iran."
        "We should not have a disproportionate response to Israel. We need to be careful and measured in our response, and I think we all have to take a step back," Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) said Monday. "While the timing of the east Jerusalem housing announcement was regrettable, it must not cloud the most critical foreign policy issue facing both counties - Iran's nuclear threat," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). "The Administration, to the extent that it has disagreements with Israel on policy matters, should find a way to do so in private and do what they can to defuse this situation," said Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY). While the Congressional criticism remains measured, it appears to be growing louder. (Politico)
        See also Critics Accuse Administration of Exploiting Israel Dispute, Aiding "Enemies"
    The Obama administration is drawing fierce criticism from both sides of the aisle for appearing to take dead aim at U.S. policy toward Israel by exploiting a dispute that began as a mere bureaucratic blunder. "These matters need to be thought through before public pronouncements can significantly damage the U.S.-Israeli relationship and give aid and comfort to the enemies of the Mideast peace process," Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) said Tuesday. (FOX News)
        See also More Congressional Reaction - Uriel Heilman
    Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.): "While it condemns Israel, the Administration continues to ignore a host of Palestinian provocations that undermine prospects for peace in the region." Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.): "Our nation's security cannot afford a foreign policy which isolates our allies."  (JTA)
  • Petraeus Throws Support to Mitchell Peace Efforts - Laura Rozen
    In his prepared testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Gen. David Petraeus listed the Israeli-Arab conflict as the first "cross cutting challenge to security and stability" in the Centcom area of responsibility [AOR]. "The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests in the AOR," he wrote. "The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel."  (Politico)
        See also Testimony of Gen. Patraeus (Senate Armed Services Committee)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Arabs Riot in Jerusalem - Shmulik Grossman
    According to the Palestinians, more than 100 people were injured and 70 others were arrested during the "day of rage" declared in east Jerusalem on Tuesday. (Ynet News)
        See also Fatah Calls to "Defend Jerusalem" - Khaled Abu Toameh
    The armed wing of Fatah, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, on Tuesday called on the Palestinian Authority to give back the weapons it had confiscated from the group's gunmen so that they could participate in the "Jerusalem Intifada," as both the PA and Hamas continued to accuse Israel of planning to destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Palestinian security forces banned street protests in many Palestinian cities. PA security officials said that demonstrations were only allowed in areas under Israeli control, including Jerusalem, and that there was no need to protest inside Palestinian cities. (Jerusalem Post)
  • Fears of New Intifada Are Wrong - Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel
    Tuesday's violent demonstrations occurred mostly in the villages around Jerusalem, with incidents also in Hebron and in Bil'in, but these were not mass demonstrations. Jerusalem police described the incidents during the past two days as a blatant failure of the Palestinians, both the Palestinian Authority and its Hamas rivals, to set the territories ablaze. In the village of Al-Suwaneh, one of the epicenters of Tuesday's confrontations, Israeli security forces dispersed several dozen Palestinian stone-throwers without much effort after arrests by undercover policemen. In a few hours, relative calm was restored, despite the wild incitement in the Arab media of recent days.
        Even though the events were the most serious in the past two years, it still resembled an intifada lite. It was hard to find any passion in the demonstrators' eyes. In east Jerusalem, as in the West Bank cities, fatigue is discernible. The Hamas leaders in Gaza who are calling for a third intifada may have nothing to lose, but in the West Bank, the vast majority of the people prefer to keep things calm. The American condemnation that Israel received also contributed to the demonstrations of recent days. When the Obama administration attacks the Netanyahu government, the Palestinian Authority receives a boost - for popular protests and toughening its stance in the proximity talks. (Ha'aretz)
  • PA Not Interested in Conflict with Israel - Ali Waked
    The PA is not interested as of now in a conflict of any sort with Israel - not a "rock intifada," not "popular resistance," and certainly not armed conflict. As for now, no one in the upper echelons of the PA is willing to start a new armed intifada. "What is happening today is letting off steam, but only to a certain extent," said a PA security official. "As of now, there is no plan to let that line be crossed. The people have suffered for years, and no one has any interest in going back to the same situation despite calls made by senior officials in the organizations and committees to start a struggle." (Ynet News)
  • Israel Won't Discriminate Against Jews in Jerusalem - Roni Sofer
    Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday: "We have some misunderstandings with the U.S.; this is not the first time, and unfortunately, it won't be the last time either. We have an interest in lowering the flames. One way or another, we certainly have an interest in setting things straight and reaching understandings and we will do this in the customary channels."
        Addressing the American demand for a construction freeze in east Jerusalem, the foreign minister described a situation in which Arabs would be prohibited from buying and building in the west of the capital - "They would immediately declare us an apartheid state. And they are also demanding we don't touch the illegal construction in the east of the city, despite verdicts and despite court rulings. I asked an American journalist, can you imagine the U.S. administration not honoring court rulings? It must be clear that we cannot only ban Jews from building. This is unacceptable. There will be no discrimination against Jews."
        Lieberman said construction in east Jerusalem has been continuous ever since the end of the Six-Day War. "We cannot forfeit our sovereignty. A government was elected here, there is a very clear coalition agreement. This is a democratic government that represents the public's opinion."  (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • U.S.-Israel Relations - Alan Solow and Malcolm Hoenlein
    Alan Solow, Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman, issued the following statement on Tuesday:
        We urge the United States and Israel to resolve the controversy with the use of language reflecting their historic friendship. The recent disclosure by Israel of its intention to build additional housing units in eastern Jerusalem at a future date does not contradict its announced commitment to freeze settlement building for a limited period, and a cessation to building in Jerusalem was never a condition of the proximity talks. Israel has always claimed a right to build in its capital city.
        Israel's commitment to participate in proximity talks is in sharp distinction to the continued incitement by the Palestinian Authority. Only last week, the Palestinians went ahead with the dedication of a public square in honor of Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who was responsible for the massacre of 37 Israelis and American photographer Gail Rubin in 1978. It is such conduct which merits the attention and condemnation of those who seek to achieve peace. (Conference of Presidents)
  • Did Joe Biden Say What People Think He Said? - Jeffrey Goldberg
    I spoke with a senior administration official Monday who accompanied Biden on his trip to Israel, and he said that Biden did not tell the Israelis that their actions were endangering American troops. Here is what the official told me: "The assertion I read in the newspaper suggested that the Vice President said something to the effect that Israeli actions are endangering American soldiers. He never said that."  (Atlantic)
  • Allies Everywhere Feeling Snubbed by President Obama - Robert Kagan
    Israelis shouldn't feel that they have been singled out. In Britain, people are talking about the end of the "special relationship" with America, despite their ongoing sacrifices in Afghanistan. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has openly criticized Obama for months. Relations with Japan are rocky, partly because of a perception that the U.S. can't be counted on for the long term. By now, a moderately self-reflective administration might be asking why so many allies, everywhere, are worried. Who has attracted attention in the Obama administration? The answer, so far, seems to be not America's allies but its competitors, and in some cases its adversaries.
        The president has shown seemingly limitless patience with the Russians as they stall an arms-control deal that could have been done in December. He accepted a year of Iranian insults and refusal to negotiate before hesitantly moving toward sanctions. The administration continues to woo Syria without much sign of reciprocation in Damascus. Yet Obama angrily orders a near-rupture of relations with Israel for a minor infraction like the recent settlement dispute - and after the Israeli prime minister publicly apologized.
        Rather than strengthening the democratic foundation of the new "international architecture" - the G-20 world - the administration's posture is increasingly one of neutrality, at best, between allies and adversaries, and between democrats and autocrats. Israel is not the only unhappy ally, therefore; it's just the most vulnerable. The writer is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. (Washington Post)
  • Israel and the Crisis with Obama - John Bolton
    Last week's announcement of construction in east Jerusalem while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel was an unnecessary step. But optics are not the real problem. Mr. Netanyahu's efforts to avoid open disputes with Washington have not won him White House plaudits. Mr. Obama almost certainly believes the real obstacle to peace is not new housing or unfortunate timing but so-called Israeli intransigence.
        On Iran, Mr. Netanyahu's mistake has been to assume that Mr. Obama basically agrees that we must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But the White House likely believes that a nuclear Iran, though undesirable, can be contained and will therefore not support using military force to thwart Tehran's nuclear ambitions. What's more, Mr. Obama is also unwilling to let anyone else, namely Israel, act instead. (Wall Street Journal)
  • Observations:

    Obama and the Jacksonian Zionists - Walter Russell Mead (American Interest)

    • With Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scheduled to address AIPAC's annual meeting next weekend in Washington, the stage is set for high drama.
    • The Obama administration's ability to put pressure on its most important Middle Eastern ally ultimately depends on the reaction of American gentile supporters of Israel to administration policy. The administration may be in danger of overestimating its support in a drawn out debate.
    • Overall public support for Israel in the U.S. has been rising for most of the last generation. Just as Israel was seen as America's most reliable and important Middle Eastern ally during the Cold War, it now looked like a country whose survival depended on the defeat of America's enemies in the war on terror. That today Israel is engaged in a confrontation with Iran, a country which poll after poll shows that Americans think of as their most dangerous adversary, only deepens this bond. Warts and all, Israel was democratic, not Muslim, anti-Soviet and pro-American. It was everything an ally should be, and strong too. For Jacksonian America, Israel was one of the few signs of light in a dark world and it has kept this status to the present day.
    • In much of American opinion, when somebody attacks you, especially in an underhanded terrorist way, you have a natural right to defend yourself using every weapon and every tactic that comes to hand. This is the way most Americans think about war. Such people are not necessarily indifferent to Palestinian rights, and they may not feel that every Israeli action is well judged, but they strongly believe that as long as Palestinians engage in terrorism, Israel has an unlimited and absolute right of self-defense. It can and should do anything and everything it can to stop the attacks. This view may be right or it may be wrong, but its cultural hold on a substantial section of the American people is a fact. It is one of the strongest and most persistent elements in the national character. It is unlikely to change anytime soon.
    • For many Jacksonians, Israel is a litmus test. The more clearly you support Israel, the more you look like a reliable American patriot. This may be the ultimate reason why so many American politicians instinctively shy away from taking any positions that can even remotely be seen as anti-Israel. Being pro-Israel is a sign of being pro-American to a very large sector of American public opinion. Jacksonians don't want a long and bitter fight with a country they support as America's most important ally in the most dangerous region in the world.
    • President Obama needs to stand tall and settle quick. He cannot afford a humiliating climb down in the face of Israeli pressure, but it is unlikely that either Congress or Jacksonian America will back him in a long and divisive struggle. But whatever happens in the Washington policy wars, one thing should be clear. This is not a battle between "the Jews" and the rest of the U.S. over our policy in the Middle East. It is a battle between opposing conceptions of America's interests in the Middle East, and gentiles and Jews can be found on both sides.

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