Israel Political Brief May 24, 2011: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu Gives Speech to Joint Meeting of US Congress

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Ms. Goodman is the Editor of History Musings and JBuzz. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish Studies at Concordia University.

ISRAEL POLITICAL BRIEF: ISRAEL NEWS

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel spoke to a joint meeting of Congress in Washington on Tuesday.

IN FOCUS

  • FACT CHECK: Netanyahu speech brushes over conflicting views of Mideast realityWaPo, 5-24-11

THE HEADLINES….

  • To Friendly Crowd, Netanyahu Repeats Criteria for Peace: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu capped off a turbulent visit to Washington on Tuesday with a speech to a more sympathetic audience in Congress than he found at the White House, promising peace negotiations aimed at “a far-reaching compromise” with the Palestinians but setting several significant limits on what Israel would accept.
    He said that to reach a deal, Palestinians must agree to live with a Jewish state that would include areas in the suburbs of Jerusalem and around Tel Aviv.
    Jerusalem, he said, “will never be divided,” and Israel’s army would remain along the Jordan River.
    While some land where Israelis have settled would lie outside its final borders, he said, the borders would not be identical to those of 1967 and before, which he once again called indefensible. Palestinian refugees and their descendants, he said, would have to find their homes outside these borders, limiting their right of return to old homelands — long a sticking point.
    “I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace,” he said, adding that it would not be easy, because “in a genuine peace, we will be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland.”… – NYT, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu Gives No Ground in Congress Speech: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, broadly laying out the Israeli response to President Obama’s peace proposals, called on the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Tuesday to accept what Mr. Netanyahu framed as a tenet: that Palestinians will not get a right of return to Israel. In so doing, he made clear that he was giving no ground on the major stumbling blocks to a peace agreement.
    “I stood before my people and said that I will accept a Palestinian state; it’s time for President Abbas to stand up before his people and say, ‘I will accept a Jewish state,’ ” Mr. Netanyahu said to cheers from a hugely friendly crowd of Democratic and Republican lawmakers gathered in the House chamber of the Capitol.
    “Those six words will change history,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “With those six words, the Israeli people will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise.”… – NYT, 5-25-11
  • Netanyahu’s speech sets high bar for resumption of peace talks: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu invited Palestinians back to the bargaining table Tuesday with a speech before Congress that promised “painful” Israeli concessions in exchange for peace but also outlined a tough negotiating stance that was immediately rejected by key Palestinian officials.
    One aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Netanyahu’s proposals a “declaration of war against the Palestinians.”
    Netanyahu’s vision for Middle East peace drew thunderous ovations from U.S. lawmakers who cheered his prescription for a two-state solution that he said would lead to a “viable, independent and prosperous” Palestinian state. The speech culminated a dramatic several days in U.S.-Israeli relations, including a major speech on the Mideast by President Obama on Thursday, a charged visit between the two presidents on Friday and numerous quieter contacts between officials of the two nations.
    Netanyahu, one of a handful of foreign leaders to appear twice before joint sessions of Congress, laid out a vision for a peace agreement with the Palestinians that he said would include a “far-reaching compromise” and generous land concessions by Israel… – WaPo, 5-25-11
  • Netanyahu addresses Congress in historic speech: PM willing to give up parts of Israel but ‘Jerusalem must never be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel.’
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the United States Congress Tuesday in a much-anticipated speech following a turbulent visit to Washington.
    While the PM spoke about various issues, the focus of his address was clearly on the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, especially the security.
    “We must find a way to forge a lasting peace with the Palestinian people,” said Netanyahu who lauded Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) as a viable partner in peace, but not under the current conditions of their pact with Hamas.
    “Hamas is not a partner for peace. Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction,” Netanyahu stated. “Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of al-Qaeda.”
    Should the opportunity to negotiate peace with the PA arise, Netanyahu made it clear that “Israel will be generous with the size of the Palestinian state” but will not sacrifice security. “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967,” he said adamantly before adding, that it needs “unique security arrangements because of its unique size.”
    Netanyahu repeated what he told the AIPAC conference earlier in the day, that the State of Israel is not the root of the Middle East’s problem.
    “Israel’s not what’s wrong with the Middle East. Israel is what’s right about the Middle East,” he said to a cheering audience.
    “Israel has no better friend than America and America has no better friend than Israel,” he said while also thanking Obama for his great commitment to the security of Israel.
    “The Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We’re not the British in India, or the Belgians in the Congo. This is the land of our forefathers… no distortion of history will deny the 4,000 year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.”
    Netanyahu did not waste this opportunity to take a jab at the United Nations during this public address, saying that, should a peace agreement be reached “Israel will be the first country to welcome a Palestinian state as a member of the United Nation.” Shalom Life, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu at Congress: Jerusalem Must Remain Undivided: Israel is the only country that has guaranteed freedom of all faiths in Jerusalem, which must remain undivided, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Congress Tuesday.
    Interrupted by repeated by standing ovations, he also thanked the United States for helping Israel reach its defense capabilities despite the “tough” economy.
    There is no need for the United States to send troops to Israel because “we defend ourselves,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said.
    Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu noted in his opening remarks that the “ground is still shifting” in the Middle East and that the uprisings in the Muslim countries represent people’s demands for liberty. He said that of 300 million Arabs, the only ones who are “truly free” are citizens of Israel.
    He continued, “Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East. Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”
    After one person interrupted his speech briefly, the Prime Minister said that the United States is a “real democracy” unlike “farcical” regimes of Iran and elsewhere.
    He was welcomed with a standing ovation and three minutes of applause…. – Virtual Jerusalem, 5-24-11
  • PM Netanyahu Calls Congressional Leaders “Steadfast Friends” of Israel: Following his address to the joint meeting of Congress today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the Congressional leadership for the invitation to come to the Capitol, and called the bipartisan quartet of leaders “steadfast friends” of Israel.
    “I’ve known these friends of Israel a long time. They’re true, steadfast friends,” Netanyahu told reporters of Sens. Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and Reps. John Boehner, Nancy Pelosi and Eric Cantor. “I think you got that impression, I got that impression in the [House Chamber] where we’ve just come from, and I was delighted to see these anchors of the Israel-American alliance and the new faces that have been added. It’s heartwarming.”
    “We have a different feeling about the world, about our potential, about our defenses, when we have this solid American support from all parts of the American people. America supports us in our quest for peace; America helps our security; America wants a genuine peace; America opposes Hamas,” he added. “America joins us in demanding that Hamas’s criminal organization release Gilad Shalit. Imagine, they’re keeping our captive soldier in a dungeon for five years, and they’re not letting the Red Cross visit him even once. America stands with us in our just demands to release our soldier; to stop terrorism; to have a real, durable and defensible peace. This is a great day for us.”… – ABC News, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu to Congress: Ready to make painful compromises, but Jerusalem will not be divided: The prime minister was welcomed to the U.S. Congress by a long standing ovation, after which he praised the U.S. for their strong ties and shared values with Israel…. – Haaretz, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu: Militant Islam threatening the world: Israel’s prime minister, in an address to Congress on Tuesday, held out the threat of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, saying the only time Iran halted its nuclear program was when it feared such an attack.
    Benjamin Netanyahu did not go so far as to say Israel would carry out such an assault. But he told Congress that militant Islam was threatening the world and urged the U.S. never to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
    “The more Iran believes that all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation,” Netanyahu said.
    Netanyahu has said before that Iran won’t curb its nuclear ambitions unless it thinks it is threatened with military action…. – AP, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu receives warm reception in Congress: Lawmakers from both sides of the American political divide are giving Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a rapturous congressional reception, with frequent and sustained standing ovations.
    In his speech to a joint session of Congress, Netanyahu congratulated the United States for killing Osama bin Laden, wishing the al-Qaida leader “good riddance” and making the case that America and Israel are paragons of democracy. He dismissed early shouts from a female protester as evidence that freedom of speech is alive and well and respected in both countries, while it is punished in Arab states now going through upheaval…. – AP, 5-24-11
  • Why such a warm reception for Benjamin Netanyahu at US Congress?: Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu drew a line in the sand Tuesday during his speech to the US Congress, regarding future borders with any new Palestinian state. The applause was enthusiastic.
    The moment many US lawmakers were waiting for came toward the end of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech Tuesday to a joint session of Congress. “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967,” he said, to a vigorous burst of cheers and applause.
    With that, Mr. Netanyahu may have demonstrated that the American Congress stands with Israel, and not with President Obama, on the matter of a starting point for resuming peace talks with the Palestinians – if and when such negotiations ever do resume.
    That, perhaps, does not come as a huge surprise, given the shared Judeo-Christian tradition and shared democratic values. But there’s also the pro-Israel lobby, long one of the most effective on Capitol Hill. Since 1990, pro-Israel groups have contributed more than $97 million to congressional candidates – 67 percent to Democrats and 33 percent to Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. Some 38 lobbyists are registered on pro-Israel campaigns, spending more than $8.6 million to lobby Congress and the White House since Mr. Obama took office…. – CS Monitor, 5-24-11
  • U.S. Jewish groups united in support of Netanyahu’s speech to Congress: In speech before a joint meeting of Congress, Netanyahu stresses strong U.S.-Israel ties and their joint interests of protecting democracy and peace.
    Jewish American groups were overwhelmingly united in their praise for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech before the joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday, stressing their support for his clear call for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish State and commitment to peace…. – Haaretz, 5-24-11
  • Congress gives Netanyahu enthusiastic support down the line: Addressing an enthusiastic joint session of Congress, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that he was willing to make “painful compromises” to reach a comprehensive peace with Palestinian Arabs, but only if they agreed to live with a Jewish state whose territory included the suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
    In a 45-minute speech punctuated by 29 standing ovations — an unusually high number for a foreign leader before Congress — Netanyahu repeated his assertion that “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967,” which President Barack Obama said in a major speech last week should be the starting point of peace negotiations.
    The spirit of Obama’s remarks reflected the positions of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. But Obama’s overt call for using the 1967 lines — adjusted by mutually agreed land swaps — was controversial, especially when Netanyahu publicly upbraided Obama in the White House Oval Office the next day. On Tuesday, Netanyahu repeated his stand, but this time in front of a warm, appreciative bipartisan audience of American lawmakers.
    After the speech, congressional leaders of both parties made it clear that they were firmly allied with Israel’s prime minister…. – McClatchy Newspapers 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu’s make-or-break speech to Congress: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, long criticized for being passive and reactionary, is under pressure to exhibit the Zionist legacy of risk-taking and initiative in his address to Congress today….
    Four days after publicly spurning President Obama’s vision for ending the Israeli-Arab conflict, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure from supporters and critics alike to present an alternative plan for peace as he addresses a joint session of US Congress.
    In the shadow of regional change, Mr. Netanyahu has been attacked for taking a passive, reactive stance that favors his own political survival over meaningful progress with the Palestinians. Now, with Palestinians gaining momentum on a United Nations vote to establish a Palestinian state without Israel’s approval, his country faces a growing threat of isolation and attacks on its legitimacy.
    Many see Netanyahu’s speech today as an opportunity to take the diplomatic initiative, tapping into an Israeli legacy of risk-taking, initiative, and creativity that stretches from the country’s founding fathers to today’s technology entrepreneurs. That spirit – summed up in Zionist leader Theodore Herzl’s phrase, “If you will it, it is no dream” – has been seen in everything from preemptive military attacks to a unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip…. – CS Monitor, 5-24-11
  • Conn. rabbi to give opening prayer at US House session; was invited by Conn. Rep. Himes: A Connecticut rabbi will be visiting Capitol Hill to give the opening prayer before a U.S. House of Representatives session.
    Jeremy Wierderhorn is scheduled to deliver the invocation Tuesday at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat from Greenwich. Wierderhorn is rabbi of The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, Weston and Wilton.
    His prayer to open the House session takes place on the same day that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress.
    Wierderhorn has been rabbi at The Conservative Synagogue since 2008, and previously was rabbi of a temple in Henderson, Nevada…. – AP, 5-24-11

QUOTES

  • Full Text: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Address to a Joint Meeting of the United States CongressTranscript, 5-24-11
  • Bibi to Congress: No compromise on Jerusalem, refugees or Jordan River presence: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that any peace deal with the Palestinians must grant Israel a military presence along the Jordan River, exclude repatriation of Palestinian refugees to Israel and leave Jerusalem as Israel’s united capital.
    However, the Israeli leader said in his address to a joint meeting of Congress on Tuesday, some Jewish settlements in the West Bank would fall outside Israel’s borders in a final peace deal.
    Netanyahu did not appear to offer anything new by way of substance for his vision of peace with the Palestinians, saying Israel “would be very generous” about the size of the Palestinian state but providing few details.
    “Israel needs unique security arrangements, because of its unique size,” Netanyahu said.
    On the dispute over Jerusalem, which he vowed would remain Israel’s undivided capital city, he said, “With creativity and with good will, a solution can be found.”
    “Palestinians from around the world should have the right to immigrate, if they so choose, to the Palestinian state,” he said. “The Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.”
    “It’s absolutely vital that a Palestinian state be demilitarized,” Netanyahu said, “and it’s absolutely vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River.”
    The Israeli prime minister had an informal delivery, cracking several jokes and twice turning around to address Vice President Joe Biden. When a heckler interrupted Netanyahu at one point, Congress tried to drown her out with a standing ovation, much as the pro-Israel crowd at the annual banquet of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee did for the prime minister the previous evening.
    “This is real democracy,” Netanyahu said after the heckler had been removed from the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives.
    Netanyahu repeated some lines from the night before, when most of Congress joined the crowd at the AIPAC gala. “Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East,” Netanyahu said both days. “Israel is what is right about the Middle East.”
    On the Palestinian issue, Netanyahu said, “I’m willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace.” He called the West Bank the Palestinians’ homeland, but rejected the notion that it belongs to them alone.
    “In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers,” Netanyahu said, referring to the West Bank. “This is the land of our forefathers, the land of Israel to which Abraham brought the idea of one God.”
    “Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Netanyahu said. “It’s always been about the existence of a Jewish state. That’s what this conflict is about.”
    “I stood before my people and said I will accept a Palestinian state,” Netanyahu said. “It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say: I will accept a Jewish state.”
    As for the contours of a future Palestinian state, Netanyahu indicated that large settlement blocs would become part of Israel, along with “other areas of critical strategic and national importance,” but that, “in any real peace agreement, in any peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.”
    He said, “We recognize that a Palestinian state must be big enough to be viable, to be independent, to be prosperous.”
    “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967,” Netanyahu said…. – JTA, 5-24-11
  • Netanyahu to Congress: Ready to make painful compromises, but Jerusalem will not be divided: The prime minister was welcomed to the U.S. Congress by a long standing ovation, after which he praised the U.S. for their strong ties and shared values with Israel.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened his speech at the United States Congress on Tuesday by reiterating Israel’s strong ties with the U.S., saying “Israel has no better friend than the U.S. and the U.S. has no better friend than Israel.”
    The prime minister’s speech was briefly disrupted by a heckler, who was quickly escorted out by security. Netanyahu said about the heckler, “I appreciate that protesting is allowed” adding “this is the real democracy.”
    Netanyahu rejected those that call Israel a “foreign occupier”, saying that no one could deny the “4,000 year old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.”
    “Why has peace eluded us?” the prime minister posed as he began to discuss the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. “Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.”
    “I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historical peace. As the leader of Israel, it is my responsibility,” he said.
    “Now, this is not easy for me. It’s not easy, because I recognize that in a genuine peace we will be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland,” he said.
    Netanyahu said that Israel “will not return to the indefensible borders of 1967.” “Israel will be generous on the size of a Palestinian state, but will be very firm on where we put the border with it,” Netanyahu said.
    “It’s time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say, ‘I will accept a Jewish state’,” Netanyahu said to applause.
    “Those six words will change history. They will make it clear to the Palestinians that this conflict will come to an end,” he said. “And those six words will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace.”
    “Tear up your pact with Hamas and sit down and negotiate, make peace with the Jewish state,” he said. “The Palestinian attempt to impose a settlement through the United Nations will not bring peace, it should be forcefully opposed by all those who want to see this conflict end,” he said. “Peace cannot be imposed, it must be negotiated.”… – Haaretz, 5-24-11
  • House Speaker John Boehner: “We live in a time of instability in the Middle East and around the world, but the United States has no stronger ally than Israel. Our long-standing alliance is built on trust, and it’s based on shared values of freedom and democracy. America has a critical leadership role to play in the Middle East, to advance freedom and democracy in the entire region. That is our historic and moral responsibility as a great and free nation, and we should never retreat from that role, and today we stand shoulder to shoulder with Israel and once again renew our historic partnership. The work of achieving a safe and secure Israel has never been easy, but the cause is right.”
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: It was “an honor…to join my colleagues in the leadership of the Congress to welcome you once again to the Capitol of the United States” and said that judging by the response to the prime minister’s speech, that Members on “both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol believe that you advance the cause of peace.”
  • House Majority Leader Eric Cantor: Netanyahu singled out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the lone Jewish House Republican. “May I say that I was remiss in not mentioning an extraordinary friend of Israel and an extraordinary public servant, Eric Cantor,” Netanyahu said. “It’s good to see you here, too, Eric, and thank you for that invitation.”
    Cantor, R-Va., said the U.S. lawmakers all “heard today the tremendous challenges that the people of Israel face, the existential threat that they face, as do we, in the Middle East,” but noted that the speech amplified “the resounding bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong and will continue.”
  • Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.): Participated in a meeting featuring Netanyahu and Jewish lawmakers after the Israeli’s speech to Congress, said that making Israel a partisan issue would only damage the Jewish state in the end. He credited Netanyahu for “dialing back” the tension in his speeches, noting his praise in his speech to Congress for bipartisan support of Israel.
    “He tried to bring it back and get this thing off the table as a football,” Ackerman told JTA. “This should not be a wedge issue; there are huge consequences.”
  • Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee: Obama had created an opportunity by staking out Middle East policy that so clearly differentiated from Netanyahu’s.
    “It’s in our strategic interest as Americans to support Israel, and deviations from that position do not square with voters in our country. That’s what we’re going to be singing from the mountaintops for the next 17 months. We’re going to be making a strong play for Jewish voters in 2012, I can tell you that. We just did an eight-city tour in Florida, and we’re going to go back to Florida — we’re not going to let any stone unturned.” –
  • Bibi in Congress: The “wave” and the critical extemporization: There were more than two dozen standing ovations, but not all standing ovations are the same. Most of the ovations brought the entire House to its feet, immediately.
    A few, though, operated like waves: One party would rise and applaud and hoot and holler, and the other party would have a “might as well” reaction and –a little more slowly — also rise and applaud.
    (Republicans, from Netanyahu’s perspective, were on the left side of the chamber, and Democrats were on the right.)
    Here’s an example of a line that prompted GOP-to-Democrat wave (i.e., the Republicans were more enthusiastic)… – JTA, 5-24-11
  • Text of Rabbi Wiederhorn’s Prayer:
    Following is the text of the prayer delivered today by Rabbi Jeremy Wiederhorn of The Conservative Synagogue of Westport, Weston, and Wilton, before the U.S. House of Representatives:
    Dear God, source of all strength, compassion and peace.
    We know that our time on this earth is preciously short, so please, open our eyes to the beauty of the world around us.
    Remind us that each person we encounter is created in your image. Provide us with the integrity, wisdom, and patience to listen to those with whom we do not agree and learn from those who we might otherwise not hear.
    Protect the courageous men and women who put their lives in danger each day so that our children can live safely and without fear.
    Comfort us today as we mourn with the people of Missouri following the tragic loss of life brought upon by the devastating forces of nature.
    And, finally, bless our leaders and advisers, including the dedicated men and women of this United States Congress, who assiduously seek to protect our sacred democratic values at home and abroad.
    May you grant them the vision to look ahead to our future without forgetting the lessons of our past.
    Amen. –
    Westport Now, 5-24-11

HISTORIANS & ANALYSTS’ COMMENTS

  • GOP wooing Jewish voters, donors in wake of Obama’s Israel border: GOP activists are confident that they’ll gain additional votes and donations from the Jewish community following President Barack Obama’s call for Israel to retreat to territory along its pre-1967 border, with “mutually agreed swaps,” in any final peace settlement with Palestinian Arabs.
    “My friends in the Republican Jewish Coalition are ecstatic at the crossover they’re having from independent-minded Jews,” GOP consultant Karl Rove told The Daily Caller.
    “Most Jews are Democrats because they vote on the basis of domestic policies,” said Ari Fleischer, a former press secretary for George W. Bush. But, he added, “those who are more inclined to vote on international affairs are more likely to be independent and they tend to vote Republican,” he said. They’re also the people who are more likely to be alarmed by Obama’s new stance, he said. “That’s where the damage was done,” he said.
    The GOP’s share of the Jewish community’s vote in presidential elections rose steadily from the 1990s until 2008, when Obama pushed the GOP’s share back down to 21 percent. The GOP pulled only 9 percent of the community’s vote in 1992, 16 percent in 1996, and 25 percent in 2004.
    These shares of the national vote are important in swing-state Florida, which has an unusually large Jewish community, Fleischer said. In 2012, “if Republicans get only 20 percent [of the vote], it is harder to win Florida, but if Republicans get 25 percent of the Jewish vote, it is likely they’ll win Florida,” he said…. – Daily Caller, 5-25-11
  • Democrats join Republicans in questioning Obama’s policy on Israel: Top Democrats have joined a number of Republicans in challenging President Obama’s policy toward Israel, further exposing rifts that the White House and its allies will seek to mend before next year’s election.
    The differences, on display as senior lawmakers addressed a pro-Israel group late Monday and Tuesday, stem from Obama’s calls in recent days for any peace deal between Israel and Palestinians to be based on boundaries that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, combined with “mutually agreed swaps” of territory.
    Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and other Democrats appeared to reject the president’s reference to the 1967 lines in his latest attempt to nudge along peace talks, thinking that he was giving away too much, too soon.
    White House officials say Obama’s assertion did not reflect a shift in U.S. policy. But the president’s comments touched a nerve among pro-Israel activists, drew a rare Oval Office rebuke from Is­raeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and instantly became a litmus test in domestic American politics.
    Now Obama — whom critics often accuse of employing a play-it-safe governing style in which he waits for others to take the lead — is largely isolated politically in raising the issue of boundaries…. – WaPo, 5-24-11
  • Ed Koch: The Difference Between Obama’s and Bush’s Positions on Israel: The issues in all of the discussions on peace between the Israelis and Palestinians have revolved around three major controversial matters: Jerusalem, with the Palestinians demanding their capital be in that city; demanding a return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants now numbering 4.5 million to the state of Israel; and the lines of the new state.
    The two pre-Netanyahu prime ministers offered to share the capital of Jerusalem, giving to the Palestinian state that part of East Jerusalem in which Muslims now live, retaining for Israel that part of East Jerusalem in which 250,000 Jews now live and retaining about three percent of the West Bank in which about 300,000 Jews live. And most critical, requiring all Palestinian refugees seeking to return to be resettled in the new state of Palestine. The Palestinian leaders, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, turned down the offers on every occasion. Also, neither Arab leader has been willing to state that they would recognize Israel as a Jewish state — they having a Muslim state — if and when an agreement creating two states was entered into.
    And that is the nub of the disagreement in my opinion. In my opinion, Palestinians and their Arab allies have no intention of ever accepting a Jewish state in their midst. Many in the Muslim world believe that every square inch of Israel belongs to Islam and will someday be theirs; they have no intention of accepting the existence of a Jewish state. At best, they will accept a temporary truce with an entity called Israel which they will whittle away at, later overwhelm and absorb in the future.
    There are those who will say, how does President Obama’s reference to boundaries in his statement of May 19, 2011 differ from that proposed by President Bush. Both referred to the 1967 lines. President Bush added language referring to the facts on the ground, a reference to the 250,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem and 300,000 living on the West Bank. As the Times of January 11, 2008 reported, “By endorsing compensation for refugees, Mr. Bush sided, at least indirectly, with an Israeli view that the return of Palestinians to Israel was unacceptable since it would change the identity of Israel as a Jewish state. Similarly, he endorsed the notion of Israel as ‘a homeland for the Jewish people,’ and ‘Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people.'”… – Huff Post, 5-24-11
  • For Obama, Bibi tensions subside, political problems begin: That Israel problem President Obama had with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Old news. That Israel problem Obama has with Congress? And with his party? That’s just beginning.
    In two successive speeches — one to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday and another to a joint meeting of Congress the following day, Netanyahu had nothing but praise for the U.S. president.
    The friendly notes struck by the prime minister were all the more remarkable in light of how Republicans — and even some Democrats — were rushing to emphasize their differences with Obama on Israel policy…. – JTA, 5-24-11
  • Obama’s undue pressure on Israel?: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak to Congress at a time when his policies are more popular there than at the White House, POLITICO reports this morning.
    Members of both parties of Senate and the House, have criticized President Obama’s call for the borders of Israel return to that from before the Six-Day War of 1967, with mutually agreed upon land swaps with the Palestinians. Last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid rebuked Obama’s use of his Middle East speech to address possible aspects of a deal, saying “the place where negotiating will happen must be at the negotiating table – and nowhere else.”
    Is the Obama administration putting too much undue pressure on Israel? – Politico Arena, 5-24-11
  • Tevi Troy Senior Fellow, the Hudson Institute; Former Deputy HHS secretary: Majority Leader Reid’s pro-Israel speech at AIPAC, followed immediately by Speaker John Boehner’s equally supportive statement, shows that Obama’s position on Israel is unpopular in both parties and on both sides of the Capitol. The joint rebukes should encourage Obama to rethink how to approach the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. – Politico Arena, 5-24-11
  • Tevi Troy: Bibi 4, Obama 1: Cliff May is right about the Netanyahu speech. It was a strong speech, and Congress warmly, even rapturously received Netanyahu, with 30 standing ovations by my count sitting in the House Gallery. The recent disagreement with the White House over President Obama’s Thursday speech if anything made the congressional welcome even friendlier than it would have been otherwise.
    Netanyahu’s speech was the capstone on the complex five-act play that took place in Washington this past week, one in which Netanyahu scored a decisive 4–1 victory. Act One took place last Thursday, in the form of Obama’s speech at the State Department. If Obama was expecting huzzahs from the Arab world for his speech, he certainly didn’t get them, and the president himself seemed to have been caught by surprise by the strong negative reaction from the pro-Israel side. Still, the Obama speech hit Netanyahu & Co. hard, and has to be seen as a loss for Netanyahu.
    But Obama inexplicably chose to give the speech on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, which gave Netanyahu an opportunity to reply at their joint press appearance on Friday. In the tense, on-camera exchange of views, Netanyahu seemed to take Obama on a visit to Hebrew school, telling him the basic realities of existence in the tough neighborhood of the Middle East…. – National Review, 5-24-11
  • Alex Joffe: Say no to right of return Op-ed: Bibi challenges Obama to tell Palestinians forthrightly that right of return won’t happen: In the escalating crisis between the US and Israel, the issues of borders has gotten the most attention. By adopting the 1967 borders with territorial swaps as the starting point for negotiations, US President Barack Obama has explicitly shifted US policy. Previous presidents have recognized that the 1967 borders were untenable for Israel and that adjustments would be made, especially the incorporation of settlement blocs.
    Now, by specifying both the starting point for border adjustments and the precise size of Israel that will result from negotiations, Obama has adopted part of the Palestinian position.
    But while the borders issue has rightly outraged most Israeli commentators, in his public statement to the press after his meeting with Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lobbed a grenade directly at the American role in the Middle East “peace process.” He made it clear that Palestinian “refugees” will never exercise their mythical “right of return” to previous places of residence in Israel, but added, “I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen.”
    This was a challenge issued directly to President Obama who in his own remarks explicitly stated that the refugee issue would come, along with Jerusalem, at the end of the negotiations. Instead, Netanyahu demanded that Obama tell Palestinians that one of their most cherished myths will never come to pass. The statement must have struck fear into the hearts of Palestinian leaders but appears to have passed over the heads of Obama and his Middle Eastern advisors, as well as most pundits. But now that Netanyahu has put the issue front and center, in Obama’s presence, sooner or later someone will ask him or his administration about Palestinian ‘refugees.” What will he tell them?
    If Israelis are enraged about the issues of borders on purely pragmatic terms, namely the indefensibility of the 1949 armistice lines that left Israel a mere nine miles wide, the “right of return” is part of the central ethos of Palestinian society. A week does not go by when a Palestinian leader, from Fatah or Hamas, does not loudly promise Palestinians that they will be able to undo 63 years of history and return to what is now Israel…. – YNet News, 5-24-11
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