What's Not Being Said About the Obama-Netanyahu Talks
By Carl Bloice *
The day after the White House talks
between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the news agency AFP (Agence France-
Presse) sent out an unusual story. It seems to have
noticed what some of the rest of us did, that the story
was being downplayed. The talks, it said, had "earned
only modest coverage in US newspapers."
"While deep differences exposed during the talks
between Obama and Netanyahu earned blanket coverage in
Israeli media and stoked fears in Israel of cooling
ties with its main ally, the story failed to make the
front pages of The New York Times, Washington Post or
Wall Street Journal,"
the story said, adding that,
"Each of the papers ran brief teasers of the meeting on
page one but the stories themselves ran well inside,
including on page 10 of the Journal as well as the
Post, and page 12 of the Times.
"But squeezing Netanyahu off the newspapers' front
pages were other global headlines, primarily the
climactic end to war in Sri Lanka, and a US envoy
positioning himself for a new job in Afghanistan.
Domestic issues including Obama's toughening of auto
emissions and mileage rules and New York City's efforts
to battle swine flu also edged out the Israeli
The story said. "The Post chose to go further
afield, printing a four-column-wide photograph of
astronauts repairing the Hubble Space Telescope. It was
left to the US capital's second daily, The Washington
Times, to carry a page-one piece on the efforts to
secure peace in the Middle East."
Of course, the talks between the U.S. and Israeli
leaders were private and we aren't privy to what the
two had to say to each other, however, they emerged to
hold a joint press conference which was covered by the
major cable news networks. Still, AFP was quite right
about one thing: the contrast between the newspaper
coverage here and in Israel was glaring. And it has
been that way ever since.
What is most unfortunate here from the U.S. public's
point of view is the failure of the U.S. media to
adequately reflect the nature of the attention the
Israeli media has afforded Netanyahu's visit to
Washington. This is especially important in light of
three of the issues at the center of the Washington
talks: the continued expansion of Israeli settlements
on the occupied territory of the West Bank, the
continued military hold on the Golan Heights area of
neighboring Syria, and the conflict over dealing with
Iran's nuclear energy activity. From all published
accounts, serious differences remain on all three
issues, but none so glaring, and perhaps consequential,
as the fate of the territories captured in the 1967
war, the continued occupation of those parts of
Palestine, and the possibility of a "two-state
solution" to the conflict.
President Obama is scheduled to go to Egypt June 5
where he is slated to deliver an address focusing on
U.S. relations with the Islamic world. Before that he
is to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas. He conferred with King Abdullah of Jordan in
Washington in April.
On May 22, journalist Herb Keinon wrote that while
President Obama is "not expected to unveil a full-blown
plan," when he speaks in Cairo "he is likely to raise,
along with the need for a Palestinian state, the issue
of the need for the Islamic world to begin making
gestures toward Israel."
"Both those elements - a Palestinian state and a
determined effort to get the Arab world to begin
developing ties with Israel at the beginning of the
diplomatic process, not only at the end - have emerged
as central pillars of the White House's Mideast plan,"
wrote Keinon, "But the details of this plan - and, more
interestingly, the details of Netanyahu's diplomatic
plan - still remain enigmatic, even after the latter's
visit to Washington this week. Something rather odd
happened when Netanyahu met Obama, after weeks of
buildup and speculation, and after much talk of a
vaunted "policy review" in Jerusalem: The public is no
wiser now about Netanyahu's end-game, of where he is
headed, than it was before he set out for DC."
But there are some important clues.
No sooner than he arrived back in Israel, Netanyahu
declared that the Israelis would never agree to a
divided Jerusalem and would continue to rule the city.
"Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish people,
a city reunified so as never again to be divided,"
Netanyahu told a crowd at the annual "Jerusalem Day"
Here's the observation the newspaper Haaretz made last
"Ever since East Jerusalem was annexed to the State of
Israel, Jerusalem Day, which is celebrated today, has
turned into a festival of cliched slogans - such as
`the united capital of Israel for all eternity.'' From
year to year, the gap between the flowery words of the
politicians and the sad reality in the divided city
widens. The day after the festival, officials return to
supporting discrimination against the Palestinian
minority, who make up a third of the city's population.
Forty-two years after Israel declared that Jerusalem
had been reunited, it is simple to draw a clear line
between the two peoples who have been compelled to live
under one national and municipal roof. According to
data gathered by the Association for Civil Rights in
Israel, two-thirds of the Palestinians in the city live
below the poverty line; more than one-third of their
lands have been expropriated since 1967; since there
are no approved plans, 160,000 of them are living in
homes that were built without permits, and can expect
demolition and eviction orders; tens of thousands live
without proper sewage systems or regular water
supplies; their sanitation conditions are inferior; and
there are too few social workers to care for them and
too many Border Policemen."
"Half of the Palestinian children of school-going age
do not have a place in the state educational system,
and some 9,000 of them do not receive any education at
all. At the same time the separation fence pushes the
Palestinians out of the city limits, the Israeli
establishment is abetting the extreme right-wing
organizations that take up residence in the Arab
neighborhoods, sow discord and bring about the eviction
of Palestinian families from their homes."
"It is not conceivable that there will be a peace
agreement that will leave Israel with total sovereignty
over Muslim holy places,"
the editorial continued.
"Without a final status agreement between Israel and
the Palestinians, the countries of the world will not
recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and they
will continue to keep their embassies elsewhere. Unless
the Muslim world is made a partner to sovereignty on
the Temple Mount, there is no point in discussing
normal relations between Israel and its neighbors.
"Now, as U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to launch
his peace plan, it would be wise for Israel's leaders
to exchange their empty slogans for practical plans for
a logical and just arrangement for Jerusalem."
The day after Netanyahu's declaration French Foreign
Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said, "The
declaration made by the Israeli prime minister
yesterday in Jerusalem prejudices the final status
agreement." "In France's eyes, Jerusalem should, within
the framework of a negotiated peace deal, become the
capital of two states,"
he said. Adding, "Actions such
as the destruction of Palestinian homes or the
transformation of Arab districts risk provoking an
escalation in violence. They are unacceptable and
contrary to international law."
"In broad terms, France condemns the ongoing
settlement, including in East Jerusalem. We reiterate
the need for a freeze on colonization activities,
including those linked to natural population growth,"
"While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in
Washington getting an earful from US lawmakers about
the need to stop Jewish settlements and establish a
Palestinian state, back in Jerusalem the new mayor is
implementing a very different policy,"
wrote Ilene R.
Prusher in the Christian Science Monitor May 19. "Since
taking office in January on promises to develop the
city equitably, Mayor Nir Barkat has stepped up
demolition orders of Arab homes in East Jerusalem,
charged an Israeli human rights organization on
Tuesday. In addition, he is moving forward with a $100
million development plan that would further diminish
the city's Arab population and thus thwart Palestinian
efforts to establish a contiguous state with a capital
"According to the report by the Association for Civil
Rights in Israel (ACRI), 1,052 demolition orders have
been issued since the beginning of the year, 34 of them
signed by Mr. Barkat himself. So far, 23 have been
"The many demolition orders issued in 2009 suggest that
this number will rise dramatically by year's end,"
The mayor has denied the charge.
"The report comes in the midst of Mr. Netanyahu's first
official visit with President Barack Obama in the US
since becoming prime minister,"
"Underscoring their differences, Mr. Obama emphasized
the necessity of a two-state solution to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict, while Netanyahu conspicuously
avoided an endorsement of that formula, saying that
Palestinians should be able to `govern themselves' and
that he favors increased economic cooperation."
A clue to just what that might mean can perhaps be
found in a report by Jonathan Cook carried by ZNet May
22 about Uzi Arad, a top advisor to Netanyahu and head
of Israel's National Security Council. Cook wrote:
"In an indication of his implacable opposition to a
Palestinian state, Mr. Arad recently told an
interviewer: `We want to relieve ourselves of the
burden of Palestinian populations, not the
"He has suggested that the Palestinians be required to
become economically self-reliant, in the hope that
their leaders will be forced to promote family planning
methods to reduce the population. His motto is that the
Palestinians need `one man, one job' before they need
`one man, one vote'."
On Saturday, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon
said on Israeli television, "We will not follow
American dictates. We will not halt construction in the
"If Israel continues not to accept solving the
Palestinian issue on the basis of a two-state solution,
then the other option before us is one democratic state
in which Muslims, Christians and Jews live side by side
enjoying the same rights,"
Arab League Secretary
General Amr Musa said last week. He went on, "The
situation in this region is unstable and dangerous and
US President [Barack] Obama should properly address the
Arab-Israeli conflict and, in particular, the
Palestinian issue. There must be a viable Palestinian
state and a comprehensive peace that should involve
Syria and Lebanon."
Much has been made in the major media of a confluence
of interest between Israel and the governments of Sunni
Arab governments in opposition to Iran. This, however,
is overblown and misleading. No one can doubt that a
military attack - a constant Israeli threat - would
enflame the entire Islamic world.
"But as we talk about a world free of nuclear weapons,
the US should bear in mind that there is a country
already possessing nuclear weapons,"
said Musa. "We
need a fair and positive deal in this question by the
US. Do not talk about Iran while leaving Israel outside
Dahabi concurred, adding "everybody has to sign the
nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."
"Settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move
Robert Naiman, National Coordinator of Just
Foreign Policy, wrote last week. "In calling for an end
to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank,
President Obama is restating longstanding U.S. policy.
However, under the Bush Administration, U.S. officials
tended to use weak formulations like referring to the
settlements as `an obstacle to peace' rather saying
explicitly that they should stop. And the statements
tended to come from folks like Secretary of State Rice,
rather than from the president himself. By making the
statement in his press conference with Netanyahu,
President Obama underscored the policy.
"However, what really matters is giving teeth to the
policy. There can scarcely be any reasonable doubt that
if the Obama Administration really wants to, it can
stop Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. The
U.S. has a great deal of leverage over the Israeli
government. The question is whether the Obama
Administration will use that leverage.
"For example, earlier this month, President Obama sent
his FY2010 budget request to Congress and, as expected,
included in it $2.775 billion in military aid for
Israel, an increase of $225 million from this year's
"This presents the perfect opportunity for the Obama
Administration to `put its money where its mouth is.'
The Obama Administration could, for example, support
conditioning the increase in U.S. military aid on
Israeli compliance with a settlement freeze. No-one
could plausibly claim that conditioning the increase on
compliance with a settlement freeze would "endanger
Israel" in any way - even if Israel did not comply
with the settlement freeze, and did not receive the
increase in military aid as a result, that would leave
Israel receiving exactly as much U.S. military aid as
it receives now.
"But such a move would make clear that the Obama
Administration is serious."
Jordan's King Abdullah II bin al-Hussein recently
conferred in Damascus with President Bashar al-Assad.
The two are said to have discussed a Saudi-inspired
Arab peace initiative which proposes full diplomatic
recognition to Israel if it returns the occupied
territories to Palestinian control and works out a
settlement of the problem of Palestinian refugees. Last
week Abdullah issued an ominous warning: "If we delay
our peace negotiations, then there is going to be
another conflict between Arabs or Muslims and Israel in
the next 12-18 months."
His father, the late King
Hussein bin Talal conveyed a similar message to the
White House once - on the eve of the 1967 war.
* BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member Carl Bloice
is a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National
Coordinating Committee of the Committees of
Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly
worked for a healthcare union.
Black Commentator May 28, 2009; www.blackcommentator.com
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