Published on: May 2nd, 2010 at 11:13 PM News Source: The Philadelphia Bulletin
The administration of President Barack Obama has launched what officials termed a psychological warfare campaign meant to topple Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Sources in the Obama Administration and the US Congress have confirmed to the Middle East Newsline that the White House and State Department have sought to destabilize Netanyahu’s government by forcing him to agree to an indefinite freeze on Jewish construction in areas taken by Israel in the wake of the 1967 war as well as the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2012. They said the campaign sought to replace Netanyahu with opposition leader and former foreign minister Tsipi Livni.
“Bibi is extremely vulnerable to pressure,” a source familiar with the White House effort said. “We know this from his first term in office and believe he will collapse this time as well.”
The sources said the administration’s strategy aimed to delegitimize Netanyahu in his government and right-wing constituency. They said Obama and his aides have sought to portray Netanyahu as a weak and unstable politician who will destroy relations with Washington as Israel seeks U.S. support for a military option against Iran.
“There seems to be a general belief in the circle around the president that the democratically-elected government in Israel is drunk at the wheel,” Steven Rosen, a veteran pro-Israeli lobbyist now with the Middle East Forum, said. “They clearly will use pressure tactics to bring Israel around.”
In April 2010, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, began a series of attacks on Netanyahu in the Israeli media. Indyk, a former assistant secretary of state under then-President Bill Clinton, has called
for the toppling of Netanyahu while his right-wing partners accept a more pliant prime minister.
“Indyk was sent by Obama and encouraged by his American Jewish supporters, particularly [former Rep.] Robert Wexler, to do this,” the source said.
In January 2010, Wexler resigned from Congress to become head of the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation. The center was founded by Obama supporter Daniel Abraham and a delegation met Netanyahu in February.
The sources said the administration’s campaign has included invitations to Defense Minister Ehud Barak to the White House, where he met with Obama on April 26. Barak has been regarded as the most pro-U.S. minister in Netanyahu’s Cabinet and has been lobbying ministers to accept Obama’s proposals.
“It’s not going to be easy to turn this thing around,” Rosen told a briefing on April 21. “Some of my friends in Jerusalem believe this crisis will go on for an extended period.”
The anti-Netanyahu has alarmed pro-Israeli members in Congress, particularly from the Democratic Party. Several of the Democrats have reported a sharp drop in funds by Jewish donors for congressional elections in November.
“This [campaign against Netanyahu] is counterproductive and has to stop,” Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat who has threatened to issue a condemnation of the White House, said.
Some in the pro-Israeli community detect an anti-Semitic tinge to the White House campaign, despite the involvement of Jewish aides. On April 21, National Security Advisor James Jones stunned an audience at the pro-Israel Washington Institute when he told a joke of a Jewish merchant who tricked a thirsty Taliban fighter into buying a tie.
“I wish that I had not made this off the cuff joke at the top of my remarks,” Jones later said. “I apologize to anyone who was offended by it. It also distracted from the larger message I carried that day: That the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is sacrosanct.”
Former State Department official Aaron Miller said Obama has surrounded himself with aides who blame Netanyahu for the suspension of the Arab-Israeli peace process. Miller said many of the aides had encountered Netanyahu during his first tenure as prime minister from 1996 to 1999.
“They had seen the Benjamin Netanyahu movie before and were determined not to let their chance at Middle East peace end the same way,” Miller said in the magazine Foreign Policy. “Confronted with Netanyahu again, Obama and his team needed no encouragement to talk tough on the growing Israeli Settlements in the West Bank, an issue that experts inside and outside government were clamoring for Obama to raise as the first step in his renewed push for peace. Fresh from his victory on health care, he’s [Obama] king of the world again and in no mood to let the king of Israel frustrate his plans.”
Obama’s Jerusalem stonewall
Demanding a construction freeze in the capital reverses decades of U.S. policy
By Mortimer Zuckerman
The Wall Street Journal
April 28, 2010
Thanks to a deadlock engineered by the U.S. government, the Middle
East peace process is stalled. President Obama began this stalemate
last year when he called for a settlement freeze, and he escalates it
now with a major change of American policy regarding Jerusalem.
The president seeks to prohibit Israel from any construction in its
capital, in particular in a Jewish suburb of East Jerusalem called
Ramat Shlomo. This, despite the fact that all former administrations
have unequivocally understood that the area in question would remain
part of Israel under any final peace agreement. Objecting to any
building in this East Jerusalem neighborhood is tantamount to getting
the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem before final
status talks with the Palestinians even begin.
From the start of his presidency, Mr. Obama has undermined Israel’s
confidence in U.S. support. He uses the same term – “settlements” –
to describe massive neighborhoods that are home to tens of thousands
of Jews and illegal outposts of a few families. His ambiguous use of
this loaded word raises the question for Israelis about whether this
administration really understands the issue.
It certainly sends signals to the Palestinians. The Palestinian
Authority followed the president’s lead and refused to proceed with
planned talks until Israel stops all so-called settlement activities,
including in East Jerusalem.
President Obama’s attitude toward Jerusalem betrays a fundamental
misunderstanding of the history of the city. After Israel was
recognized as a new state in 1948, it was immediately attacked by the
combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and
Iraq. The attacks were repelled, but the Jordanians, who were asked
not to join the Egyptian war effort, conquered East Jerusalem and
separated it from its western half. In 1967, the Arab armies again
sought to destroy Israel, but it prevailed in the famous Six Day War
and reconquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula
and the Gaza Strip.
Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 to 1967, dozens of synagogues were
destroyed or vandalized. The ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of
Olives was desecrated, its tombstones used for the construction of
roads and Jordanian army latrines. The rights of Christians as well
as Jews were abused, with some churches converted into mosques.
When Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967 it built,
and has since continued to build, neighborhoods for its Jewish
residents. Palestinian Arabs have also built in Jerusalem throughout
this period. Incidentally, today there is more new Arab housing
(legal and illegal) being built than Jewish housing according to a
report by Middle East expert Tom Gross – without any criticism from
the Obama administration.
But this is all recent history: Israel’s claim over Jerusalem does
not spring from 1948 or 1967. Rather, it signifies the revival of
historic rights stemming from biblical times.
Jerusalem is not just another piece of territory on a political
chessboard: It is integral to the identity and faith of the Jewish
people. Since the city was founded by King David some 3,500 years
ago, Jews have lived there, worked there, and prayed there. During
the First and Second Temple periods, Jews from across the kingdom
would travel to Jerusalem three times a year for the Jewish holy
days, until the Roman Empire destroyed the Second Temple in 70 A.D.
That ended Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem for the next 2,000
years, but the Jews never relinquished their bond.
Jerusalem is much less embedded in Muslim culture. When Muslims pray,
they face Mecca, not Jerusalem. The Old Testament mentions Jerusalem,
or its alternative name Zion, a total of 457 times. The Koran does
not mention Jerusalem once.
Muhammad, who founded Islam in 622 A.D., was born and raised in what
is now Saudi Arabia; he never set foot in Jerusalem. And in the 1,300
years that various Islamic dynasties ruled Jerusalem, not one Islamic
dynasty ever made the city its capital. Indeed, even the National
Covenant of the PLO, written in 1964, never mentions Jerusalem. It
was only added after Israel regained control of the city in 1967.
The reality today is that in the area referred to as East Jerusalem –
that is, an area north, south and east of the city’s 1967 borders –
there are roughly a half a million Jews and Arabs living in
intertwined neighborhoods. The idea of a purely Jewish West Jerusalem
or a purely Palestinian East Jerusalem is a myth: Building in
particular neighborhoods in no way precludes the possibility of a
Ramat Shlomo, the center of the most recent row, is a thriving
community of tens of thousands of Jews located between two larger
Jewish communities called Ramot and French Hill. Its growth would in
no way interfere with the contiguity of new Arab neighborhoods in
East Jerusalem. And in every peace agreement that has ever been
discussed, these areas would remain a part of Israel.
No wonder the Israelis reacted so strongly when Mr. Obama called this
neighborhood “a settlement.” For over 43 years, there has been a
tacit agreement that construction here did not constitute an obstacle
to negotiations. Thus, the new policy was seen as an Obama
administration effort to force Israel to accept the division of
Jerusalem, taking yet another negotiating card off the table for the
But what the world never remembers is what the Israelis can never
forget. When Jordan controlled the eastern part of the city,
including the Old City and the Western Wall (a retaining wall of the
ancient Temple), it permitted reasonably free access to Christian
holy places. But the Jews were denied any access to the Jewish holy
places. This was a fundamental departure from the tradition of
freedom of religious worship in the holy land, which had evolved over
centuries, not to speak of a violation of the undertaking given by
Jordan in the Armistice Agreement concluded with Israel in 1949.
Nobody should expect the Jews to risk that again.
Since Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it has faithfully protected
the rights and security of Christians, Muslims and Jews. Christians
now control the Ten Stations of the Cross; Muslims control the Dome
of the Rock. Yet the Palestinians often stone Jewish civilians
praying at the Western Wall below. Their leaders and imams repeatedly
deny the Jewish connection to Jewish holy sites. Freedom of religion
in Jerusalem should not be compromised by American policy.
That’s not all. Dividing Jerusalem would put Palestinian forces and
rockets a few miles from Israel’s Parliament. And Jewish
neighborhoods would be within range of light weapon and machine-gun
fire. This is exactly what happened after the Oslo Accords, when the
Palestinians fired from Beit Jalla toward Jerusalem’s Gilo
neighborhood, wounding scores of residents.
The vast majority of Israelis believe Jerusalem must be shared – not
divided. Even the great Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, who signed the
Oslo Accords, said in 1995: “There are not two Jerusalems; there is
only one Jerusalem.”
The final status of Jerusalem will be on the table if and when
Palestinians and Israelis talk. But Mr. Obama’s policy reversal has,
yet again, given the Palestinians every reason not to negotiate.
(Mr. Zuckerman is chairman and editor in chief of U.S. News & World Report.)