Pentagon Tells Obama to Press Israel for Peace

Israeli relations are worse now than
they've been in 35 years, according to Israel's ambassador to the
United
States, Michael Oren. And you've got to wonder
why.

Yes, right-wingers in the Israeli government
launched a
diplomatic grenade just as the U.S. was about to preside over the first,
very
tentative talks between Israel and the Palestine Authority.
Those right-wingers announced a big new Jewish building project in East
Jerusalem, which was bound to incense the
Palestinians. President Obama's key advisor David Axelrod suggested that the announcement
"seemed calculated to undermine" the talks before they
began.
Many of us would
omit the qualifier "seemed"; scuttling negotiation was obviously the
goal.

To make matters
worse, the Israeli right launched its attack just as Vice
President Joe
Biden arrived in Israel for what was supposed to be a
love-fest. Biden chastised the Israelis, then in a major speech in Tel
Aviv
seemed to set the incident aside, focusing on the larger context of an
enduring
"special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel.

Indeed, it came as a surprise to
many when the White House followed up by having Secretary of State
Hillary
Clinton give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a long
tongue-lashing and
then sending Axelrod out to the Sunday talk shows to complain of an
"insult"
that was "distressing to everyone who is promoting the idea of
peace and security in the region."

It certainly came as a
surprise to the Israelis, who are used to have the Obama administration
accept
any insult with scarcely a whimper. Israel's most prominent liberal
newspaper,
Haaretz, reported that "sources in the
Prime
Minister's Office said over the weekend that the ensuing crisis appeared
to be
orchestrated by the U.S. administration, as Netanyahu apologized to
Biden and
believed that the crisis was behind the two allies."

It also came as a
surprise to some seasoned observers in Washington, like the Washington
Post's Deputy Editorial
Page Editor, Jackson Diehl, who wrote
that
Biden was supposed to
"sidestep
such broadsides" as U.S. officials have done in the past
and pretend that settlement expansion just doesn't affect the chances
for a
negotiated peace.

In other words, on both sides of the U.S. - Israel
alliance
there were voices calling for the calculated insult to the V.P. to be
ignored,
especially by the Palestinians, who are apparently supposed to settle
for
whatever crumbs they are given by the occupying power and its superpower

sponsor.

But the commander-in-chief of the superpower did
not let the
matter slide. Again I say, you've
got to wonder why, because Diehl is right on one point: Both Obama and
his
predecessors have let worse insults from the Israelis slide in the past.
What's
different now?

Journalist Mark Perry, writing on the Foreign
Policy
website
, has at least one significant part of the answer. It
seems that
General "King David" Petraeus sent a briefing team to the Joint Chiefs
of Staff
back in January to give them the results of conversations U.S. military
leaders had with officials throughout the Arab world. The consensus:
Because of
the administration's failure to stand up to the Israelis, "America
was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was
eroding." Perry claims (though he cites no specific sources) that this
news "hit
the White House like a bombshell."

Huh? It's news that the U.S. image has suffered
from looking like it's
being pushed around by little Israel? The White House didn't know
that before? Hard to
imagine.

I suspect that the real bombshell
was that the Pentagon was expressing concern at the highest level. As
Perry
concludes, no DC lobby, not even the Israel lobby, "is as important, or
as powerful,
as the U.S. military." Perhaps this was the
first time that such a level of anxiety had wafted across the Potomac
from the Pentagon to the White House.

Obama did imply, in his groundbreaking Cairo
speech, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was
harmful to U.S. security interests. But he said
it in such elliptical terms that no one took it very seriously --
apparently not
even he himself, judging from his weak and waffling stances on the
issue.
Perhaps now, with alarm bells ringing in the JCS office, he will start
to get
serious about forcing the Israelis to do what's necessary to create the
peace
agreement that most of the world has long seen as inevitable.

Netanyahu refused to cancel the announced new
building in
East Jerusalem (which he claims took him by
surprise), because he fears alienating his right-wing base of support.
But as a
leading Israeli observer of U.S. - Israel relations, Shmuel Rosner,
noted, if Obama "signalled that Israel
could no longer take unconditional
US support for granted, Mr Netanyah's
domestic support would quickly evaporate."

The U.S. is still in
the driver's seat here. The question is whether, now driven by military
concerns, the administration will steer the Israelis toward a just
peace,
whether they like it or not.

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