The nature of arm-twisting in statecraft is that it’s practiced but always denied. No powerful leader anywhere will readily acknowledge having resorted to even a subtle form of arm-twisting. Likewise, no less-powerful leader – the object of concealed coercion – will ever admit that his arm was twisted.
Arm-twisting is something which both twister and twistee have an inherent interest to deny.
This is so elementary that that there is no point trying to ferret out indications that US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to our land is anything but an expression of syrupy sympathy and support. Both the White House occupant and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will swear up and down that it’s the culmination of a wonderful friendship.
But to put the touchy-feely photo-op into context, we might be well advised to rewind to the generic George Mitchell extravaganza of four years ago.
During Obama’s entire first term, which included several excursions to our region, he always assiduously left little Israel out of his travel itinerary. Had Obama dropped in on us, he might have offended the Arab/Muslim hosts he aspired to suck up to. But he by no means ignored us. Heck no. We actually were the first item on his agenda.
No sooner was he ensconced in office then he dispatched Mitchell to us as a specially appointed Mideast envoy. Mitchell was charged with getting the pesky chore of contracting an Israeli-Palestinian peace out of the way quickly. What couldn’t be achieved since the 19th century, Obama immodestly boasted, he could achieve via Mitchell’s much-hyped mission within a year. And Obama couldn’t wait.
Get a load of what Mitchell revealed to Charlie Rose on PBS in January 2010. Waxing ecstatic over Obama’s alacrity to rid mankind of our conflict once and for all, Mitchell recounted: “This president began 48 hours after taking office. He appointed me to this position two days after he was sworn in as president. You know what he said to me? He said, I want you to go over there tonight. I said, Mr. President, I’ve got a wife and kids, I don’t have any clothes with me. I have to go home and tell them I’m going to leave. I had to go home for a day just to get ready to go. He was anxious from the first to get into it.”
It – our struggle for self-preservation – was presented as amenable to a quick fix.
The threats to our survival, the genocide plotted against us for a hundred years, were all simplistically condensed and superficially redefined as an irksome kink that requires rapid repair.
At best, equal blame was artificially apportioned to both sides. Our tribulations were boiled down to tiresome bellyaching that must with great urgency be overcome. That, moreover, was the kindest face Obama was prepared to put on it and it was only put on sporadically and solely for public consumption.
Israel’s very inability to risk the Jewish state’s continued existence for the sake of facile clichés paradoxically facilitates disapproval of its conduct. When our struggle to stay alive ends up trivialized and kitschified, the remedy is clear: Bring more pressure to bear.
That may in all likelihood be what Obama’s visit is really all about. According to some conjecture, Obama’s stopover is intended for working sessions on the danger of Iranian nukes (about which Obama outrageously did nothing much for four years) or on the danger of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction from Syrian stockpiles.
Perhaps. Operative coordination, however, needn’t take place at the highest level and, if the finishing touches do require direct top-level involvement, this could well be left to one of Netanyahu’s visits to America, such as his attendance of the annual AIPAC policy conference (which Netanyahu had to forgo this year – presumably due to Obama’s trip to our turf).
The more probable scenario is that the Iranian predicament will feature but that Obama’s aim will be to forcefully dissuade Netanyahu from doing anything about the ever-looming nuclear menace from Tehran. Phrased differently, the guest is coming to twist the arm of his host.
In addition, the very fact that Obama will also head to Ramallah and Amman – both part and parcel of the original Mandatory Palestine – leaves little doubt about another focus of his expedition.
Obama will seek to revive that moribund mission that Mitchell couldn’t make a go of. The logic is straightforward. What the envoy couldn’t get done – even with the expressed full weight of his powerful dispatcher behind him – the dispatcher will now attempt to restart himself. That should lend a whole lot more impetus to the undertaking.
When the leader of the world’s one superpower invests his prestige in a diplomatic enterprise, it’s nothing to scoff at. The assumption is that he cannot be allowed to depart without an impressive going-away present from his host. Netanyahu, it’s reckoned, won’t be able to bid Obama farewell without offering some tangible triumph for the august guest to crow about.
High-profile visits by foreign heads of state, even if discomfiting, don’t come cheap. Indeed the price squeezed out could be painful. When it comes to an American presidential visit, the payment may be excruciating.
Obama will try to pull off what his personal representative couldn’t – for now without an intermediary. And when a future intermediary – or secretary of state – is entrusted with the follow-up, it will be after the no-nonsense publicly displayed empowerment by the boss. And that boss is now beginning his second and last term, freed from the fear of electoral backlash.
Obama proved that he can twist Netanyahu’s arm already during that first term, when he still couldn’t afford to alienate too many Jewish voters. Yet even then, he got Netanyahu to freeze for 10 months all Jewish construction beyond the 1949-armistice lines and to declare his devotion for the two-state sham. Both of Netanyahu’s concessions were abysmal game-changers.
The first cemented the misperception that Jewish settlement in the Jewish heartland is not only illegal but among the greatest crimes of the age. The second helped elevate the two-state mantra to Gospel-like inviolability. It has been sanctified as the starting point for all discussion, as the goal that cannot be questioned.
Yet while Obama is intent on dragging us, come what may, down the two-state path, the last thing Palestinians want is an Arab Palestinian state dwelling in idyllic coexistence alongside a secure, accepted and recognized Jewish state. Honchos in both Ramallah and Gaza may expediently exploit the two-state catchphrase, but they never truly espoused the cause of two-state harmony.
This reality should be quite obvious to Obama. He should further be fully aware that it was none other than Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) who scuttled Mitchell’s mediation while cynically painting Israel (which crucially props him up) as obstructionist.
But Obama’s capacity for getting it thoroughly wrong on world affairs cannot be underestimated. And so he haughtily reiterates what he has been declaiming all along with undiminished verve but with an ever-invigorated note of urgency.
The same goes for his new secretary of state, John Kerry. Already in the Senate hearing to confirm his nomination, Kerry mouthed all the right mottos about reigniting the peace process, depicting the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “key for resolving other conflicts in the region.”
If the Arab-Spring misnomer hasn’t yet taught Obama and crew that Israel isn’t the pivotal cause of the Mideast’s debacles, then nothing will.
For one thing, a narrow-waisted sliver of a state (9 miles wide at its center) cannot be what troubles an immense Arab realm, larger than the entire European continent and the US put together.
Besides, all the territory now demanded so piteously of Israel was firmly in Arab hands between 1948 and 1967. Yet the slightest move wasn’t made to establish that coveted Palestinian state, supposedly so essential for Arab contentment and regional serenity.
The Palestinian state – i.e. the two-state solution – is a red herring, introduced to divert attention away from recurrent Arab attempts to annihilate this country’s Jews even before they had a state and later to also destroy their state. Mufti Haj Amin al- Husseini’s avid collusion in Berlin during World War II with the Nazi masterminds of “the final solution to the Jewish problem” was phenomenally popular throughout the Arab world. It preceded the birth of sovereign Israel and subsequent calumnies of unprovoked occupation.
Israel isn’t what foments Mideast unrest.
If anything, the desire to obliterate Israel is the only glue that binds assorted mutually hostile local regimes. Last week’s visit of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmedinejad to Cairo is a compelling case in point. The backbiting and squabbling couldn’t even be contained in front of the cameras. Only one subject afforded a perfect meeting of the minds – castigation of Israel.
But even – heaven forefend – if Israel were to disappear off the map, the Arab world would know no peace.
To ascribe to Israel responsibility for the ills of the region is about as credible as the cockamamie conspiracy theories so rife in the Arab media about calculated American instigation of civil strife and bloodshed in Arab societies.
The real fault for the ongoing conflict with Israel lies with unbridled and crude Arab/Muslim incitement – with radical proclivities such as those once enunciated by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi who exhorted his compatriots to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred.” Elsewhere, he depicted Jews and Zionists as “bloodsuckers” and as “the descendants of monkeys and pigs.”
It’s such mindsets that have for decades prevented Arab reconciliation with Israel and spurred continuous efforts to eradicate it – whether by open warfare or via stratagems like a nonviable second Palestinian state (Jordan, on 80 percent of the original Palestine Mandate, being the first Arab Palestinian state).
By subscribing unreservedly to the Palestinian-state slogan (the partition of the leftover 20% of original Palestine) and by regarding Israel as the core regional destabilizer, Obama in effect adopts the Arab narrative, even if he arm-twists Netanyahu to deny this.
And in a few weeks Obama – amid synthetic smiles, pomp and circumstance – will proverbially grab Netanyahu’s arm and apply more pressure to coerce him to facilitate more facets of the phased Arab designs to further enfeeble the Jewish state. Obama will deny it. Netanyahu will deny it.
Arm-twisting? What arm-twisting?