It was just last week that Canadian PM Stephen Harper spoke publicly about his government’s support for Israel.

Here is part of the transcript of that video:

Of course, like any country, Israel may be subjected to fair criticism. And like any free country, Israel subjects itself to such criticism – healthy, necessary, democratic debate. But when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack – Is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonization, double standards, delegitimization, the 3 D’s, it is a responsibility, to stand up to them.

And I know, by the way, because I have the bruises to show for it, that whether it is at the United Nations, or any other international forum, the easy thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of “honest broker.” There are, after all, a lot more votes, a lot more, in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But, as long as I am Prime Minister, whether it is at the UN or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are, in the longer term, a threat to all of us.

I am quoting him because he did not ask for anything from Israel in order to make these statements. Instead, he made them openly and freely while openly suggesting that Canada did not earn a seat on the UN Security Council because of its position of support for Israel.

Consider now how poor relations with Israel have become under the Obama administration. It was reported tonight that the US offered Netanyahu a package of incentives to renew the Israeli freeze on settlements, presumably also on construction in eastern Jerusalem which Israel has annexed. As a reminder, Israel unilaterally froze settlement construction for ten months in order to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table and the Palestinians refused. It was only as the ten months were winding down that the Palestinians finally acquiesced, and then, of course, walked away two weeks later when Israel resumed construction when the 10 month moratorium was up.

The Israelis received no points from the US administration for the settlement freeze, did not receive any reprieve from the gang of leftists or the press for the freeze, while the Palestinians who did not come to the negotiating table and finally did only to win propaganda points, were provided with every excuse in the book for their recalcitrance.

Since then, there have been efforts to relaunch negotiations by Israel and the US. The Palestinians, who have shown they have no interest in negotiations anyway, are calling the shots. They demand Israel stop all settlement construction and, of course, include Jerusalem construction in this equation. The Netanyahu government is (understandably) refusing to be manipulated by complying. They remind anyone who will listen that the Palestinians squandered nine months of potential discussions without a valid reason.

These days, though, it appears that Democrats are having difficulty listening to reason. Today, for example, the NY Times published a house editorial criticizing Netanyahu and Israel for “playing games.” This editorial follows a recent trip by the NY Times leadership to Ramallah and Jerusalem. They left the Middle East accepting that settlements are the root of all evil and that Netanyahu is to blame for the absence of talks.

Such conclusions simply do not follow the history of these talks. A key aide to Mahmoud Abbas was quoted in the Washington Post during Abbas’s first trip to visit Obama – and in which, unlike Netanyahu, he was received in daytime, openly and with photo ops – that the Palestinians would not come to negotiations because they assume that within 2 years the natural resulting friction between a Netanyahu and Obama administrations would lead to the fall of Netanyahu’s government. If you add Palestinian rejections of the Olmert peace offer, their refusal to enter peace talks after Israel froze settlement construction, and their uncaring attitude about the Netanyahu’s government’s public statement that they would negotiate for a two-state solution, it would appear the NY Times has things upside down.

But that isn’t even the Times’ worst offense in this op-ed. That comes at the moment they mention the recent incentives package the Obama administration has offered Israel to return to negotiations. The Times states that the offer is overly generous.

We now know what Israel was offered by the US administration:

The U.S. incentives package would include: curbing actions by the United Nations on the Goldstone Report; blocking anti-Israel UN resolutions concerning the Gaza flotilla raid; defeating international resolutions aimed at exposing Israel’s nuclear program at the International Atomic Energy Agency; and strengthening pressure on Iran and Syria in regards to their nuclear and proliferation activities.

This is what the NY Times found “overly generous.” It is a very interesting package of incentives and should lead any Jewish democratic supporter or voter who cares about Israel – and I can be counted among those – to think long and hard about whether the Democrats should be supported between now and the end of the Presidential elections in 2012. It is now certain that Israel does not have a friend in this White House.

I say this because politics and diplomacy, and especially American politics and diplomacy as they relate to Israel, are not just about maximum gain. They are also supposed to be about sustaining the philosophy or ideology that drive America. Israel is a Western, liberal democracy in a region where such things are non-existent. It has faced unjust war and threat of war since long before it was founded. Those facts have been key reasons for American support over these past decades. Even when US administrations were critical of Israel, this core understanding remained between the two countries because they share core values such as democracy, freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

Yet these days the Obama administration has taken the US down a very different path when it comes to Israel. Sure, some of the rhetoric sound the same, when they aren’t excoriating Israel for building in Jerusalem or joining the laughable UN Human Rights Council. However, in deeds, the US has become a key supplier of advanced weaponry and resources to some of Israel’s sworn enemies.

For example, the US recently signed an extremely rich armament deal with Saudi Arabia that will make it difficult for the IAF to maintain its technical superiority, at least not without spending vast sums which Israel does not have.

The US has also sent hundreds of millions of dollars as well as sophisticated spying equipment to Lebanon. The Lebanese, who were supposed to use the new equipment against Hizbullah, have instead been using it to break apart Israeli spy networks in their country.

As if supporting Lebanon against Israel wasn’t enough, the US has pledged over a billion dollars to Gaza and to the PA, including $150 million offered in the last two weeks even though the PA refuses to negotiate with Israel and despite the fact that the hundreds of millions pledged to Gaza strengthen Hamas needlessly. The US has also built out a serious Palestinian armed force in the West Bank/Judea and Samaria and are indicating, albeit obliquely, that they will recognize a Palestinian state if one is declared unilaterally by Fayyad and Abbas.

And now? The US is offering Israel what it was doing for Israel before anyway, except instead of being a proactive friendly act, it has become a backhanded threat. Essentially, the US under Obama is now saying that many of the elements of support given to Israel in the past by the US are now going to become available to Israel only if it complies with unreasonable Palestinian demands.

Thus, instead of standing firm against the Goldstone Report as it did initially, the US will now only do so if Israel jumps high enough. Why? Did criticism of the Report become any less valid all of a sudden?

Instead of supporting a proven Israeli strategy of maintaining ambiguity over its nuclear program, a successful strategy that has been in place for decades with full American support, the Obama administration now deems compromising this successful existential strategy to be a tool with which to beat Israel.

And of course, the US was already supposed to be, according to its own claims, providing strong counter-measures to Iranian and Syrian nuclear efforts.

Let’s be clear that these are not just Israeli interests that the US is playing with here. These are clear American interests that the administration is putting on the table. It’s not as if the US doesn’t have a huge nuclear arsenal, good reasons to want to prevent Iran and Syria from becoming nuclear powers or extremely strong reasons to weaken the Goldstone Report which is not just a critique of Israel in the Gaza War, but essentially also a critique of the manner armed forces like the US military wage war in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Obama administration has brought Israel-America relations to a new low that makes James Baker and the Bush I administration’s relationship with Israel and Yitzhak Shamir (the PM at the time) resemble a Love Boat episode.

That’s without even getting into the five minutes of stuttering blather it took the current State Department spokesman to answer journalists’ pointed queries about whether the US considers Israel a Jewish state. After dancing around with non-answers, he finally broke down and admitted that yes, Israel was a Jewish state.

Let me conclude by saying that Obama has proved himself amateurishly inept regarding handling the Arab-Israeli conflict. Mistake after mistake have brought us to the challenging position we face today. Ultimately, a weakened Israel is very bad for peace efforts because Israel’s enemies are waiting for Israeli lapses to pounce. Apparently, when they do pounce, they will be doing so with American weapons, equipment and training, not to mention with the excuses the Obama team has conveniently provided by stressing a settlement freeze – even in Jerusalem – as an obligation that Israel refuses to meet.

UPDATE: Netanyahu has now asked his cabinet to approve a settlement construction moratorium for 90 days. Different newspapers are covering this differently, but it appears that in addition to the “incentives” listed above, the US is also offering to sell Israel twenty more F-35 planes and has agreed not to press for another construction moratorium after the 90 day extension.

In other words, the post above remains perfectly valid.

NEW UPDATE: I’ve come across another source that is saying the US is offering the 20 planes as a gift (value: $3 billion) BUT only if the Israelis achieve a peace deal with the Palestinians. Otherwise, they have to pay, just as they were going to anyway.

In other words, the post above continues to remain perfectly valid.

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  • Oy vey, Obama. Right now Israel and the Near East should be one of his minor problems.

  • It’s not entirely accurate to say that Israel saw no benefit from the initial settlement freeze. The administration’s tone shifted significantly, symbolized by a Bibi-Obama WH lovefest, as Netanyahu got a break from months of US badgering.

    I don’t differ with your analysis, but I think Israel is making two mistakes right now. First, it should acquiesce to US demands for an extension/revival of the freeze for a finite period. It’s important that Israel not be seen as having scotched the current round of negotiations. It’s highly unlikely the Palestinians will be any more forthcoming this winter than they’ve been these last twelve-plus months. Israel should exercise patience, and wait a little longer for the Palestinians to shoot themselves in the foot, as they surely will.

    This is especially important because, as Middle writes, Obama loudly depicts ‘settlement’ activity as the chief obstacle to peace.

    Bibi must understand that, however inept his approach, Obama will be the US president for probably another six years. He has almost plenary authority over foreign and military affairs. No matter how weak he may seem this month, he has plenty of power to work much more mischief in the Middle East.

    Second, bargaining with an ally, in this public way, is a great mistake for both parties. Does Israel really want to be seen as having been bought off a la North Korea or Egypt? Is this any way for the US to treat a purported close ally? The message from Netanyahu is, ‘we feel strongly about our principles– but we have a price’. Obama can say to himself: ‘See, Israel responds to inducements and leverage, so that’s how I’ll continue to deal with it’. This is poor precedent and a very sad commentary on interstate relations.

    If Obama’s agenda is stymied at home, he’s going to look to Israel/Palestine for his legacy. He’ll make a grandstand gesture, and that’s when the real wailing and knashing of teeth will begin. Netanyahu would be foolish to wait for the next Republican. He should hold his nose and placate Obama as best he can. He should keep his powder dry for the real confrontation, which lies ahead.

  • I agree with both of your points, Tom. Israel has been wrong to go back to construction mode, not because it’s morally wrong, but because they could have scored the PR victory which has instead gone to the Palestinians. There is still time to pull this out, but they need to do it now. As for the second point, you are absolutely right that Israel should be rejecting any sort of “deal” from the US to encourage it to make diplomatic moves.

    Third, you are also right to point out that Israel should be making every effort to play ball with Obama since he holds some fairly important cards. I’m not sure that I agree, though, that he’ll win 2012. It depends who the Republicans put up against him and what the economy does between now and then.

  • Um, no, I think that recent history has taught us that there’s no clear cut PR victory to be had under the current international climate vis-a-vis Israel. After all, if there was a PR victory to be had, then it would have gone to Israel when they enacted the freeze and stuck to it even though Abbas sat back and scratched his ass for 9.5 out of the 10 months.

    And it’s a bit too late to be worrying about looking bad by negotiating in public with your allies, that ship has long since sailed. Obama tried to score credibility points with the Arab states by going over Israel’s head and demanding the settlement freeze in the first place, that’s why we’re in this predicament today.

    The funny thing is that Obama may have painted himself into a corner, because he’s made a big spectacle out of presenting this deal to the Israelis, but didn’t bother to inform his new best friends the Palestinians. Now they’re angry and are hinting that they won’t agree to return to negotiations. What happens if the 90-day freeze expires without any further progress toward a deal? So that’s it, the end of negotiations? Because either the US has to break their deal with the Israelis and ask them to extend the freeze again, or they break with their last two years of M.E. policy and force the Palestinians to keep negotiating sans freeze. And what if the Palis refuse and decide to call the US’ bluff by asking the UN to recognize their state?

    • The Palestinians can’t ask the UN to recognize their state without the US because of the American Security Council veto. Also, they just received $150 million to keep the PA afloat.

  • Morrissey – I think reasonable minds can differ about everything in your post except for one: as things now stand, the electoral votes are simply not there for Obama to be anything more than a one term president. That could change, but it ain’t showing up in *my* tea leaves.

  • the new republican majority in congress will work to obama’s advantage for 2012. americans tend to vote for divided gov’t.

    • You may be right, but I still think the state of the economy will play a significant role in whatever happens. Also, a third party candidate like a Bloomberg (who is hinting he’ll run as an independent) will siphon independent and some Democratic voters more so than Republican ones. Bush I lost re-election because of the economy and Perot.

  • good points.

    i’m a little confused about your reaction to obama’s offer. seems like he’s giving him a lot — including no freeze on j’lem.

  • First of all, they’re offering things they were doing already or should be doing anyway. By making these items into negotiable “benefits” to Israel, they are taking natural diplomatic US positions and making them into commodities. Second, the benefits are an insult to an ally. Does the US extend offers such as this when they want France to do something they want it to do? They’re setting a precedent that makes Israel into a harlot for hire and changing the entire range of relations between the two states in a way that undermines the nature of the relationship. Third, the offer appears to be ridiculous. What happens after 3 months? What if they don’t achieve a deal? Fourth, it appears they didn’t run this by the Palestinians first.

    Obama has changed and is changing America’s relationship with Israel in ways that undermine Israel, its sovereignty and the legitimacy of its positions.

  • Now that an agreement is in place to extend the moribund talks for another three months, the intriguing question is: what happens when they fail? (Apart, that is, from a boost to Hamas’s prestige and an uptick in violence.) It’s certainly possible Obama will retreat temporarily from the field, especially as the ’12 election approaches and he labors to keep US Jews on board.

    Eventually, though, I think he’ll try to force the issue. Perhaps he’ll put his own proposal very publicly on the table, say, one that delineates WB borders. Pressure on Israel is Obama’s default mode. So Abbas will likely get to hang back, and wait for Obama to coerce Israel into a better deal than Abbas himself could hope to negotiate.

    Obama’s whole FP strategy– reducing terrorism, containing Iran, boosting US prestige in the Arab/Muslim world– depends on the emergence of a Palestinian state. This IS the Obama foreign policy. If he’s re-elected, he’ll be consumed with making it happen, by all means necessary.

  • Tom, if this really the lynchpin of Obama’s FP then he is indeed f**ked. Obama can serve Israel on a silver tablet, and still the Arab world will not bail out the US economy as their are busy enough with their own problems.

    xisnotx, The USA are facing a bankruptcy of historic dimensions and from this point on, everything seems possible. It is tragic that voters haven’t yet grasped the severity of the current meltdown as they are bound for a very hard landing.

    Is Israel we are wary of the ailing of a fading super power and prepare a) for an influx of jewish-american economic refugees b) bolstered realations with asian super powers that will eventually replace the USA.

  • Is Israel we are wary of the ailing of a fading super power and prepare a) for an influx of jewish-american economic refugees b) bolstered realations with asian super powers that will eventually replace the USA.

    There may be a small number of Israelis who believe this, but none of them sit in the government or leadership positions of political parties that will compete with Likud for the most seats in the next Knesset.

  • wow, I finally can ‘like’ a politcal post by middle. Enjoy this event.

    But the subsequent remarks by Tom/middle get ‘unlike’. There is no such thing as PR points for Israel and it’s BS to expect a country to need to bend over for them. If the Arabs are waiting for Bibi to fall, all Bibi needs to do is forget about settlement freezes and he will keep his coalition.

    If Obama has screwed up for the past two years (not that I think he screwed up, it was intentional to become antagonistic to Israel), he is not going to succeed where Clinton missed his Nobel Prize. If Obama wants to be Carter and get some peace agreement, he’ll need a Sadat from the Palestinians really fast. Bibi, and Israel, will last longer than Obama, especially with a much more friendly Congress. Bibi should know this.

  • Oh, and the Zalman Shoval piece at the JCPA site brought above is right on as well.

  • … and the Palestinians won’t agree to return to negotiations, presumably because the US-Israel deal would obligate them to “negotiate” for longer than the perfunctory two weeks they put in last time. How will Obama respond to being humiliated like this? I guess he assumed (albeit stupidly if he knew the first thing about how the PA operates) that the $150M gift was a nice benefits package (promised to them quietly behind the scenes, as opposed to the dog and pony show with Israel) that would keep the PA happy and content and ready to return to the negotiating table as soon as he could strike a deal with the Israelis that would meet their (the Palestinians’) demands.

    Any chance that Obama comes to understand the crooks he’s dealing with before 2012?

  • It’s not a matter of Israel scoring a PR triumph when these negotiations fail. (That won’t happen.) It’s taking reasonable steps to ameliorate negative international reaction. No doubt Israel will get blamed in any event, but more good will at the margins may prove helpful when Fayyad declares his Palestinian state next summer…. (Oh, and then there’s Iran.)

    The US gets criticized and attacked all the time, but we don’t shut down the State Department and declare our indifference to world opinion.