The New York Summit & Bibi’s Brief Media Tour
Well the NY Summit has been and gone and, lo and behold, nothing sensational or earth-shattering has hit the press this morning. What a surprise. Abdelbari Atwan called it “a capitulation” and “a defeat” for Obama in his editorial for al Quds al Arabi.
The Majlis has a full transcript of Obama’s comments after his individual meetings with Bibi & Abu Mazen and before the tri-partite summit itself, but there’s nothing earth-shattering in it. I’d say that all in all Obama sounds kinda frustrated:
America’s frustration showed when Obama told reporters the two sides had to stop stalling. “Permanent status negotiations must begin and begin soon. It is past time to talk about starting negotiations. It is time to move forward,” he said.
Jonathan Freedland’s comments for the Guardian’s comment is free confirm what I’ve suspected of late, Bibi and, to a lesser extent, Abu Mazen, are warm and comfy in their local politics:
How had it come about that, in the words of the Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea, the Americans had “discovered that they want an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement more than the Israelis and the Palestinians want it”? The narrow answer is the usual one, that the local politics on both sides of the conflict has made inaction a safer bet than action. Netanyahu sits atop a coalition that is perfectly stable – just so long as he doesn’t do anything. Were he so much as to hint at taking any of the steps necessary for a peace deal, coalition partners would start breaking off like aeroplane wings in an ice storm. As for Abbas, he has finally acquired some political strength, removing potential rivals from within his own Fatah faction while all trace of Hamas has been eradicated from the West Bank. As one Fatah insider puts it: “Abbas is now at the peak of his powers.” All that could damage him are the accusations of treachery that would instantly follow any compromise with Israel.
Freedland is forthright in his criticism of Obama’s recent failures in the arena of Middle Eastern politics, a criticism echoed by many on both sides of the arena. It is true, Obama has failed so far to gain any real concessions from either side, to get the peace process moving with truly wilful engagement form both sides. Arabs are asking for deeds not words, Israelis are lauding their Prime Minister for his strength, but Freedland advises us to not give up hope:
Above all, those panicking that Obama has not yet bagged a clutch of foreign policy triumphs in the Middle East and elsewhere may be forgetting both the mess that he inherited and his leadership style. He plays the long, slow game, advancing gradually. So, yes, there was no overnight fix in New York, but that was never on the cards. Besides, Obama believes he has time on his side. Unlike most US presidents keen to play Middle East peacemaker, he has not tackled this in his last year, but in his first.
In addition to the summit, Bibi also embarked on a few interviews as part of the PR campaign to woo the US public. His wooing was largely successful, old Bibi is a pretty canny media operator. Some exerts from his interview with Wolf Blitzer, and some pertinent thoughts, to be found at The Majlis:
When Blitzer brought up the Goldstone report, a U.N. investigation into the clash between Israel and Palestinian forces in Gaza in 2006 that Israel has renounced, Netanyahu said the report essentially gives a free hand to terrorists who wish to attack democracies.
Hamas fighters “get a free bill out of this bias,” Netanyahu said. “American pilots, NATO pilots … are gonna be on the dock … that’s not something that any country fighting terrorism can accept, and I don’t think you can accept it too.”
Blitzer didn’t challenge Netanyahu on that point, which is unfortunate, since on its face Netanyahu’s premise makes me, as an American, pause. After all, the U.S. has killed many civilians in the course of its war in Afghanistan, shouldn’t we now be afraid that the United Nations will come after us? But upon closer inspection, there are holes in Netanyahu’s fear-mongering. The reason Israel is under investigation is the method by which it attacked Hamas in Gaza. Critics of the Goldstone report aren’t questioning its conclusions – such as Israeli use of white phosphorous, killings of police officers and bombings of sewage treatment facilities. Instead, they question the premise and bias of the Goldstone Report itself.
The other interview I came across is with ABC’s Charlie Gibson (full transcript). In this interview, Bibi describes the recent summit in New York as “frank”, “productive” and “very good”. Gibson is a little tougher on Netanyahu than Blitzer on the issue of settlements, Bibi stonewalled him on it numerous times essentially stating that he rejects the Palestinian position of putting settlement growth ending as a pre-condition to peace talks: “The issue of the settlements has to be resolved. It should be resolved at the end of negotiations, not before the negotiations.” When pressed further, Bibi uses the old ‘natural growth’ defence and also mentions that a settlement freeze was not discussed during the NY Summit, contrary to previous reports. Gibson also asked Bibi about Iran but, isappointingly did not bring up the Goldstone Report.
On topic of the Goldstone Report, Israel has now urged the EU to reject it:
Foreign Ministry Director-General Yossi Gal on Tuesday convened 26 European Union ambassadors in Jerusalem for a diplomatic briefing.
The Foreign Ministry director-general also called on EU countries to clearly express their reservations over the report in any possible way. The report, he said, is not legal but rather “a one-dimensional, political propaganda poster biased against Israel.”
Here is the obligatory hand-shake photo, I enjoy how paternalistic Obama looks in this one.