Friday, May 29, 2009

unsettling congress

i've been pleasantly surprised that the obama administration has stuck to its guns on demanding that israel freeze settlement construction. they've even brushed aside the usually bullshit about "natural growth." it's really amazing, and it's quite a change from the last two decades, when the u.s. has been officially against settlements but willing to quietly accommodate israeli demands for some form of expansion.

that obama isn't backing down on settlements is surprising. but what is really surprising is this:
It's not just the administration that's delivering Netanyahu that message, however. Whereas in the past Israeli leaders have sometimes eased pressure from Washington on the settlements issue by going to members of Congress, this time, observers in Washington and Israel say, key pro-Israel allies in Congress have been largely reinforcing the Obama team's message to Netanyahu. What changed? "Members of Congress have more willing to follow the leadership of the administration ... because [they] believe it is in our national security interest to move toward ending the conflict and that it is not a zero sum for Israel," the former senior Clinton administration official said.

"Netanyahu and [Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman are probing, looking for areas they can get space gratis from the United States," says Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force for Palestine. "And they are not finding it."

"We've been watching the move in Congress, especially among certain high profile Jewish American members -- people like Representative Gary Ackerman, Representative Robert Wexler, and Representative Howard Berman," Ibish said. "What has occurred -- and this has been greatly intensified by the election of Obama: There has been a growing sense of members of Congress who are well-informed on foreign policy ... that peace is essential to the American national interest and the Israeli national interest. And there's been a growing sense that the possibility of a two-state agreement is time-limited and that things like the settlements are incompatible with the goal of creating two states."
that's an even bigger change, and one the israelis should take very seriously because congress controls the budgeting of israel's aid package.

most recipients of u.s. aid packages are extremely sensitive to american concerns out of fear that the u.s. will cut them off. israel, however, hasn't acted that way. it is free, for example, to openly threaten an attack on iran, over american objections, even though the blowback from such an attack would seriously damage american interests. as long the u.s. congress was staunchly pro-israel and unwilling to even entertain serious criticism of that country, israel wasn't like other aid recipients and was not deterred by american disapproval. if this report is correct, that dynamic might finally be changing. and it puts the netanyahu government in an uncomfortable political position as the settler movement is a key part of his base.