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Lost in the Crimea
Will Lead to Obama's Last Chance Offer to Netanyahu
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It’s been a good couple of weeks for President Obama on the international front. Well, not maybe in terms of substance, but who focuses on substance these days any way.

It all started with the Putin takeover of the Crimea which, while it certainly was not good news for Obama, at least it pushed Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu — and his annual visit to Washington where he invariably upstages President Obama — to the inside pages of what’s left of our national newspapers.

And just when we’d had it with the Ukraine — not because it was in any way resolved but because our national attention span, what with these 24/7 news channels, is about the same as a well-trained dog focusing on his next meal — the mystery of the missing Malaysian airplane pushed Putin and the Crimea to the back burner.

I must admit I’m all for deep-sixing news from the Ukraine. Former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, in an interview about the situation, noting Crimea’s “strategic importance to Russia,” doubted that Putin had aggressive intentions in the rest of the Ukraine but was convinced that the US will not take any action that will let “Crimea slip out of Russia’s hands.”

A bit more upbeat, Vali Nasr, who was Dick Holbrooke’s deputy for the AfPak portfolio, noted in a NY Times op-ed piece earlier this week that Putin’s Crimean grab may turn out to be a “pyrrhic victory.” His argument — that Putin “has overplayed his hand” and that the US “has the upper hand in the broader competition for power and influence that will follow” — is rational and convincing, but even so, the positive outcome is likely years down the road.

It’s bizarre, if hardly surprising, that the right-wing media and right-wing Congressmen like Lindsey Graham, attack Obama for past behavior that they claim paved the way for Putin’s aggression. The fact is the Crimean situation developed suddenly. It was not orchestrated by Putin; in fact, if anything it was initially (mis)orchestrated by Europe, with US support, as we attempted to entice Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence.

When the ultimate result was the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically-elected pro-Russian president, Putin reacted — and that’s the key word — to assure continued Russian control over its only warm-water naval base. Obama’s not the only one with red lines, and Putin’s, viewed objectively, should hardly have been a surprise to anyone with a little understanding of post-Soviet Russia.

The land grab of the Crimea was “illegal” Obama tells us. Indeed so. But so, after all, according to international law, are the land grab and on-going settlement construction by Israel of the West Bank. There’s a certain amount of irony in a situation in which Obama and the West are crying foul, citing international law, and preparing sanctions for Russia’s move into the Crimea while Israel’s on-going flood of over 500,000 Israelis into the West Bank is essentially ignored. Crimea was part of the modern Russian empire for more than two centuries; it ended up as part of a separate Ukraine state as an accident of history. Israel’s claim over the West Bank goes back to an almost mythical 3000-year timeframe which, if accepted as a legitimate basis for a claim on someone else’s territory, would result in a wholesale relocation of virtually the entire world’s population. And God knows where most modern-day Americans would end up.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that while we’ve come a long way in the past hundred years in agreeing on certain fundamentals of international law, superpowers — and their friends — still rewrite these fundamentals when they see fit to do so.

Netanyahu has been aggressively rewriting the international prohibition against settling in conquered lands, though he certainly isn’t the first Israeli prime minister to encourage Israeli facts on Palestinian ground. But, unfortunately for him, time has caught up with Israel’s settle-first/think-consequences-later policy. Secretary of State Kerry’s renewed focus on finding a two-state solution caught Netanyahu (and just about everyone else) by surprise. The nine-month agenda delayed the moment of truth, but next month, the time is up. Netanyahu, in Washington, talked about the need for additional time.

And Kerry is partially on board: after all, it’s taken nearly 50 years, since the ’67 Israeli conquest of the West Bank, to get this far — what’s another few months? The new gambit in Kerry’s peace initiative is to find a “framework” that the Israelis and the Palestinians can agree to. Which, presumably, after seven months of heightened negotiations and and nearly a dozen trips to the area, seemed like a pretty easy step. After all, it’s not the final deal, just an agreement on what the broad areas of a final deal would encompass.

But even that is elusive. The big stumbling block — or at least the new, big stumbling block — is Netanyahu’s insistence that the Palestinians recognize Israel as the “state of the Jewish people,” a requirement that neither the Jordanians nor the Egyptians had to sign on to. Indeed, it’s a concept that Netanyahu has developed only recently and, as observers point out, essentially relegates Palestinian Israelis, who make up 20% of Israel proper, to second-class citizens. Suppose, for example, some of today’s right-wing Christian politicians started demanding that the US — forget about other nations — define itself as a Christian state? And why not, if Israel can — the Christian percentage of the US is higher than the Jewish portion of Israel.

There are other long-standing sticking points, most obviously, Jerusalem, right of return, borders, but with these, compromise — which, unfortunately for Netanyahu, would destroy his right-wing coalition — seems possible. The Jewish state is a non-starter for Palestinian negotiators, and Netanyahu surely knows it.

Which leads to only one conclusion: Netanyahu is unwilling to make the necessary concessions. He prefers to kick the rusty old can further down the road. And Obama will not force concessions out of Netanyahu. So, continued stalemate. But one thing Obama has been willing to do is to paint publicly the dilemma that Israel now faces: in a lengthy interview with Jeffrey Goldberg two weeks ago, Obama was more pessimistic about Israel’s future than any American president has ever been”Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank?” Obama asked Israel rhetorically. He wondered if Netanyahu has a vision of “how Israel survives as a democratic state and a Jewish state at peace with its neighbors” without a two-state solution. Focusing directly on the possibility of a failed outcome to Kerry’s initiative, he commented that “Israel has become more isolated internationally,” that “if Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fall-out is going to be limited.”

In other words — and you don’t have to be too skilled at reading between the lines — what Obama is saying is that Kerry’s initiative is likely to be the last time the US gets involved in helping the Israelis resolve the Palestinian issue. If this fails, Israel will be on its own — and the likelihood of a solution will be remote. And the likelihood of this being a positive result for Israel is even more remote.

So Kerry’s mission, which seemed like folly at the time, will succeed in a way he hadn’t planned: it puts the onus for a solution — and the penalty for not finding one — squarely, and permanently, where it belongs, on Israel.


Graduating from Yale in 1964, Mac Deford joined the Foreign Service the following year, spending three years in Vietnam. He studied Arabic in Beirut, after which he was assigned to the embassy in Jidda, Saudi Arabia. He was posted to Washington, New York, and Amman, Jordan before joining Merrill Lynch International in 1978. He spent much of a nearly two-decade career with Merrill in the Far East, retiring in 1997 to Maine. He has written a weekly foreign policy column for the local newspaper since 2001. He has served on a number of non-profit boards, including International College in Beirut, the newly-established graduate School for Policy and International Affairs at the the University of Maine and the Neiman Fellows for Journalism at Harvard.

• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Benjamin Netanyahu, Crimea, Israel 
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  1. “So Kerry’s mission, which seemed like folly at the time, will succeed in a way he hadn’t planned: it puts the onus for a solution — and the penalty for not finding one — squarely, and permanently, where it belongs, on Israel.”

    But then, they simply won’t do it. And they won’t be blaming themselves. In any case, it is unlikely that their strong political support within the U.S. would allow any such abdication of U.S. responsibility for backing Israel.

  2. I would like just once to read an article discussing the U.S. “pressuring” Israel that throws into the conversation the power of the pro-Israel lobby is Washington in influencing what Obama or any U.S. politician can do or can’t do in telling Israel what it should do. This article says “this initiative is likely to be the last time the U.S. gets involved in helping the Israelis resolve the Palestinian Issue.” This is nonsense, it completely ignores the reality of who can apply pressure to whom . The U.S. president can poke Israel with a stick while Netanyahu can take a baseball bat to any elected U.S. official he likes by ordering a large fortune be contributed to their opponents political campaign. The average U.S. senator needs to raise $20,000 dollars a day to get reelected. The pro Israel lobby is so good and so effective that they are the model that all other lobbies in Washington emulate. One foreign lobbyist from a country renowned for it’s corruption once said in total seriousness “we like bribing your politicians because we can do so far more cheaply then our own.”

  3. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    RE: “I would like just once to read an article discussing the U.S. ‘pressuring’ Israel that throws into the conversation the power of the pro-Israel lobby is Washington in influencing what Obama or any U.S. politician can do or can’t do in telling Israel what it should do.”

    MY REPLY: Philip Weiss frequently does exactly that at !

  4. ghouri says:

    Powe is blind when you are young think will remain strong. Israel is at the peak of power in their 3000 years of history. Zionists have achieved enemies around the world as they can,t over ome such a huge majority. Israel will never give back oxxupied terroteries as Gasa wil remain biggest jail in the world. Ambitions of Israelis are too much as even they want to occupy whole of Jordan parts of Saidi Arabia and it wil happen as our prophet has already told 1450 years ago.
    Israel needs no peace as their survival is only with wars and intrigues.
    America is too weak internallly and externaly to force Israel as their lobby is too powerful in America. This is adsiseable to make peace but will not be achieved as dialogue is always on the basis of power and equality. Israel is a super power with heavy nukes to destroy half of the world.

  5. aletheia says:

    @Fran Macadam: “… it is unlikely that … would allow any such abdication of U.S. responsibility for backing Israel.”

    Me: Err, with all due respect Mme Macadam, what “responsibility” would that be, exactly?

    The author writes: “… unfortunately for [Netanyahu], time has caught up with Israel’s settle-first/think-consequences-later policy.”

    Me: But they did think consequences out at the time; see Ben-Gurion for proof: «“We must see the situation for what it is. … But in the political field we are the attackers and the Arabs are those defending themselves. They are living in the country and own the land, …» and «… said that he wanted a Jewish-Arab agreement “on the assumption that after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.”»

    Me: Just to summarise B-G, he a) knew in advance that they were setting out to steal, and b) that they were prepared to abrogate agreements to continue that theft.

    So getting back to your “U.S. responsibility” assertion, would that be the responsibility derived from *not* stopping, let alone remedying, the ‘supreme international war crime’ which brought the illegitimate entity Israel into existence, over the dead bodies of those they murdered to steal the land that they improperly alienated, driving the rest of the hapless native ELO/Os (= erstwhile legal owner/occupiers) off in a despicable act of ethnic cleansing using genocidal methods = Plan Dalet++?

    IMHO, time has caught up with Israel’s intransigence and criminality; as Kerry himself said recently, “You just don’t invade another country on phony pretext in order to assert your interests … This is an act of aggression that is completely trumped up in terms of its pretext. It’s really 19th century behavior in the 21st century.”

    That also applies exactly to the Zionists’ 50 year long (undesired!) immigration = invasion of Palestine by stealth, going from 3% to 30% by 1948, culminating in Plan Dalet and the 65+ years of violence sustained to the current moment, on the pretext that “Some g*d promised it to us!”

    Any ‘honest broker’ would not only know all of the above, but would *act* on it; my suggestion = RoR+R*3 = Right of Return + Revest, Reparations and Reconciliation, fully consistent with UNGA resolutions on the matter. Now THAT would be showing “responsibility.”

  6. rosemerry says:

    Netanyahu is unwilling to make the necessary concessions.
    Never at any stage has any Israeli leader conceded anything ie NO following of international law, because they can get away with it because of US encouragement.

  7. @alethiae. Super little riff. Nice edge. Pointed. Clear. Not often does it come at you so straight and clear.

    Here’s the way I like to put it:

    We often hear the phrase “Israel’s right to exist” and along with it, “Israel’s right to self-defense.” Hear them endlessly, by propagandists who repeat them endlessly. But endless repetition does not make a thing true. The so-called “legitimacy” that arises from endless repetition is not legitimacy at all, but rather the phony narrative — ie, the lie — built of well executed propaganda.

    Yet the truth exists.

    Here’s my shot at a fact-based, truth-based, ethics-based summary:

    In 1917, the British Imperial elite and the World Zionist Organization colluded in a criminal conspiracy to steal Palestine from the people — 95% Arab — who had lived there for 70 generations, and to give it to the Jews/Zionists.

    That’s ***STEAL***, as in take what doesn’t belong to you. This “plan” was a criminal conspiracy then, as it is a crime-in-progress now. A crime is still a crime, despite control of the media. A crime is still a crime despite 90 years of impunity from prosecution, or 90 years of propaganda. NO AMOUNT OF TIME CAN CHANGE A LIE INTO THE TRUTH; NO AMOUNT TIME CAN CONVERT A CRIME INTO A LEGAL ACT.

    The Zionist entity called Israel is nothing less than a geopolitical crime-in-progress. This is the reality.

    So when next you hear about Israel’s “right to exist”, consider: what crime has a “right to exist”?, what criminal enterprise has a “right to exist”? Add to that: what criminal has a “right to self-defense”? What criminal has the right to commit violence in the furtherance of a crime? What criminal has the right to fight back against the lawful authority that arrives to halt the crime and arrest the criminals?

    Israel, the Zionists, their enablers, and their supporters are criminals: thieves and murderers on a global stage. They have no “right to exist” (as criminals) and they have no “right to self-defense” as they commit their crimes. Their victims on the other hand, most certainly do have the right to defend themselves against the Zionist criminal assault.

    But the Zionist criminals are human, and for the sake of justice — tempered by mercy –no matter how egregiously they have behaved, they have rights. They have the right to surrender to a competent authority and not suffer summary execution. The right to a fair trial. If found guilty, the right to a proportionate penalty. And once the offending parties have “done their time”, the right to rejoin society and resume a peaceful, cooperative existence.

    Surrender, Masada redux, or the next holocaust: it’s your call, Israel.

    By the way, I’m an American and a Jew.


    Here are the “Cliff Notes” for the de-spun Israel story:

    The last three are long, scholarly, and frankly, a bit dry. However, the first, for obvious reasons, is quite entertaining.

    “Concerning the Jews” by Mark Twain

    The Hidden History of Zionism

    Behind the Balfour Declaration

    Benjamin Freedman

  8. aletheia says:

    @jeff davis: «This “plan” was a criminal conspiracy then, as it is a crime-in-progress now. A crime is still a crime, despite control of the media. A crime is still a crime despite 90 years of impunity from prosecution, or 90 years of propaganda.»

    Me: Thanks, and correct. This article’s title is “Lost in the Crimea;Will Lead to Obama’s Last Chance Offer to Netanyahu”

    One must truly wonder, why Obama would make any offer to Netanyahu in particular, or the US to the I/J/Z-plex in general, especially given the eternal assertion: “We *never* negotiate with terrorists!”

    Lost in Israel’s creation in crime is the I/J/Z-plex’s integrity (assuming they ever had any); lost in Israel’s continuation in crime is any chance of a recovery of any integrity. Morphing Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” into perpetual war leads to a one-way spiral down; from the (persecution) frying pan, they’ve jumped into the (damnation) fire.

    Returning to “responsibility,” at any crime scene there is one or more perpetrators, possibly accessories, apologists and more or less innocent bystanders. Guilt and opprobrium are distributed proportionally to the perpetrators, accessories and apologists; even silence is complicity.

    Returning to propaganda, there are hasbara-ists and, so I’ve heard, sayanim, what possibly makes them think they could cancel the truth – for ever? (Be sure your sins will find you out!)

    The I/J/Z-plex violates the *inalienable* rights of the native, mostly Palestinian ELO/Os. Note the word “inalienable,” such rights may neither be violated (except by crime as we all see) – nor surrendered; the Z-crimes will persist until the I/J/Z-plex reforms itself – or is forced to reform. Until then, the I/J/Z-plex exists in utter ignominy.

    As jeff said: “it’s your call, Israel.”

  9. aletheia says:

    Sorry for ‘2 in a row,’ but this is simply too good to stand any delay:

    «And then there was the utterly unprofessional, rude and undiplomatic rant of Samantha Powers at the UNSC. She actually said the following:

    … A thief can steal property but that does not confer the right of ownership on the thief. What xxx has done is wrong as a matter of law, wrong as a matter of history, wrong as a matter of policy and dangerous.»

    Q: Which entity fits xxx? A1: Russia, or A2: Israel?

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