Column One: Obama’s green light to attack Iran

Arctic winds are blowing into Jerusalem from Washington these days. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s May 18 visit to Washington fast approaches, the Obama administration is ratcheting up its anti-Israel rhetoric and working feverishly to force Israel into a corner.

Using the annual AIPAC conference as a backdrop, this week the Obama administration launched its harshest onslaught against Israel to date. It began with media reports that National Security Adviser James Jones told a European foreign minister that the US is planning to build an anti-Israel coalition with the Arabs and Europe to compel Israel to surrender Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

According to Haaretz, Jones was quoted in a classified foreign ministry cable as having told his European interlocutor, “The new administration will convince Israel to compromise on the Palestinian question. We will not push Israel under the wheels of a bus, but we will be more forceful toward Israel than we have been under Bush.”

He then explained that the US, the EU and the moderate Arab states must determine together what “a satisfactory endgame solution,” will be.

As far as Jones is concerned, Israel should be left out of those discussions and simply presented with a fait accompli that it will be compelled to accept.

Events this week showed that Jones’s statement was an accurate depiction of the administration’s policy. First, quartet mediator Tony Blair announced that within six weeks the US, EU, UN and Russia will unveil a new framework for establishing a Palestinian state. Speaking with Palestinian reporters on Wednesday, Blair said that this new framework will be a serious initiative because it “is being worked on at the highest level in the American administration.”

Moreover, this week we learned that the administration is trying to get the Arabs themselves to write the Quartet’s new plan. The London-based Al-Quds al-Arabi pan-Arab newspaper reported Tuesday that acting on behalf of Obama, Jordanian King Abdullah urged the Arab League to update the so-called Arab peace plan from 2002. That plan, which calls for Israel to withdraw from Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights and accept millions of foreign Arabs as citizens as part of the so-called “right of return” in exchange for “natural” relations with the Arab world, has been rejected by successive Israeli governments as a diplomatic subterfuge whose goal is Israel’s destruction.

By accepting millions of so-called “Palestinian refugees,” Israel would effectively cease to be a Jewish state. By shrinking into the 1949 armistice lines, Israel would be unable to defend itself against foreign invasion. And since “natural relations” is a meaningless term both in international legal discourse and in diplomatic discourse, Israel would have committed national suicide for nothing.

To make the plan less objectionable to Israel, Abdullah reportedly called on his Arab brethren to strike references to the so-called “Arab refugees” from the plan and to agree to “normal” rather than “natural” relations with the Jewish state. According to the report, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was expected to present Obama with the changes to the plan during their meeting in Washington later this month. The revised plan was supposed to form the basis for the new Quartet plan that Blair referred to.

But the Arabs would have none of it. On Wednesday, both Arab League General Secretary Amr Moussa and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas announced that they oppose the initiative. On Thursday, Syria rejected making any changes in the document.

The administration couldn’t care less. The Palestinians and Arabs are no more than bit players in its Middle East policy. As far as the Obama administration is concerned, Israel is the only obstacle to peace.

To make certain that Israel understands this central point, Vice President Joseph Biden used his appearance at the AIPAC conference to drive it home. As Biden made clear, the US doesn’t respect or support Israel’s right as a sovereign state to determine its own policies for securing its national interests. In Biden’s words, “Israel has to work toward a two-state solution. You’re not going to like my saying this, but not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement.”

FOR ISRAEL, the main event of the week was supposed to be President Shimon Peres’s meeting with Obama on Tuesday. Peres was tasked with calming the waters ahead of Netanyahu’s visit. It was hoped that he could introduce a more collegial tone to US-Israel relations.

What Israel didn’t count on was the humiliating reception Peres received from Obama. By barring all media from covering the event, Obama transformed what was supposed to be a friendly visit with a respected and friendly head of state into a back-door encounter with an unwanted guest, who was shooed in and shooed out of the White House without a sound.

The Obama White House’s bald attempt to force Israel to take full blame for the Arab world’s hostility toward it is not the only way that it is casting Israel as the scapegoat for the region’s ills. In their bid to open direct diplomatic ties with Iran, Obama and his advisers are also blaming Israel for Iran’s nuclear program. They are doing this both indirectly and directly.

As Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel made clear in his closed-door briefing to senior AIPAC officials this week, the administration is holding Israel indirectly responsible for Iran’s nuclear program. It does this by claiming that Israel’s refusal to cede its land to the Palestinians is making it impossible for the Arab world to support preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Somewhat inconveniently for the administration, the Arabs themselves are rejecting this premise. This week US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited the Persian Gulf and Egypt to soothe Arab fears that the administration’s desperate attempts to appease the mullahs will harm their security interests. He also sought to gain their support for the administration’s plan to unveil a new peace plan aimed at isolating and pressuring Israel.
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