Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Obama Is Looking for New Ideas in All the Old Places

By Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director Politico’s Laura Rozen reported earlier this month that the White House has convened two different task forces to provide the Obama Administration with new ideas for moving forward its efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. At first glance, this would appear to be good news given the rut in which President Obama has got himself mired. An anonymous adviser to the White House stated the obvious: the Administration is “utterly stuck” on how to move forward with there being “no pretense of progress.” It’s no wonder they’re stuck. We’ve been arguing for nearly two years now that the Obama Administration has had no coherent strategy either to truly freeze Israeli settlement building or manage direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a basis that could have even a remote chance of success. Recent leaks from the Palestine Papers and Cable Gate cast doubt over whether these even have been actual policy goals. New ideas are desperately needed, but the President won’t find any by looking in all the old places. Rozen notes that the efforts are being headed up by Sandy Berger, Stephen Hadley, Martin Indyk, and Dennis Ross. In other words, many of the primary architects of failed U.S. “peace process” efforts under Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and Obama himself. Can’t you just see it now—the four of them sitting around a circle, engaging in intense, Viet Cong-style self-criticism sessions, realizing the errors of their ways, and coming up with some brilliant new ideas? Doubtful. If the President were truly serious about getting some new ideas for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace, then he would look outside the small coterie of failed policy-makers who time and again have fit to a tee Aaron David Miller’s candid observation that: “many American officials involved in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, myself included, have acted as Israel's attorney, catering and coordinating with the Israelis at the expense of successful peace negotiations. If the United States wants to be an honest and effective broker on the Arab-Israeli issue, than surely it can have only one client: the pursuit of a solution that meets the needs and requirements of both sides.” Yet, Dennis Ross, now eclipsing George Mitchell as the main policy-maker on President Obama's approach to the Israeli-Palestinian "peace process," is the last person in the world to look to for new ideas, especially ones that are not biased in Israel's favor. Consider this stunning admission from his massive 2004 tome, "The Missing Peace," (p. 55) on how he managed the "peace process": "'Selling' became part of our modus operandi--beginning a pattern that would characterize our approach throughout the Bush and Clinton years. We would take Israeli ideas or ideas that the Israelis could live with and work them over--trying to increase their attractiveness to the Arabs while trying to get the Arabs to scale back their expectations. Why did this pattern emerge? The realities dictated it." Ah, yes. Those amorphous "realities" caused him to deliberately construct a policy designed to produce maximum results for Israel and minimum results for the undifferentiated "Arabs." It would be difficult to fabricate a statement more revelatory of his bias than this. To counter this atrocious bias in past policy-making, ever since Barack Obama was elected president in November 2008, we have tried repeatedly to meet with his foreign policy team to provide them with exactly the kinds of policy ideas needed to establish Israeli-Palestinian peace on the basis of human rights, international law, and equality. We tried the transition team, the White House, the National Security Council, the State Department. Nothing—no meetings agreed to, no phone calls returned. I guess we could still try to schedule a meeting with Bo. Since President Obama is looking for new ideas, we take this opportunity to reiterate publicly our offer to meet with any Administration official, at any level, at any time to share our ideas. Our phone number is 202-332-0994. Give us a call when you’re ready to hear something new. Here’s one policy idea that the President has not contemplated: compel Israel to behave in accordance with human rights and international law by ending U.S. military aid until it does so. Tomorrow, we launch our campaign to challenge military aid to Israel in the FY2012 budget cycle. Next month, President Obama is expected to request a record-breaking appropriation of $3.075 billion of military aid for Israel. That’s $21.59 for the average individual taxpayer. We’ll be launching an open letter—“We Cannot Afford Military Aid to Israel”—to the President and Congress initiated by us, ADC, Code Pink, Global Exchange, JVP, Peace Action, and PDA. You can get a sneak peek at the letter here. This month we marked the 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s prophetic “military-industrial complex” farewell address. Earlier in his presidency, Ike sanctioned Israel after it invaded Egypt with British and French collusion and won the admiration of the entire developing world for his principled stand. He cut off all forms of U.S. aid until Israel complied with a U.S.-sponsored UN Security Council Resolution to return to its border with Egypt. As President Obama collects ideas, here’s a simple one: be like Ike. Learn more about our campaign to challenge U.S. military aid to Israel, and how you can get involved.