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Ahead of his current trip to the Middle East, US President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy George Mitchell made what might have been construed as a positive step in Israel's direction. Speaking to reporters on Monday, Mitchell said that he and Obama wish to restart peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians immediately.
The reason Mitchell's pronouncement might have been interpreted as a move in Israel's direction is because until he made his call for negotiations, recent pronouncements on Israel and the Palestinians by the president and his senior advisers have given the uniform impression that the US no longer favors a negotiated settlement of the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
Through their obsessive focus on Israeli building activities in Judea and Samaria, Obama and his advisers have sent regional leaders the message that they define their role here not as mediators, but as agents for the Palestinians against Israel. Consequently, far from giving the sense that they seek a peace deal that will be acceptable to Israelis and Palestinians alike, they have convinced the Israelis and the Palestinians - as well as much of the Arab world - that the US intends to coerce Israel into accepting a settlement that sacrifices Israeli security and national needs on the altar of maximalist Palestinian ambitions.
This is the view that Fatah leader and putative Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas expressed in his interview with The Washington Post last month ahead of his visit with Obama. As Abbas put it, the Americans "can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, 'You have to comply with the conditions.'"
Abbas added that he will "wait for Israel to freeze settlements," and that until he receives this and other Israeli concessions, "we can't talk to anyone."
In other words, in light of the administration's apparent hostility and uncompromising stance toward Israel, Abbas sees no reason to negotiate anything with the Israelis.
So, too, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal made clear on Tuesday that he sees the Obama administration as a potential ally for his Iranian-controlled genocidal jihadist movement. Mashaal has four good reasons for viewing things this way. First, in his speech in Cairo, Obama accepted the Arab view that Israel is an alien entity to the Middle East which owes its legitimacy to the genocide of European Jewry by Europeans in Europe, and which has the moral standing of white slaveholders in the antebellum American South.
Second, Obama has pledged $900 million in US taxpayer funds to Hamas-controlled Gaza and is pressuring Israel to support Gaza economically in spite of the fact that Hamas continues to attack southern Israel with rockets and to expand and diversify its arsenals.
Third, the Obama administration is abandoning its predecessor's bid to isolate Hamas by pressuring Fatah and Egypt to offer Hamas full partnership in a Fatah-Hamas unity government which would work to cement Hamas's international legitimacy.
Finally, in light of the White House's silence after Sunday's attempted attack on the IDF by a Hamas-affiliated terror group in Gaza, Mashaal is operating under the impression that nothing Hamas does will divert Washington from its collision course with Israel. With Obama in charge, Hamas believes it can attack Israel with impunity.
So with Israelis and Palestinians now joined in their belief that Obama is looking for a fight with Israel rather than a negotiated settlement, it was encouraging to hear that Mitchell is planning on forcing the Palestinians to the negotiating table with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government.
Unfortunately, within hours of his arrival in Israel on Tuesday, it became clear that Mitchell's statements about negotiations were nothing more than spin. He reiterated that the US has no intention whatsoever of budging on its uncompromising positions that no Jewish construction anywhere past the 1949 armistice lines is legitimate; that Israel must begin moving toward a mass expulsion of Jews from Judea and Samaria; and that the IDF must drastically curtail its counterterror operations in Judea and Samaria. That is, Mitchell demonstrated that like the Palestinians and the Saudis, the Obama administration's idea of a resolution of the Palestinian conflict with Israel involves a complete Israeli surrender to all Arab (and now American) demands while trusting our security to the tender mercies of Palestinian terrorists.
MORE DISTURBING than Mitchell's positions are his marching orders from Obama. Unlike previous presidential envoys who have come to Israel every few weeks and then disappeared when reality proved stronger than their peace fantasies, Obama has ordered Mitchell to cast reality to the seven winds and set up a permanent forward command post in Jerusalem directly subordinate to the White House.
To fulfill his writ, Mitchell has appointed four deputies - all known for their open sympathy for the Palestinians and their hostility to the Netanyahu government. They are Mara Rudman, of the George Soros-financed Center for American Progress; Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton, who is now building a Fatah army in Jordan which he recently reportedly acknowledged will turn its American-financed guns on Israel within a few short years if Israel refuses to establish a Jew-free Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria; Fred Hoff, one of the greatest champions of a US-Syrian rapprochement and of an Israeli surrender of the Golan Heights; and David Hale, the architect of the current US policy of rebuilding the Hizbullah-infested Lebanese army. Hale will be permanently stationed in Jerusalem in a large office suite that will house Mitchell's operation.
Aside from overseeing his deputies, Mitchell has also been charged with leading a new administration program aimed at undermining Israel's ability to make independent military and intelligence decisions. Back in 2008, when Obama's National Security Adviser Gen. Jim Jones served as then-secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's special adviser on Israeli-Palestinian security issues, he authored a report calling for the US to assess what Israel's "real" security interests in Judea and Samaria are and to limit US support to Israel to filling those necessarily minimal interests. Jones's report, which rejected all Israeli claims in Judea and Samaria and underplayed the strategic significance of Palestinian rejection of Israel's right to exist, was viewed as deeply hostile toward Israel, and the Olmert government prevailed on the Bush administration to set it aside.
This is not the case today, however. Obama shares Jones's view that Israel's perception of its security needs is exaggerated. As he made clear in his speeches last week at Cairo and Buchenwald, Obama thinks that Israel suffers from a Holocaust-induced paranoia that causes it to wrongly believe that Arabs and Iranians wish to wipe it off the map. In Obama's view, Israel's fears can be dealt with, and a Middle East peace can be wrought through a US takeover of both Israel's security assessments and its military and intelligence operations and policies.
To this end, and in line with Jones's 2008 report, according to last Friday's Yediot Aharonot, the administration is building an apparatus designed to prevent Israel from exercising independent judgments about its tactical and strategic challenges and deny it the ability to secure its interests without US involvement and consent.
The apparatus reportedly includes members of every US security, foreign policy and intelligence body. These officers will be stationed in Israel and will report to Mitchell, who in turn will report to Jones and Obama. Each officer will be assigned to coordinate with Israeli counterparts in mirror organizations, including the IDF, the Shin Beit, the Mossad, the police and every other relevant Israeli body.
Since there is no polite way for Israel to reject this effective US bid to subvert its capacity to make independent decisions, the most urgent dilemma the Netanyahu government must solve is how to handle Mitchell's new supreme headquarters in Jerusalem. To address this issue, the government must be clear about what it wishes to accomplish in its relations with Mitchell specifically and the Obama administration generally.
As the Obama administration's treatment of Israel to date shows clearly, the president and his advisers have no intention of compromising their hardline positions on Israel. The administration is building its supreme headquarters in Jerusalem to enable Mitchell to act like a colonial governor and confront the unruly Jewish natives - not to cut a deal with us.
ISRAEL HAS nothing to gain, and much to lose from an open and prolonged confrontation with Washington. And so Netanyahu's goal in contending with Mitchell must be twofold: He must seek to avoid an ugly fight with the White House, and he must do so while yielding nothing of substance to the Mitchell command post.
Netanyahu clearly hopes to achieve this goal by showing great respect for Mitchell. On Tuesday he reportedly devoted a full four hours of his schedule to talks with Mitchell and his aides.
While understandable, Netanyahu's willingness to humor Mitchell is a recipe for disaster. Netanyahu cannot allow Mitchell to tie him or his senior ministers down for hours at a time in fruitless discussions about Obama's peace fantasies, or about which set of suicidal Israeli "gestures" might assuage the Obama administration's hunger for a confrontation. Bluntly stated, Israel's prime minister has better things to do with his time. Moreover, Netanyahu cannot debase his office by subordinating his schedule to the whims of a mere presidential envoy.
And so, as former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton first suggested in January during his visit to Israel, Netanyahu must elegantly remove himself from Mitchell's orbit.
To this end, in his policy speech at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center on Sunday, Netanyahu should announce that in the interests of fostering cooperation with the US and advancing prospects for peace, he is appointing a special prime ministerial envoy to Obama's special presidential envoy Mitchell. This envoy - and his purposely inflated staff - should be charged with handling all contacts with Mitchell and his staff and reporting all of their suggestions to Netanyahu for his consideration.
Netanyahu's special envoy should be a senior persona whom he trusts implicitly. Prime candidates for the position would be Dore Gold - who served as UN ambassador during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister - and former minister Natan Sharansky - who Netanyahu has nominated to head the Jewish Agency. Either man would be more than capable of respectfully deflecting US pressure on the Palestinian issue away from Netanyahu and so freeing the prime minister to attend to the Iranian threat.
And that's the thing of it. At the end of the day, Netanyahu has three main challenges that he must meet if he is to successfully protect Israel in the coming years. He must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He must secure Israel's national and strategic interests in Judea and Samaria and sole Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. And he must do what he can to avoid an open breach with Washington.
By deploying Mitchell to Jerusalem, Obama is trying to prevent Netanyahu from achieving any of these aims. Only by neutralizing Mitchell will Netanyahu free his schedule to contend with them.