A minefield of missteps

The US should not have handed OECD membership to Netanyahu on a silver platter; it should have used the pending admission as leverage.

US President Barack Obama met last week with Jewish members of Congress, and according to Ben Smith of Politico.com, one attendee said that the president “conceded some American missteps, as well as Israeli ones.”
Other news outlets quoted sources who claimed he said that he entered a minefield of Mideast politics and even “lost a few fingers.”
Obama has indeed made some “missteps.” But hopefully he was saying to himself all the while that those so-called missteps aren’t exactly the ones his guests had in mind: As Jewish senators and congressmen reprimanded him for the “sin” of applying pressure on Israel, one can only hope that Obama understood that his major misstep was exactly the opposite – not applying enough.
AFTER MORE than 40 years of occupation, during which US governments have consistently given in to the Jewish lobby in Washington and have done almost nothing to pressure Israel to leave the West Bank or end its blockade on Gaza, the peace camp in Israel and around the world had high hopes for Obama’s election. But those hopes faded quickly. A small ray of sunshine reemerged after the fiasco of Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel and the untimely announcement of plans to build in east Jerusalem. Suddenly, with Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton using harsh language, America finally showed what it was capable of doing with just a bit of effort.
But now things seem to have gone back to normal. The “tough love” that the administration doled out in minor quantities ended almost as quickly as it had begun. In his last visit to Washington, Defense Minister Ehud Barak got the red carpet treatment and 40 minutes with the president. All this just a few months after Obama’s widely publicized snub of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on his visit to the White House in April.
Administration staff are now at pains to stress to Jewish organizations their commitment to Israel and its security, and during talks on global nuclear policy, it seems as though the White House is in no hurry to pressure Israel to change its own.
BUT HOW disheartening was it to read diplomatic correspondent Aluf Benn of *Haaretz, reporting on what seems to be one of Obama’s biggest missteps to date. According to Benn, the US worked hard over the past couple of months to convince those countries who opposed Israel’s admission into the OECD, mainly Turkey, to change their minds. Benn concludes that the announcement on “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians helped convince those opposed and undecided that Netanyahu deserved a reward.
Talk about terrible bargaining skills: Netanyahu gives Obama a fake, temporary settlement freeze and a promise to engage in “proximity talks” – and in return Obama hands to him on a silver platter something the Israeli prime minister has yearned for for over a decade. One can only wonder what the Americans will fork over as a prize for the expected stalling of those proximity talks and intentionally leading to their failure. Perhaps membership in the European Union?
A far wiser move would have been to use the acceptance into the prestigious club as leverage. Everyone knows of Netanyahu’s love for economics, how he’s consistently tried to portray himself as the financial wizard, while comparing Israeli economic potential to that of the Celtic Tiger (what a shame that Ireland is no longer a tiger and now part of PIIGS – Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain – who are threatening to bring down the euro bloc with their economic missteps).
What better gift could one give Netanyahu? And what better digestif could one offer the Israeli public already blissfully unaware of the daily misery of the lives of the Palestinians living on the other side of the fence, while they reap the benefits of a booming economy where real estate prices keep rising and the global recession barely scrapes the Jewish coastline. It’s all good, Israelis must be thinking.
And let’s not forget the OECD itself, which should also examine its move as an organization that “brings together the governments of countries committed to democracy and the market economy,” according to its Web site. How the OECD can even consider Israel to be fully committed to democracy – with a road that bars entry to Palestinians (although according to reports, that might end soon) with a wall that cuts into Palestinian territory, with the barring of entrance to renowned academics or a Spanish clown just because their views aren’t in line with those of the current coalition – is a mystery.
But there’s really no need for Israel to worry. History shows that nothing happens to an OECD member for not keeping its commitments.
One can only hope that after the proximity talks officially fail in four months’ time, Obama and his staff will get back to their senses and reward Netanyahu only when he actually does something real and tangible to deserve it.
The writer is a Tel Aviv-based journalist. He blogs at www.amikaufman.com