Friday, March 19, 2010
Israel takes a big portion of the Washington foreign policy discussions, as its "condemned" Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to arrive in the capital for the annual American-Israel Public Committee, or AIPAC, policy conference this week.
I talked to some experts this week over the current, tense relationships and some of the new developments between the Unite States and Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be speaking at the AIPAC conference Monday morning, and it will be interesting to see how she will be received by the powerful and also angry Jewish audience. However, according to the AP report that came out late Thursday, after almost a week the two had a tense conversation over the phone, Netanyahu finally called Clinton, and they decided to meet face to face early this week.
Last week, a report was published in the Foreign Policy Affairs Magazine by Mark Perry, about the growing worry on the part of U.S. high military officials on the continuing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
According to the same report, U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, commander General David Petraeus sent a team of senior military officers in January to brief Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Perry reports that the briefers told Mullen that “Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing the U.S. standing in the region.”
The report was very revealing and made some waves in Washington throughout the stressful week that went on between the two “unshakable” friends, in which several high U.S. officials made harsh denouncements condemning the Israeli administration, finding Netanyahu is the real responsible party for the occurrence.
Clinton especially went on CNN to explain how she grilled the Israeli prime minister and viewed the announcement of the housing while Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel as "insulting."
According to Perry's report, which Petraeus accepted such discussions took place during a hearing last Wednesday at the Senate Armed Services Committee, there were talks that were conducted among members of the military leadership on whether the Palestine and Israeli territories were to be added to the CENTCOM commanding territories, which already contains twenty-two Arab nations.
I had a chance to see and have a conversation with Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and current vice president for foreign policy at the Brookings Institute in Washington on the same day that Petraeus briefed the Senate Committee.
I asked him first whether there was any possibility for Palestinian and Israeli territories to be annexed to the CENTCOM.
Indyk, who has been one of most popular experts in Washington over the issue lately, said, "It is a dead proposal at the beginning. Such a change would open Pandora’s box because of the many problems that would bring along with it, such as the issues between European Command structure against CENTCOM."
He said he saw such occurrence is "very unlikely."
When asked whether the tension between the U.S. and Israel could be reduced in the coming week when Netanyahu arrives, Indyk said, "We have to wait and see, we are still in the eye of the storm. The next step is for the U.S. administration to hear what the Netanyahu government will bring to the table. It is important to keep an eye on the situation in Jerusalem, and what will happen there as well, as the peace negotiations will take off."
According to Indyk, the Netanyahu government has to make some clarifications first over the housing policy. "The last thing the U.S. would want to do is to start negotiations and then have some housing committee release new permits."
I had a phone interview with Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New American Foundation, and former peace negotiator on behalf of the Israeli government in the past.
I asked him how he views the U.S. military officials' growing worries over the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Levy said it was astonishing to listen to Petraues at that hearing and that some of his remarks were quiet remarkable.
Petraeus said during the Senate hearing for example, "The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favoritism [for] Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples.”
The highest U.S. military official in the region was openly arguing that the U.S.'s special relationship with Israel actually jeopardized U.S. lives in that region.
Levy said, “This is not the first time that the U.S. military officials take issue with the US-Israeli relationships, however. The difference today is that they are so intrigued by the nuclear standoff that is going with Iran and they, now, spend more time understanding problems in the regions than before. They travel to the region quiet often, and see how much the Israeli invasion in Gaza and the Palestinian territories are damaging the U.S. interests anger the Muslim public."
Levy said he still expects the tension will be ratcheted down this week when Netanyahu arrives in Washington and also said he does not expect Netanyahu to cancel the settlements in Jerusalem, meaning the U.S. administration will end up backing down, once more.
According to Kamran Bokhari, regional director on Middle East and South Asia at the Stratfor Global Intelligence Company, "Netanyahu is in a very difficult position now while arriving in Washington. Netanyahu, on the one hand, is trying to be pragmatic and maintain the strong relationship with the U.S. administration; on the other, he also has to placate his own right-wing coalition group."
Bokhari predicted on a phone interview that Netanyahu would use this upcoming Washington trip to ease the jittery relationships between the two allies, however it will be also important to watch "how he will be received by the US administration."
Eric Fusfield, deputy director of the legislative affairs at B'nai B'rith, the oldest operating Jewish service organization and with nearly 100,000 members, said, "The two sides have to focus on the Iranian nuclear issue, instead of being distracted by the latest policy differences, which can occur even between the strongest allies like the US and Israel."
According to Fusfield, "The negotiations should go on regardless of the settlement policy of the Israeli government.”
The biggest obstacle in the face of the peace negotiations is terrorism, he said.
The AIPAC policy conference, which will be undoubtedly one of the most anticipated one in recent history because of the current relationship between the U.S. and Israel, will start on Sunday morning. The majority of the experts whom I met this week predicted that the conference would work to smooth the jittery relations for the time being. And I will take a part this 3-day conference to see whether their foresight will be proved right.
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