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FIRST REPORT FROM WASHINGTON : PRELUDE TO OBAMA'S SPEECH AT AIPAC CONFERENCE

Mitchell resigned because he wanted Obama to provide detailed American plan to break deadlock of parties

by Rhonda Spivak, May 21, 2011

* This article was written May 21, 2011, the evening before president Obama's speech at the  AIPAC conference. Stay tuned for my next posting which will analyse his AIPAC speech and reactions to it.
 
WASHINGTON - PING PONG RESTAURANT- At the dim-sum party on Saturday evening May 21, 2011 put on for the press the night before President Obama was to address the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) conference the following morning, journalists discussed Obama’s  "1967 lines" speech given last Thursday May 19.
 
The main dissatisfaction expressed  by Israeli and Jewish American journalists was the notion that Obama expected Israel to withdraw to the 1967  lines with land swaps, WITHOUT requiring the Palestinians to commit to the right of return being to a future Palestinian state, and not to Israel.
 
This is no small matter and was considered to be a new formulation of U.S. policy.
 
Alon Pinkas wrote in the Jerusalem Post that while previous American administrations had long called for Israel to return to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps, Obama's formulation on May 19 added something new:
 
"I'll tell you where there is something significantly new (albeit in a speech, rather than in reality): at Camp David, in July 2000, and later in the "Clinton Parameters" of January 2001, the concept was that a deal would include the "End of conflict and finality of all claims." That was Barak's and Clinton's premise and prerequisite.

"Obama is essentially saying that a Palestinian state should be established BEFORE Jerusalem and the refugees issues are resolved. That's a change."
 
The consensus of those Israeli and American jounalists I spoke with was that there would be no way Israel would agree to a return of the territories unless there was a commitment on the part of Palestinians to give up the right of return to Israel proper—and instead receive compensation. The idea that the Palestinians would have to give up the right of return before Israel could give up the West Bank  was nowhere in Obama's last Thursdays speech and was a matter that pwoplw were eager to hear if Obama would clarify at the AIPAC conference.
 
One  Israeli correspondent suggested to me that it didn’t much matter what Obama said because on the ground she did not believe any new peace process would be launched. Another Israeli journalist  said that he thought that Netanyahu made a “big crisis” out of Obama’s lastThursday speech in order to make it look like he stood up to Obama, to please his right-wing electoral vote.
 
In fact, one Jewish journalist who was in the oval office for Netanyahu's press conference with Obama said that Obama was visibly  "livid" when Netanyahu began lecturing him in the press conference about how Israel would not retreat to the 1967 lines or about Israel's need for a continuous presence on the Jordan valley. "You could see the muscles in Obama's arm bulging as he was holding on to his chair, he was so angred by Netanyahu," the jounalist said.  Another American  journalist said that Netanyahu's treatment of Obama was "egregious" -"his body language was disrespectful" , and "no one has ever talked to our President that way". He said the White House  putting out the message that Obama would not retreat from his remarks when he appeared at the  AIPAC Conference (although once  I write up my report of Obama's speech you will see that Obama did retreat  on a couple of points from this earlier speech).
 
Amongst right –of centre journalists at the press party there was discussion about whether Obama would be "booed" at AIPAC. One American correspondent predicted he would get perfunctory applause or silence at certain junctures but no booing. An Israeli journalist said she hoped he did get booed, and also suggested that even her more left of centre friends in Israel were starting to see how Obama  was betraying them by not making it clear to Palestinians that there would be no right of return en masse to the homes of their parents or grandparents  in 1948  Israel. By putting pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank  without pressuring the Palestinians to  make any committment "to ending further claims', she said Obama would lose some American Jewsh supporters. Another Israeli American freelance journalist I met said she would be booing Obama “besheket” ( quietly.)
 
At a Shabbat dinner event put on by Chabad on Friday May 20 attended by Winnipeg Jewish Review correspondent Ashley Faintuch, a Jewish student asked the Chabad Rabbi if it was OK fom a halachic perspective to boo Obama.The Rabbi answered that it was not O.K. to initiate the booing but if others were already booing it was OK to join it. Even the fact that the question was asked said something in and of itself.
 
"We’re going to hear a lot of platitudes tomorrow,” one pro-republican journalist said. “Obama is coming to AIPAC  because he wants Jewish donations for his campaign.”
 
There was lots of talk at the press party that Obama was going to lose some Jewish voters and contributors who had supported him last time—but the degree to which this occurred was anyone’s guess.
 
THE REAL REASON MITCHELL RESIGNED AND PALESTINIAN DISSAPOINTMENT  IN OBAMA
 
As much as Israelis and  Jewish Americans may have been disappointed with Obama’s speech last Thursday May 19, David Bedein of the Israel News Resource Agency, who is  the special Israeli correspondent to the Winnipeg Jewish Review told me to pay attention closely to how the Palestinian side viewed Obama’s  May 19th speech.
 
Bedein reported that he had a reliable source  that George Mitchell resigned because Mitchell wanted Obama to adopt the position of Peace-Now and J-Street which is that Obama should put down a detailed American plan and map for a Palestinian state and get international backing for it and pressure the two sides to accept it. Obama, no doubt with the advice of Dennis Ross, rejected Mitchell’s approach which is why they parted ways, since Mitchell did not believe that he could get anywhere unless Obama adopted  a more activist approach.
 
In fact, Elliot Abrams, a former advisor to President George W. Bush  wrote on May 13, 2011 [
http://blogs.cfr.org/abrams/]:
 
I am told that the final straw for Mitchell was a failure to convince the White House that the President’s speech next week must include an American detailed plan for Middle East peace. That would be a very bad idea, rightly rejected (if my sources are right) by the White House.  Mitchell was said to believe that such a plan could bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the table now for a serious negotiation." 
 
If the Palestinians believed that Obama was going to risk political capital on them by putting forth a detailed "Obama plan and map", as advocated by George Mitchell, then Obama’s speech  last Thursday proved to them that he can not be relied on to deliver them a state.Other than making speeches there is little Obama will offer them.
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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