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View from the Heights: Is It Peace Or Is It Prozac? Back to Square One? Bury the UN Goldstone Report on Gaza; Freeze Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations, Not Settlements; Talk Tough To Iran Once Again.

September 29, 2009

The title comes in part from a Cheryl Wheeler song.

Admittedly the air is thin here on Colorado’s High Plains and it is true that I probably need stronger glasses. I am just having difficulty believing – once again – what I am seeing.

So perhaps I’m hallucinating..

A few weeks ago, it appeared, from my vantage point in the foothills of the Rockies that the Obama Administration was calling for a conference between Netanyahu, Abbas and our own great leader that would led to a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along long-recognized `international consensus’ lines – ie – in tandem with UN Resolutions 242, 194. Together these resolutions would call for an end the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza – the longest military occupation in modern history – and the creation of a `viable’ (that is the key word) Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza along side a secure Israel within its 1967 borders.

In order to achieve such a settlement, it has been pretty clear from the outset that Obama would have to pressure Netanyahu – one way or another – to freeze West Bank-Jerusalem settlement building as a prelude to their dismantlement. The talk was tough – some of my relatives complained – quite unnecessarily it appears – that our president was `unfairly’ pressuring Israel. In the end, push never came to shove; George Mitchell’s fine words `of progress’ aside, Obama simply backed down. There was no meeting, only a pathetic press conference at the UN – at which, it was apparent that for whatever reason, Obama proved unwilling to match his words with deeds – a problem he seems to have in other areas as well (like healthcare).

Netanyahu not only got what he wanted in terms of settlements, but it seems he got something else, perhaps more important: a shift in the US focus away from Israel’s intransigence on the peace process to Iran’s nuclear program. He must be smiling and my relatives can breathe easier. Mahmud Abbas, who, a la Arafat, has bet all of his political marbles on US diplomatic support and leverage, finds himself now hanging by his political tootsies – left in the cold by Obama, his political legitimacy among his own people about as low it can be.

At the same time, there appears to be some connection between the US dropping its (weird) plans to place anti-missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic and the US shift back towards vilifying Iran. Was there a deal, open or just assumed, that in exchange for not placing these missiles near Russian’s western borders, Russia would not oppose US pressure on Iran? Certainly appears that way. Having already encircled Russia with US military bases, drawn much of Eastern Europe into NATO, the addition of this missile system adds little to US military capabilities. True, the US screws its Eastern European, anti-Russian (for good historical reasons) allies abit, but it gains leverage with a far more important strategic ally whose cooperation it needs for many of its projects, including Afghanistan,…Russia.

So…overnight, a shift in focus – a shift in focus that takes the heat off of Israel just as the UN releases the Goldstone Report, a damning report accusing the IDF of what the whole world could see in January: having committed massive war crimes in Gaza. Although the report did not get much play in the United States and was rejected out of hand by Israel, it struck a chord virtually everywhere else in the world and could likely have practical consequences, especially with Israel’s relations with Europe. Here in the US of A, Gaza did not go unnoticed either if truth be known and has, among other things, caused fissures in the Jewish Community. But Obama made no mention of the report which could have – along with other options – been used to press Israel on settlements – and accepting a more serious posture on overall negotiations with the Palestinians.

Israeli-Palestinian peace-making is back on the shelf where Netanyahu wants it, and where it has been for the past 15 years – in the rarified diplomatic regions of talking about talking about a peace process. Although it still claims to be open to negotiations, the Obama Administration, bowing to Bush era neo-con blowhards like John Bolton, has gotten back into that great Bush-era tradition of once again bullying Iran. Besides Bolton, the same voices as usual, encouraged by AIPAC, are pressing Obama towards confrontation with Iran, Howard Berman and Joe Lieberman among others.

The most recent media campaign concerns a `secret’ nuclear facility outside of the Iranian holy city of Qom that is supposedly speeding up Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

There are of course, only a few minor problems with this latest US provocation:
1. The Qom plant is not a secret and has not been one for some time. Iranian authorities had informed the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) of its existence and are not opposed to IAEA inspections
2. Once again there is no more evidence, nada, that this plant is producing any weapons grade uranium or that Iran has any intention of so doing.

Although both of these facts are well known, it has not stopped the Obama Administration from racheting up its anti-Iranian rhetoric, threatening tighter sanctions against Iran’s energy sector to further starve its failing economy and suggesting the possibility of a military strike is still on the table.

This is the Obama Administration’s initiative to kick its enemy in the shins – (or a bit higher up politically so to speak) while it is down and weak. Still reeling from the massive demonstrations challenging Iran’s May presidential election results, Iran remains a deeply and disturbingly divided country. Rather than recognizing the validity of many of the reform movement’s demands, Iran’s government, more and more in the hands of Revolutionary Guard hard-liners who control not only the military but more and more most of the country’s institutional machinery has taken a hard line on dissent, which will only deepen the internal divisions in the country that much more, at a moment when national unity is vital.

Dangerous game that both Ahmadinejad and Obama are playing, the one with his own people, the other with the world

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