WASHINGTON—State Department diplomat Nelson Milstrand, who appeared on CNN last week and offered an informed, thoughtful analysis implying that Israel could perhaps exercise more restraint toward Palestinian moderates in disputed territories, was asked to resign Tuesday. “The United States deeply regrets any harm Mr. Milstrand’s careful, even-tempered, and factually accurate remarks may have caused our democratic partner in the Middle East,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an unequivocal condemnation of the veteran foreign-service officer’s perfectly reasonable statements. “U.S. policy toward Israel continues to be one of unconditional support and fawning sycophancy.” Milstrand, 63, will reportedly appear at an AIPAC conference to offer a full apology as soon as his trial concludes and his divorce is finalized.
Granted, this is from the Onion. But it encapsulates accurately the cowardliness of US politicians in handling the Israel-Palestine peace negotiations. Although American presidents, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have made attempts to be even handed on the matter, they have done so with caution making sure that their re-election chances were not jeopardized by honesty or fairness. President Obama, emboldened perhaps by his success in eliminating Osama bin Laden, went out on a limb and called on both Israelis and Palestinians to take a serious look at creating a Palestinian state with mutually acceptable borders before his election for a second term. Whether this is a courageous move or a foohardy gamble, we will find out in a year and a half.
Even though Obama's views are almost identical to what Bush had proposed in 2008 and what Clinton had hinted at, it is being interpreted by Israel's hard line American supporters as throwing Israel under the bus and sympathetic towards Hamas. The distortions and lies come hardly as a surprise to Americans who have watched the same old theater for decades. The irony is that most Americans do want to see a Palestinian state and an end to Israeli-Palestinian hostilities. So it was especially disgusting to watch our elected representatives behave like trained circus seals who rose up and repeatedly applauded right wing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent speech to Congress. Netanyahu had no intention to come across as a negotiator for peace. His objective was incendiary and misleading demagoguery and he succeded in that with usual aplomb. The reason that this tired old rhetoric will once again not receive the scrutiny of ordinary American voters is that the never ending mid-east mess is not very high up on their priority list, despite general support for an independent Palestinian state and peace between the warring populations, as reflected in numerious polls. But our elected officials of both parties are scared to death of the AIPAC and the rapture-friendly conservative Christians and they know that they will not pay a political price for ignoring the sentiment of the majority and pandering to the reactionaries. That is why a fiercely partisan but small group of Israel supporters repeatedly get away with putting a kibosh on all serious peace negotiations. Let us see if despite Obama's steely resolve and success in getting Osama bin Laden and the Republican Mediscare, whether the right wing will be able to sink him in 2012 by wrapping the albatross of Israel-Palestine around his neck.
Here are some reactions to Obama and Netanyahu's speeches:
From the Washington post, here and here, from the BBC and from the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz (this is from the reliably left wing Gideon Levy). Note the reference to the standing ovations to Netanyahu's speech.