Many of the 16 heads of 14 American Jewish organizations were just as worried after hearing US president Barack Obama lay out his Middle East policies as they were before they took their seats in the White House Roosevelt Room Monday, July 13, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's Washington sources report.
The troubling impression that the president is too tough on Israel and too soft on the Palestinians and Iran was not dispelled – quite the contrary.
Ahead of the unannounced event, president Shimon Peres, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and defense minister Ehud Barak, the threesome which determines Israel's war-and-peace polices, pondered feeding the invited Jewish leaders pointed questions to show Obama the error of policies grounded in suppositions unrelated to the facts of life in the region.
In the event, they decided to avoid a head-on clash, preferring to keep up the White House pretense that the differences between Jerusalem and Washington were all in the family and let time cure his misapprehensions.
They refrained from putting their oar in, even though they knew that president Obama attached great importance to getting the Jewish community aboard as a defining factor in the shaping of viable Middle East and Israel policies, before he unveils those policies later in the month.
A missed opportunity to block Obama on his own court
(In related news, Fred Hoff, head of the Syrian desk in George Mitchell's Middle East team, spent Monday and Tuesday, 13-14 of July in Jerusalem this week, briefing Netanyahu and Barak on Obama's decision to extend active US sponsorship to resumed negotiations between Israel and Syria.
He wanted to know if the Netanyahu administration would pick up the stalled talks conducted by Ehud Olmert from the point at which they broke down in December 2008, shortly before he stepped down as prime minister.
Olmert had orally offered an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights for peace. But when the Turkish mediator, prime minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan, pressed him to provide a map, he refused and the indirect talks ran aground.
Hoff was told that Israel would have to study Olmert's proposal before answering his question.)
The three Israeli leaders realized their mistake in failing to properly brief Jewish leaders invited to the White House encounter when they had the chance – even if it led to a clash with the administration – when they saw the New York Times version of the event.
Its coverage was built around a blog item by Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive head of the Jewish Action Committee, J Street, which few American Jews and even less Israelis have ever heard of.
It consisted of fulsome, uncritical praise for the president, describing him as doing “a masterful job of pushing while hugging.” Obama was quoted as speaking of a “rock-solid strategic alliance with Israel,” but also defending his insistence that Israel stop building Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories. For Ben-Ami, Obama is the right man, at the right time, to press for a lasting Middle East agreement.
Far-left fringe elements at large in the White House
Only at the end of the item, did the NYT deign to mention Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Some of the toughest questioning was described as coming from this Jewish leader. Obama was said to have pushed his questions back.
Our Washington sources report that J Street, which was founded in April 2008, seven months before the presidential election, is eyed by the mainstream American Jewish leadership and Jerusalem as the Democratic Party's answer to AIPAC – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee. It is an open secret that its heads are very close to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who set up the president's first invitation to Jewish leaders.
J Street opposes military action against Iran under any circumstances along with the Iraq War. It supports Palestinian statehood alongside Israel along pre-1967 War boundaries and the resettlement of Palestinian refugees. Jerusalem must be repartitioned and the east side allotted to the Palestinians as their capital. J Street opposes Israeli settlement expansion for natural growth. It holds that the US must mend its fences with Syria without any sort of pressure and would likewise extend Palestinian Authority the same unquestioning support.
In contrast, J Street wants Israel pressured to accept a comprehensive peace deal with the Arab world based on Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
In general, these positions are diametrically opposed to the current Israeli government's political and military policies and miles away from the national Israeli consensus – witness the left-wing Meretz's downfall in Israel's general election seven months ago on a platform which closely resembles that of J Street.
Europe picks up the White House hit tune
The other two Jewish fringe groups invited to the White House for the first time were the Israeli Policy Forum – IPF – and the American branch of Peace Now (whose Israeli branch is close to the Meretz Party).
None of the three represents mainstream Israeli or American Jewish opinion.
However, they are close to president Obama's personal adviser David Axelrod.
Our Jerusalem sources stress that the minority, one-sided views of these minuscule organizations are of less concern in Jerusalem and among the mainstream American Jewish public than their closeness to the ears of top White House staffers and their inordinate influence on the US president's thinking and decisions through Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod.
These views are willingly echoed by at least one power center in Europe.
Sunday, July 12, the European Union's senior external affairs executive, Javier Solana, advised whipping the Middle East disputants into line by the threat of an imposed peace solution. Solana does not need to be nudged to call for Israel to be corralled against its will.
During a speech in London, he declared: “The mediator has to set the timetable, too. If the parties are not able to stick to it, then a solution backed by the international community should be put on the table. After a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two- state solution,” Solana said.
“It would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimize the end of claims,” he added
Solana regurgitates Peace Now talking-points
Although Solana is due to retire at year's end, his words sent a chill through Jerusalem. DEBKA-Net-Weekly intelligence sources reveal that Peres, Netanyahu and Barak were handed a document this week demonstrating that Solana's words were lifted verbatim from a paper presented him by a group of far-left Israeli activists allied with the American J Street, the IPF and the US branch of Peace Now.
The impression they gained was that Solana was flying a trial balloon for a US-European initiative to make Israel swallow diplomatic moves against its will.
This group includes ex-parliamentarians Avraham Burg and Naomi Hazan, two former foreign ministry director-generals David Kimche and Uri Savir, and Amram Mitzna, once chairman of the Labor Party.
None hold public office at present. They have all made their mark outside Israel by supporting the Palestinian cause in public debates. The mission they have undertaken now is to persuade world capitals that Israel will never sign a Middle East peace settlement unless it is forced to do so by an external power.
Like the three American Jewish fringe groups, they argue that Israel must go forward on the diplomatic track without regard to security constraints, such as Iranian and Syrian belligerence and their nuclear programs, or the Palestinian volatile split between inept and terrorist factions.
These Israeli activists wave such problems away as irrelevant and capable of being solved once Israel is compelled to buckle under to an imposed settlement.
That President Obama is surrounded by holders of these peripheral views is giving Israel government heads and most American Jewish leaders sleepless nights.