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MJ Rosenberg

MJ Rosenberg

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Eric Cantor Runs Interference for Bibi

Posted: 04/15/11 05:32 PM ET

Leave it to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA). With President Barack Obama expected to deliver a major speech outlining a new (or, at least, revised) Middle East peace strategy soon, Cantor decided it was time to invite Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to deliver a speech before a joint session of Congress.

This is one of the benefits of having a Republican House at the same time that a Likud prime minister is in office in Israel. The two right-wing parties can work together to thwart any Democratic president's attempt to advance U.S. national security by brokering Middle East peace.

The last time this happened was in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president, Newt Gingrich was speaker, and the self-same Netanyahu was Israel's prime minister. Netanyahu, joyously anticipating Clinton's defeat for a second term, worked with the Republicans to subvert Clinton. Douglas Bloomfield, AIPAC's long-time legislative director, recalled:

No Israeli leader was as adept at playing partisan American politics, nor as disruptive as the American-educated Netanyahu, who understood the politics of divided government. Even before becoming prime minister, he joined forces with Gingrich against common enemies: then-President Bill Clinton, Rabin and the Oslo peace process. Their goal was to make sure all three failed.

Gingrich was happy to play this game with Netanyahu, but he is more than matched by Cantor, who is not only a pro-Likud zealot but has also publicly admitted that he would use his position to help Netanyahu withstand any pressure from his own President.

Back in November, just after the Republicans won majority control of the House, Cantor made clear that, in any arguments between Obama and Netanyahu, he would be there for the prime minister. In a statement issued by his office following a meeting with Netanyahu, Cantor made his position clear:

Eric stressed that the new Republican majority will serve as a check on the Administration and what has been, up until this point, one party rule in Washington.

Reporting on the Cantor statement, Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) correspondent Ron Kampeas wrote, "I can't remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president."

So it is not surprising that, according to Haaretz, the Republicans have invited Netanyahu to the Capitol to "counter a speech expected to deal with U.S. Mideast policy by President Barack Obama."

Not surprising, but utterly unseemly. And there is nothing "pro-Israel" about it.

Israel today is in the worst geostrategic position it has been in for decades. The collapse of the Mubarak government has put the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty (which has saved countless lives) in jeopardy. The Assad regime in Syria — no friend of Israel, but a reliable enforcer of de facto peace on the border — is under popular assault and is unlikely to survive for long. Lebanon is now run by Hezbollah. The Jordanian regime is shaky, like most of the monarchies in the region. And Turkey, Israel's one powerful Muslim ally, a strong friend of Israel since its birth, is so disgusted by Israel's treatment of the Palestinians that it is distancing itself as fast as it can.

And then there's Iran.

That is the status quo, and it certainly doesn't favor Israel. In fact, it is so bad that if anyone had predicted it a few years ago, even a few months ago, he would have been dismissed as utterly out of touch.

But that's the reality.

Nonetheless, Binyamin Netanyahu makes no attempt to alter the situation by pursuing an agreement with the Palestinians. Rather, he works with all his might to preserve a status quo which, although terrible for his country, keeps him in power. After all, as his apologists are quick to say, freezing settlements to advance negotiations would weaken his coalition, and he can't allow that to happen.

This is not to say that achieving a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians would eliminate all of Israel's problems — problems which threaten its very survival. But it would eliminate most of them, simply because, as the late Yitzhak Rabin pointed out, it would eliminate Israel's enemies' pretext for war. Once an agreement is reached (one that provides for a viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel) no wars can be launched on the Palestinians' behalf. Even Iran and Hezbollah would be neutralized by peace as they cannot be by war.

Is it possible that those like Cantor, who would thwart U.S. efforts to achieve peace, don't know this? Yes, it is. Ideologues — and Cantor is a Likud ideologue — are often blind to facts that are obvious to others.

As for the lobby and its congressional acolytes, including Cantor, of course, they benefit from the status quo. An ugly status quo may be terrible for Israel and the Palestinians, but it is a great tool for fundraising. (A few weeks ago, AIPAC responded to a terror attack by immediately sending out an e-mail urging those outraged by the killing to send money to AIPAC.) Prime Minister Netanyahu will almost certainly say nothing worthwhile in his speech to Congress, but the photo ops with the prime minister of Israel will show up in dozens of congressional fundraising appeals.

It's just politics. It's a game, and — as with most issues these days — it's mostly about money.

No wonder President Obama seems so reluctant to get involved. Any effort he makes will, by definition, be designed to change the status quo. And that means that any effort he makes will make those who benefit from it unhappy.

Nonetheless, the president should lay a plan on the table. It is true that, until now, Netanyahu and his cheering section here have treated Obama's ideas with contempt. But the fact is, whether Eric Cantor understands it or not, the objective situation has changed.

Israel's regional situation is worse than ever. And, unless there is serious progress toward peace between now and September, Palestinians will declare a state composed of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem that will be recognized by virtually the entire world. No matter whether the declaration actually creates a Palestinian state or not, a declaration would seriously undermine Israel's standing. In the words of Defense Minister Ehud Barak:  

We face a diplomatic tsunami that the majority of the public is unaware of. Israel's delegitimization is in sight.

That is why Netanyahu desperately wants to prevent a September declaration.  And it's why he expects and needs the United States to stop it from happening. That is something Obama can do, but not by simply shouting "no." Obama needs to tell Netanyahu that the only way to avoid a unilateral solution is by brokering a bilateral one. Running to Eric Cantor won't change a thing.

 
 
 

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