Yesterday in a post on the reaction to Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress, I mentioned a meeting between Netanyahu; Matt Brooks, head of the Republican Jewish Coalition; and DNC head Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) in which, according to the RJC, Wasserman and others tried to involve the prime minister in partisan bickering. Brooks said in a phone conversation with me today that Wasserman Schultz tried to take Israel off the table as an issue in the 2012 election by offering a pledge to Brooks in front of the prime minister not to raise Israel in the election.
Wasserman-Schultz’s spokesman Jonathan Beeton called me this morning to rebut the notion that his boss brought up the topic or was trying to get the prime minister to referee between the parties. Beeson told me that Rep. Steve Israel ( D-N.Y.) brought up the topic with a statement about bipartisan cooperation on Israel, a Republican in the meeting agreed and then Wasserman Schultz suggested a unity event by the DNC and RNC as well as the RJC and its Democratic counterpart in support of Israel. He denies that a “pledge” or promise was requested. Beeton told me, “The Congresswoman believes strongly, like virtually every major Jewish organization, that making Israel a partisan political issue will be detrimental to Israel’s security and runs contrary to long-standing U.S. policy and as such she asked that both sides refrain from such activity and proposed that both parties hold a unity event to show that U.S. support for Israel is bipartisan.”
Of the events of last week, Beeton acknowledged that in the Jewish community “while there was some tension over the language [used by Obama],” he believes Jewish support for the president remains strong, pointing to the Iron Dome, the pledge to oppose the U.N.’s unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state and the veto of the U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements.
Brooks has launched a full campaign to take on Wasserma Schultz over this incident. But what is there really to argue about at this stage? Brooks candidly told me, “There is strong bipartisanship from leading Democrats like Steny Hoyer, Harry Reid, Shelley Berkley, Ted Deutch . . . working with top Republicans like Eric Cantor and Mitch McConnell” in support of Israel and to oppose using “the 1967 borders as a precondition for further talks.” He added, “After a week [of back-and-forth], it’s clear that the only person outside of the bipartisan consensus is the President of the United States.”
As for me, I find it embarrassing that this all came out in the meeting with the prime minister and has continued in the light of an overwhelming bipartisan congressional show of support for a bipartisan Israel policy that Netanyahu articulated and that has been supported by preceding presidents. The issue has been and remains the White House’s ham-handedness and perpetual favoritism toward the Palestinians.
Today in Britain, the president said this of the Hamas-Fatah unity government, “It is very difficult for Israelis to sit across the table and negotiate with a party that is denying your right to exist, and has not renounced the right to send missiles and rockets into your territory.” Contrast that with the language his ambassador to the U.N. used in excoriating Israel at the U.N. Security Council: “Our opposition to the resolution before this Council today should therefore not be misunderstood to mean we support settlement activity. On the contrary, we reject in the strongest terms the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. For more than four decades Israeli settlement activity in territories occupied in 1967 has undermined Israel’s security and corroded hopes for peace and stability in the region. Continued settlement activity violates Israel’s international commitments, devastates trust between the parties, and threatens the prospects for peace.” Hamas is in essence an inconvenience; Israel’s settlements are a threat to peace. No wonder Democrats and Republicans have sought to distance themselves from the Obama formulations on Israel.
Shockingly, a bipartisan Senate resolution is now in the works, according to the Hill:
Senate Democrats are expected to support a resolution intended as a rebuff to President Obama’s call for basing Middle East peace talks on the 1967 Israeli-Palestinian borders.
It would be a rare rebuke of the president by the upper chamber and a sign that Democrats are worried about the impact of last week’s speech on the U.S.-Israel relationship and pro-Israel constituents.
It is not clear all Democrats are going to so publicly rebuke the president but some appear ready to:
Several Democratic senators, including Carl Levin (Mich.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), said they would not take a position until they reviewed the resolution.
Others voiced quick support.
“I would agree with that,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said of the draft language, cautioning that he had to read the resolution before making a final decision.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said there’s “total agreement” in Congress that “the ’67 lines will not work.”
In sum, the problem is not Wasserman Schultz or Democrats in Congress. The problem isn’t the prime minister. The problem is a president who by intention or ignorance perpetuates flap after flap with Israel. He seems to be under the belief that he will gain traction with the Palestinians and the Europeans by putting his thumb on the scale in favor of the Palestinian issues (e.g., settlements, border) while remaining mute on the central one: the refusal of the PA to give up the right of return.