Friday, 30 April 2010

"Petraeus is right"

Last month, Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee why he was an ardent supporter of special envoy George Mitchell's Middle East peace efforts, even though Israel and the Palestinian Authority aren't a part of his Central Command area of responsibility:

“I keep a very close eye on what goes on” in the Israeli-Palestinian issue ..., Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday “because of its impact on that part of Centcom that is the Arab world. And in fact, we have urged that this is a critical component. That is one reason we have invited Sen. Mitchell to brief all the conferences we host and seek to support him and his staff any way we can when he's in Central Command area.”

“Clearly the tensions in these issues have an enormous effect on the strategic context in which we operate in Central Command area of responsibility,” Petraeus said. “My thrust has generally been to encourage that process that can indeed get that recognition that you talked about and indeed get a sense of progress.”

In a news conference this week with visiting Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Defense Secretary Robert Gates further reiterated the strategic logic that Petraeus was discussing.

"What we do believe is that the — heretofore, the lack of progress in the peace process has provided political ammunition to our adversaries in the Middle East and in the region, and that progress in this arena will enable us not only to perhaps get others to support the peace process, but also support us in our efforts to try and impose effective sanctions against Iran,” Gates said Tuesday.

Earlier this week, the Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg reported that an unnamed leader of a Jewish American organization tells him Petraeus is right:

"General Petraeus is right. We can't get around that. He is, essentially, the American ambassador to the Arab world, and to the Muslim world beyond it. The State Department has ambassadors on the ground, but Petraeus is something above ambassador, and when he goes around the Middle East he meets ferquently with heads of state, and from what I understand, he hears quite often about settlements on the West Bank and about what the Arabs call Israeli intransigence, and occasionally his interlocutors answer his requests for help on various issues by saying, 'Let's see what you guys do on the Palestinian question and then we'll see what we can do for you on your problems.'

"Is there hypocrisy here? Of course there's hypocrisy. Does the average Arab leader care about the Palestinians? If they cared, they would have bought them new houses with their oil money a long time ago. But they know that their people, thanks to Al-Jazeera, care, and are aware of the situation on the ground, and they know that America is Israel's prime benefactor. The point is, the perception of israeli intransigence makes it seem like the deck is stacked against the Arabs and considering that we need the Arabs for oil, to stand against Iran, for all kinds of things, it's Israel's job to help its main ally unstack that deck a little. Petraeus was just telling the truth about the on-the-ground reality."

Consensus would seem to be emerging that this is not a radical analysis, although the leader preferred not to go on the record, Goldberg says, because it may be a bit advanced for members of his organization. Just to add, I had a call from a retired conservative synagogue rabbi in the heartland the other day, who articulated much the same sentiment, and he also wished not to go on the record, for similar reasons. "If I do, I will be rabbi 'emeritus emeritus,'" he joked.

Former Sharon adviser Dov Weisglass observed something similar in an interview with Israeli daily Haaretz last month. The American Jewish community "will defend Israel in the face of the administration only on matters where there is a real threat to Israel," Weisglass told the paper. "I have serious doubt that U.S. Jews see the Netanyahu government's territorial aspirations in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem as an existential matter."

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