Rassegna Stampa Elezioni Israeliane 2009

Monitoraggio attraverso i media internazionali delle elezioni in Israele del Febbraio 2009

A parting shot for Rice and Bush

Posted by Alessandro Accorsi su 14 gennaio, 2009

Craig Nelson, Associate Editor

The National – UAE

Like so much else lately, Israel does not seem to know when to stop.

In the latest example, it was not a tank or artillery piece in the Gaza Strip. It was the mouth of its prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

Speaking in the southern Israeli city Ashkelon on Monday, Mr Olmert boasted that he had persuaded the US president last week that the United States should not vote for a pending UN Security Council resolution urging a ceasefire in Gaza.

To the gathering of local officials, the Israeli leader crowed that his going over the head of Condoleezza Rice and straight to George W Bush had “embarrassed” the US secretary of state because the ceasefire resolution was one that she had “cooked up, she organised, she formulated, she manoeuvred”.

The White House strongly denied Mr Olmert’s claim.

The ceasefire resolution was still approved by 14 of the Security Council’s 15 members. Yet Ms Rice was forced unexpectedly to abstain from voting on a measure that for three days in New York she had promoted and helped draft.

Furthermore, within days of ending her tenure as secretary of state, Ms Rice was publicly humiliated by an erstwhile ally, a man with whom she has met at least 19 times since taking office.

Whether Mr Olmert thought that Ms Rice and other US officials would learn of his comments is unclear. He may have assumed that by speaking in Hebrew in Ashkelon, a hardscrabble working-class city hard by the Mediterranean and just up the road from Gaza, his English-speaking audience in the United States would not hear him.

He was wrong. A transcript of his comments in Ashkelon issued by his office omitted his remarks about Mr Bush and Ms Rice, but Israel Radio and the Associated Press picked them up.

Mr Olmert is not the first Israeli prime minister to diss the state department and trample on a secretary of state. Past Israeli leaders have routinely sidestepped Foggy Bottom and the legions of Arabists, anti-Semites and softies that are alleged to lurk there. Through friendly intermediaries they set up back channels into the Oval Office or rang up the president directly.

To this day, the mere mention of James Baker spurs venom and foaming mouths among even normally polite reaches of the Israeli political establishment.

In 1990, Mr Baker, secretary of state under George H W Bush, had the temerity, in Israel’s view, to declare publicly to the right-wing government of Yitzhak Shamir: “When you’re serious about peace, give us a call.”

For good measure, Mr Baker offered the White House phone number: (202) 456-1414. Needless to say, Israel studiously avoided dealing with him thereafter.

From its point of view, Israel had good reason for displeasure with Mr Baker. He and his boss were pressing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and, citing the hectic pace of settlement building in the West Bank, had denied loan guarantees to the Shamir government.

In contrast, throughout her eight years in the Bush administration, first as national security adviser and then as secretary of state, Ms Rice has toed Israel’s line and given it pretty much everything it has wanted.

With brisk efficiency, she has kept the UN hordes at bay, indulged Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank and kept the diplomatic ball dribbling while Israel tried to achieve its military and territorial objectives.

She not only helped keep the “process” in “peace process”; she also held off the UN peaceniks and bought Israel time to complete its objectives in 2006 when it invaded Lebanon.

Israeli forces did not succeed in destroying Hizbollah, but not for lack of trying by Ms Rice. She memorably stalled diplomatic attempts to forge a ceasefire with the description of the violence racking Lebanon as the “birth pangs of a new Middle East”.

This loyal bidding on behalf of Israel makes all the more telling Mr Olmert’s comments on Monday.

“I said, ‘Get me President Bush on the phone,’” Mr Olmert told his audience. “They said he was in the middle of giving a speech in Philadelphia. I said I didn’t care: ‘I need to talk to him now.’ He got off the podium and spoke to me.”

Mr Olmert said Mr Bush told him he was not familiar with the text. But he told the president: “ ‘I’m familiar. You can’t vote for it.’ [Bush] gave an order to the secretary of state, and she didn’t vote for it.”

Ms Rice has issued no official reaction to Mr Olmert’s remarks. But if they are true, it is clear not only that the Israeli prime minister insulted her; Mr Bush sold her out, too.

As is the case with so much of the current war, electoral politics apparently was behind the public affront. Critics in Israel had complained that the Security Council resolution, while non-binding, reflected a failure of Israeli diplomacy. With elections scheduled for Feb 10, Mr Olmert needed to strike back.

The prime minister may have thought that it did not matter. After all, he is a lame-duck prime minister and she, a lame-duck secretary of state. With the Likud Party candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu, standing in the wings breathing fire, what harm can come from giving his foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, a little boost at the polls by showing this government can stand up to America?

But it does matter. Israel is still likely to need the help of the United States and United Nations to get out of Gaza and to declare “victory”.

More importantly, Mr Olmert’s shortsighted comments give credence to what most people in the world – in particular, in the Arab world – believe about the US-Israeli relationship. To wit, Israel is the tail that wags the American dog.

Jerusalem expected and assumed that it should get everything it wants. And when Ms Rice abstained rather than vetoed the UN resolution, Mr Olmert apparently was willing to tar the reputation of the soon-departing US diplomat to score cheap political points and appease his government’s critics. Despite the imminent arrival of a new administration, the incident is likely to be cited in this region for years to come.

For Ms Rice, it remains to be seen how instructive this coda to her diplomatic career will be.

Next week, she returns to the verdant hills of Palo Alto, California, and Stanford University, where she formerly served as academic dean. As the tranquil breezes waft off San Francisco Bay, redolent with the peppery scent of the eucalyptus trees that dot the campus, will she wonder: “Did I give in too much?”





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