Yoel Marcus
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 12, 2010 - 1:00am

We can deny it all we like, but if it looks like a threat and sounds like a threat, then it's a threat.

U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, who is coming to Israel next week, suggested in an interview with the U.S. public television network PBS that Washington might withhold loan guarantees to Israel.

When this was interpreted as a hint meant to pressure Israel, "clarifications" poured forth from the American capital. Mitchell wasn't threatening, he was only giving a hypothetical response to the interviewer's question about the options for pressure that were available to the administration. The White House itself sent a message to the effect of, "We didn't want to threaten, only to speed up the negotiations."

The precise words and their precise meaning do not matter. The reality is that President Barack Obama is frustrated and that threatening winds are blowing from the White House toward Israel. There is a big gap between Obama's peace speeches and his Nobel Peace Prize on one hand and his inability to produce a tangible achievement on the other. And while he speaks about peace and reconciliation, he himself is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan as their fallen comrades' coffins continue to arrive back in the U.S. The question is whether they knew what they gave their lives for.

Recent talk about the Obama administration being "tired" of Israel is undoubtedly an expression of frustration with the fact that the quarter from which the Americans had expected the most has so far yielded nothing.

The threat of withholding loan guarantees recalls the commander of the British forces during the British Mandate, General Evelyn Hugh Barker, who ordered the Jews punished by "striking at their pockets." This approach did not keep the organized Jewish community from driving out the British and founding an independent state. Come what may, one thing is clear - U.S. military aid and its support of Israel in the UN Security Council will not be impaired under any circumstances.

In light of the Iranian threat we should remember how important it is to Obama to cooperate with the moderate Muslim states and to see a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in order to prevent another war from breaking out in the region.

Our grumbling that Obama is pro-Arab is not fair. Perhaps he doesn't admire us like some of his predecessors, but his policy does not deviate by one millimeter from theirs. The United States has never recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Succeeding administrations have consistently adhered to the demand for a return to the 1967 borders, with minor border adjustments related to security. They have also consistently objected to the settlements and have warned us many a time that they would not finance any settlement evacuations.

Mitchell is coming to the region to take the negotiations out of the freezer. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may have made a commitment to a peace process based on two states for two peoples, but so far he has done nothing except to declare a freeze in construction in the settlements for 10 months and not a single day beyond. What that means exactly is not clear. It's neither an evacuation nor proof that the government wants and is capable of evacuating tens of thousands of settlers. As in "Saving Private Ryan," Washington, Cairo and Amman are working together to save Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak is in deep now with his construction of a separation fence between his country and the Gaza Strip, which is deeply damaging to the status and power of Hamas. At a time like this Israel cannot make do with "freezing construction for 10 months." It sounds like a joke.

Mitchell's visit is extremely important for renewing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He may bring with him a plan that Israel will not be able to say no to without damaging American interests. According to one knowledgeable source Jerusalem is preparing efforts to resume the talks and understands that the government is bound to them. After all, it was Netanyahu's government that drafted the two-states-for-two-peoples promissory note.

In the current domestic political situation Netanyahu could obtain the broadest parliamentary support in Israel's history - almost 80 Knesset members will support beginning vigorous negotiations aimed at reaching a settlement and drawing permanent borders, with the active involvement and assistance of the United States.

Enough already with the shticks and the tricks, it's time to show leadership.


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