Sunday, August 09, 2009

The explosive Nadav Tamir memo (updated with additional links, including the purported full text)

In a leaked confidential memo Israel's Boston Consul-General Nadav Tamir argues that Israeli obdurate commitment to the construction of illegal settlements is alienating U.S. supporters, especially the crucial American-Jewish community. Tamir argues that the dispute between the U.S. and Israel over settlements is causing strategic harm to Israel, and that Israel is unwise to link itself to domestic U.S. political enemies of Obama. The document, written in Hebrew, was apparently circulated among Israeli diplomats and addressed to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister. The memo was dismissed by the Prime Minister's office as "not worthy of a response." Meanwhile, Avigdor Lieberman, has summoned Tamir to the woodshed.

President Obama's focus on finding a settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, including his demand for a freeze to Israeli settlement construction and expansion, has been castigated by leading members of the pro-Israel PR squad as overambitious and naive. Perhaps the U.S. leader is not being given enough credit for appreciating the dynamics of U.S.-Israeli relations, including the the views of core Jewish supporters regarding Israeli colonization of the West Bank. Certainly, a strong majority of those Jewish Americans who follow developments in the Arab-Israeli zone expect that a two-state solution--if it is still possible--will necessitate a complete or nearly complete evacuation of the settlements.

Prior to his election, it was fairly common to hear the much distrusted Netanyahu described as sleazy but pragmatic (as the late Zeev Schiff once described him to me). Yet, after nearly half a year in office, one hears pragmatism ascribed to Bibi much less frequently. Perhaps Netanyahu is congenitally incapable of reaching a reasonable bargain with his Palestinian counterparts. Perhaps Bibi's dogmatism is more important than his vaunted pragmatism. Nadav Tamir's warning is not merely the considered perspective of a respected Israeli diplomat, but an echo chamber for the worries that I expect he has heard continuously for the past months from Israel's supporters.

As I have noted here before, an Israeli Prime Minister who jeopardizes the U.S.-Israeli relationship will not be treated kindly by the Israeli electorate, or at least that is the lesson from the history of the past few decades. Perhaps the occupant of the White House understands that lesson better than the self-assured Netanyahu. If Netanyahu is incapable of making a reasonable peace, which I believe to be the case, then a policy that exposes the core contradictions in the contending interests of the U.S. and Israel is very wise. There have been moments when the U.S. willingly subordinated its interests to Israel's; this is not one of those moments.

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