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Mar-04-2014 01:56printcomments

Barack to Bibi: 'Time is running out'

Prime Minister Netanyahu came to Washington Sunday night.

The picture above of Obama and Netanyahu was taken in Israel, March, 2013, by Marc Israel, Sellem Pool Getty Images.
The picture above of Obama and Netanyahu was taken in Israel, March, 2013, by Marc Israel, Sellem Pool Getty Images.

(CHICAGO) - When President Obama consented to an interview with Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg, the President sent an ultimatum to israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Time is running out”.

Obama does not choose a reporter for an individual interview without a clear purpose.

In this case, his purpose could have been to use Goldberg as a journalist-messenger, trusted by Israel, but also a columnist for an American media outlet.

In his younger years, Goldberg served in the Israeli army as a prison guard.  He even produced a book out of the experience, Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror.

The interview with Goldberg is the template President Obama keeps in front of his Israeli visitor, both in Washington and into the future.

Prime Minister Netanyahu came to Washington Sunday night. He met with President Obama Monday and on Tuesday he will address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, The AIPAC conference customarily functions as a pep really for AIPAC funders and supporters. At this annual event, through speeches and small group meetings, attendees receive legislative marching orders, essentially a list of legislation AiIPAC wants passed in the American Congress.

One key demand that was expected to be high on this year’s AIPAC list was pulled, as AIPAC yielded to intense pressure from the White House. The word from the Oval Office to AIPAC was that Congress must not pass tougher sanctions against Iran. To do so would doom U.S. efforts to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran.

It is of no small significance that neither President Obama nor Vice President Joe Biden, will attend the AIPAC Policy Conference. The Conference is a political rally; Obama and Biden are focused on diplomacy.

The executive branch was represented at the Conference by U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, an Orthodox Jew, who spoke on Sunday. He reiterated the Obama administration’s opposition “to new Iran sanctions during the interim nuclear deal”

In the Obama-Netanyahu meeting Monday, details of which will emerge over time, Netanyahu repeated his usual talking points, insisting “Israel has been doing its part” to forge peace, but that it’s been met with “incessant Palestinian incitement.”
Obama thanked Netanyahu for participating in what he called “very lengthy and painstaking negotiations” with Kerry over a framework for peace talks.
Netanyahu had also read and no doubt studied carefully, Obama’s pre-meeting interview with Goldberg. In that interview, which Bloomberg published Sunday night (March 2) Obama told Goldberg that the window for peace talks is closing.
He also said he believes “that ultimately it is still possible” to create a Jewish state of Israel and a state of Palestine”.

Obama will host Palestinian Authority President Abbas at the White House on March 17. He will no doubt engage in the same tough talk with Abbas.

in the Bloomberg interview, Goldberg reported that President Barack Obama planned to tell Netanyahu “that his country could face a bleak future — one of international isolation and demographic disaster — if he refuses to endorse a U.S.-drafted framework agreement for peace with the Palestinians”.

Obama also said in the interview that he will warn Netanyahu that “time is running out for Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy”.

In the hour long Oval Office interview, which was conducted Thursday [February 27]  Obama used a famous saying from the first century Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel, one of the most influential scholars in Jewish history, that he planned to tell Netanyahu, “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who”?

The actual Hillel quote, according to the Jewish Virtual Library is:

    “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

The Jerusalem newspaper Ha’aretz noted an important reference to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the interview. Goldberg writes that Obama described Abbas as “the most moderate leader Israel would encounter in the foreseeable future”.

According to Goldberg, Obama gave him the impression that Netanyahu was the one who had to be flexible in order to advance the peace talks.

The President also said that he intends to remind Netanyahu:

    “There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices. Do you resign yourself to what amounts to a permanent occupation of the West Bank? Is that the character of Israel as a state for a long period of time?

    Do you perpetuate, over the course of a decade or two decades, more and more restrictive policies in terms of Palestinian movement? Do you place restrictions on Arab Israelis in ways that run counter to Israel’s traditions?”

Amnesty International has released its report, entitled, appropriately enough, “Trigger-happy”, on the conduct of Israeli forces that underscores the growing international awareness of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian population it holds in its tight military-grip.

Amnesty’s web site begins its story on the latest investigation:

    Israeli forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing dozens of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity, said Amnesty International in a report published today.

    In all cases examined by Amnesty International, Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers did not appear to be posing a direct and immediate threat to life. In some, there is evidence that they were victims of wilful killings, which would amount to war crimes.

    “The report presents a body of evidence that shows a harrowing pattern of unlawful killings and unwarranted injuries of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in the West Bank,” said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“Trigger-happy” and the Goldberg-Obama interview, were both available to Netanyahu before he met Monday with Obama. The Prime Minister had a long plane ride from Tel Aviv to Washington Sunday.

After arriving in Washington Sunday night Netanyahu was scheduled to meet with Secretary Kerry Monday morning before meeting with the president. On Tuesday morning Netanyahu was expected to address AIPAC, no doubt to thunderous applause.

The advance word from AIPAC indicated that as many as 400 members of Congress would be among the 14,000 in attendance.

Later Tuesday, the Prime Minister will fly to Los Angeles. He will have received his Obama ultimatum.

On the flight he will have more time to reflect on his future dealings with the Palestinian people, his international reputation, and on how he intends to lead Israel into the future.

Please visit James Wall's Website, Wall Writings


Journalism was Jim Wall’s undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. An ordained United Methodist clergy person; he and his wife, Mary Eleanor, are the parents of three sons, and the grandparents of four grandchildren. They live in Elmhurst, Illinois.

Jim served for two years on active duty in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF (inactive) reserve. While serving with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years, starting in 1972. Time magazine wrote about the new editor, who arrived at the Christian Century determined to turn the magazine into a hard-hitting news publication. The inspiration for Wall Writings comes from that mindset and from many other sources that have influenced Jim’s writings over the years, including politics, cinema, media, American culture, and the political struggles in the Middle East. Jim has made more than 20 trips to that region as a journalist, during which he covered such events as Anwar Sadat’s 1977 trip to Jerusalem, and the 2006 Palestinian legislative election. He has interviewed, and written about, journalists, religious leaders, political leaders and private citizens in the region. You can write to Jim Wall at Visit Jim's Website: Wall Writings


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