President Barack Obama declared May Jewish American Heritage Month and celebrated his last White House seder. Now that Pesach is over and we are enjoying oatmeal, pizza, pasta and other longed-for delicacies (as well as certain peaty libations), I have four questions:
Did you hear what Vice President Joe Biden told J Street? This newsletter's mantra is that we should read original sources rather than rely on third-party summaries or interpretations. Unfortunately, the text of Biden's April 18 speech seems unavailable. I don't have much patience for videos (unless they are funny or convey what cannot be conveyed in words), but I watched - to see what the kvetching was about.
Biden unequivocally condemned the Jerusalem bus attack and said that the U.S. stands with Israel. He explained that the Iran deal is working but the administration is not ignoring non-nuclear threats from Iran such as terrorism, ballistic missile tests, and human rights violations. Since the administration already has the authority it needs to fight Iran on these fronts, further sanctions legislation would be counterproductive because it would give Iran an excuse to allege that we were violating the nuclear deal.
Biden condemned stabbings by "Palestinian terrorists" and said that he told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that there is never a justification for terrorism and that Abbas must specifically condemn specific terrorist acts when they occur.
Biden said that a two-state solution is essential for Israel's security and its identity as a Jewish and democratic state. Biden said that in meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas he saw no political will among either of them to move forward with serious negotiations and he believes that trust is fractured on both sides.
Biden urged both sides to take responsibility for moving forward. After condemning Palestinian efforts to take the dispute to international court, Biden said that he has opposed settlements for more than three decades because he believes they are counterproductive for Israel's security. Settlements move us away from a two-state solution and toward a one-state reality.
Biden stressed that regardless of policy disagreements with Israel on settlements and Iran, there is no question about our absolute commitment to Israel's security. The vice president said that he has worked with eight presidents, and no administration has done more than the Obama administration to advance Israel's security: "We don't show this level of support to any other nation in the world."
So what's the problem? Right after Biden told his famous story about meeting with Golda Meir, after half an hour of emotional pro-Israel rhetoric backed by facts, he said that the U.S. has an "overwhelming obligation notwithstanding our sometimes overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government" to push for a two-state solution while at the same time being an "absolute guarantor of Israel's security." Is that even news? Has there been any administration in recent decades that was not frustrated with Israel's settlement policy?
This was a pro-Israel speech by any reasonable definition of the term "pro-Israel." Decide for yourself.
Do you want more U.S. aid for Israel? The administration had hoped to finalize a new 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Israel last year, but Netanyahu canceled discussions so that he could focus on derailing the Iran deal.
Netanyahu also may have delayed because he was worried that once the administration proved yet again its commitment to Israel's security, the administration might feel more freedom to support anti-Israel resolutions at the U.N. (something it has never done and will never do).
The administration reiterated last week that it is committed to an MOU that provides record amounts of aid to Israel. Eighty-three senators signed a letter to the administration requesting aid to Israel, which is like asking the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry to shoot three-pointers. Letters like these, especially to this administration, are a waste of time, but they give senators a chance to show they care and organizations a chance to show they matter. Unless Netanyahu finds another reason to balk, Israel is likely to get an MOU with more aid than ever before.
Did you read Steve Chapman's op-ed on the Iran deal? Some of our Republican friends don't seem to understand the difference between opposing the deal before it went into effect and continuing to oppose the deal now.
In his must-read article, Chapman points out that "The question is no longer whether the deal should have been done. It's whether it should be undone. Whether to enlist in the Army is a different question from whether to go AWOL during boot camp...For us to abandon the agreement would mean the Iranians would keep [the money from the deal] but be released from their obligations. They'd get to keep the new car without making the payments."
Before enacting any new Iran legislation, we must ask ourselves whether it is necessary and if so, whether it could jeopardize the Iran deal by creating the appearance or reality that we are violating the deal. Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is too important for partisan politics.
Why would Netanyahu want to remind the world about the Golan Heights? Gershom Gorenberg gives his take.