Steven J. Rosen is the director of the Forum's Washington Project. From 1982-2005, he was a top official in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Prior to 1982, he taught political science and international relations at the University of Pittsburgh, Brandeis University, and the Australian National University. On 21 April, he addressed the Middle East Forum via conference call on the subject of U.S.-Israel relations.
Mr. Rosen began his talk by pointing out that a current article of faith among Democrats is that presidential involvement has been lacking in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Yet, paradoxically, President Obama's greater involvement has meant that for the first time in sixteen years there have been no negotiations between the two sides. Mr. Rosen affirmed that although the administration is blaming Prime Minister Netanyahu for this, the Israeli PM is not doing anything new, as all six previous Israeli governments have built dwelling units across the Green Line. Even Yitzhak Rabin completed the construction of 6,000 dwelling units in 1993 when the Oslo Accords were signed. If anything, under Netanyahu, the rate of construction has been much slower. Moreover, before Obama made an issue of the construction of settlements, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas had never set as a precondition for negotiations the halting of all construction.
Mr. Rosen argued that Obama's upcoming "American Plan" for the peace process, which will be more or less identical to the Clinton Parameters, will eventually fail because Israel takes "risks for peace" only when the Israeli public and government feel that there is someone they can trust in the White House. And Obama's "quarrel" with Israel has taken away that sense of trust. Indeed, Netanyahu embodies the Israeli public's sentiment that there are no negotiating parties with whom they can work.
Mr. Rosen also discussed the Iranian nuclear program in this context. While the administration and Israel agree on the threat it poses, Obama does not appear to be putting into effect any plans to stop Iran.
Asked about what Congress has done regarding Obama's pressure on Israel, Mr. Rosen pointed to the fact that 333 members of Congress have signed a letter expressing concern over the recent tension in U.S.-Israel relations. Nonetheless, in his view, the signatories did not include enough Democrats, who tend to side with the administration.
In response to a question about the Arab countries' fear of the Iranian nuclear program, Mr. Rosen affirmed that in private meetings some Arab officials have been quite blunt in stating that they would tolerate a successful Israeli strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and that Obama is not taking the Iranian threat "seriously enough."
Summary written by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.