President Obama, amplifying remarks of former Secretaty of State Condolezza Rice during the Bush administration and more recently by Vice President Biden and CENTCOM's General David Petreaus, said something out loud that appears radical but is actually rather obvious: "resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a 'vital national security interest of the United States.'"
Blunt talk on the moribund Israel-Palestinian peace process and its deleterious affect on U.S. strategic interests in the region is not unheard of but infrequent enough to draw loud condemnation from reflexively pro-Israel members of Congress and, natch, within the U.S. Israel lobby community. But Obama went further, urging Israel, whose possession of nuclear weapons is perhaps the world's worst-kept (intentionally so) secret, and a secret which requires Congress to violate U.S. law with each renewal of Israeli aid packages, to come clean on its nukes and sign onto the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. This was too much for Republican Congress member Eric Cantor, who last sparred with Obama over health care. He accused the administration of manufacturing conflict with the Netanyahu government. If so, Obama has cause to seek out a showdown with the Israeli Prime Minister, who has apparently busied himself collaborating on an open letter to the president, co-authored with World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, that publicly questioned Obama's commitment to Israel's security. It's possible, however, that such familiar PR strong-arming of a newbie U.S. president could backfire this time. The recent contretemps over the Vice President's Jerusalem snub, endured just as Biden had embarked on precisely the kind of public display of strategic affection now demanded by Cantor and Lauder, and the clear lack of interest of the current Israeli government in real progress on peace has left the Obama administration ready for a tougher line with Israel. The Prime Minister, particularly because of his obvious hand in the Lauder letter and apparent eagerness to meddle in U.S. politics via same, may have badly miscalculated.
Meanwhile the "secret" prosecution of whistleblowers like Anat Kamm and newly revealed plans for mass expulsion from the West Bank of improperly registered Arabs, meddling American do-gooders or anyone deemed undesirable under a revised definition of "infiltrator" raise new questions about the seriousness of Israel's commitment to due process and democracy—unless of course the IDF intends to enforce its more aggressive understanding of infiltration to include illegal settlers on the Palestinian West Bank.