The Washington Times - March 20, 2009, 11:30AM

Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah had some interesting observations on the Israeli-Palestinian issue this morning at the New America Foundation’s fabulous new downtown offices, during a conversation hosted by Steve Clemons.

Levy, a former Israeli government policy adviser, talked about Israel‘s new foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, a hardliner’s hardliner on issues regarding compromise with the Palestinians.

Levy said that with Lieberman‘s success in last month’s elections, which gave him the leverage to gain the foreign minister post in Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition, it’s “very difficult to pretend … it’s business as usual” in Israel.

“Lieberman chose to run a campaign of overt ugly pretty much no holds barred racism against Israeli’s arab citizens,” Levy said.

Lieberman received popular support from Israelis, he said, because “48 years of occupation has a brutalizing effect on a society.”

Lieberman, however, “sees himself as a future israeli leader,” Levy said, and is currently on a charm offensive to soften his image abroad. One obstacle to his ascent to prime minister, Levy said, is a perception among Israelis that “this former bouncer, which is what he is, thug, will never be accepted in the world.”

“He needs to show to Israelis, the world will accept me, the world will love me,” Levy said.

U.S. officials, meanwhile, need to meet with Israeli Arabs to send a message that they do not agree with mistreatment of this 20 percent minority, Levy said.

Atallah, who has advised the Palestinian Authority on peace negotiations, said that Israel will not work toward a two-state solution unless the Obama administration pressures them to do so, especially under the new government.

“We’ve made it easy for Israel to continue doing things it shouldn’t do,” Attallah said.

For example, he said, the U.S. has in the past made statements of disapproval about Israeli settlements that the Israelis have not taken seriously because the U.S. has not inflicted consequences for Israel’s continued construction of settlements in Palestinian territories.

“That’s an incentive for them to continue building settlements,” Attalah said.

When I asked what disincentives the U.S. could employ, Attalah mentiioned that there are Israeli groups in the U.S. that raise funds for settlement construction and promotion that could be stripped of their nonprofit status, removing the tax deduction for donors.

Also, he said, most countries that give weapons to Israel do so on the condition that they not be used in the territories. The U.S. does not do that, he said.

Also, Levy and others this morning had high praise for President Obama’s video message to the Iranian people on the occasion of their new year.



— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times

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