The Cable

Abbas impresses (some) Jewish community leaders

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can't seem to unify the political factions within his own community, but there is one disparate group that he does have the ability to bring together: the American Jewish community.

Representatives from all sides of the pro-Israel NGO world all came together to meet with Abbas at a private dinner at the Newseum last night. The groups put aside their differences over Israeli tactics, U.S. pressure, treatment of Gazans, and treatment of the Israeli human rights community to show a united front to the Palestinian leader and get him to answer the questions on their mind.

Leaders of more hawkish groups like AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents, Mort Zuckerman, Elliott Abrams, and Dov Zakheim broke bread with the more dovish likes of J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and Hillel.

The Cable spoke got the readout from multiple participants. Here's how it went:

Host Robert Wexler, president of the S. Danial Abraham Center for Middle East Peace and rumored next ambassador to Israel, opened with some short remarks. Abbas made a quick speech, and the rest of the two-and-a-half-hour session was all questions and answers.

Three topics dominated the questioning: how and when to move to direct talks, Palestinian "incitement" and how far Abbas would be willing to show both sides he was serious about peace, and to a lesser degree, what to do about Hamas.

The Gaza flotilla incident was not discussed. Nobody, including Abbas, brought it up.

Most participants we spoke with said Abbas gave mostly constructive answers, went further on explanations that he ever has before, and sometime gave as good as he got.

"I've never seen him as impressive," said one conservative participant. "You have to give the guy credit. He handled himself well in a den of lions."

Another participant, however, called Abbas "evasive" and said he failed to answer key questions.

But the Palestinian leader did relay the message from his meeting with Obama, which is that everyone must push faster toward direct talks. When participants asked him why he won't just agree to direct talks now, Abbas pointed back to the White House.

"He said, ‘This is what the administration asked me to do. How can I go further than the Obama administration?'" one participant remembered.

Abbas took the same tack regarding the fraught issue of Israeli settlements, saying the White House has asked the Israelis to stop settlements and defending his position as supporting Obama's.

"That's basically calling for preconditions again that the administration has rejected," one participant said, expressing skepticism that Abbas is really pushing for direct talks now.


Abbas did say something to the effect of, "nobody knows better than I that final peace can only be negotiated face to face."

Abbas continued to insist that the settlements issue is not a precondition to direct negotiations, but said that there needs to be progress made on core issues before he's ready to move forward with direct talks.

He also got in a couple good jabs, such as when he was asked why he won't do more to convince Israelis he's serious about peace. He pointed out that he had appeared on Israeli television, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to appear on Palestinian TV.

When asked if he would acknowledge Israel as a "Jewish state" as part of a peace deal, Abbas hedged, saying that Israel could identify itself however it wanted to, after the two states had been separated.

At one point, he said, "I recognize that West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel," a comment that perked up the ears of several participants.

Attendees asked Abbas why he hadn't done more to curb incitement against Israel among his own people. He defended a law passed against incitement, acknowledged it wasn't being well enforced, and then criticized Netanyahu for refusing to join his proposed trilateral commission on the issue.

"He didn't always give a straight answer; he didn't always give answer that people wanted to hear," one impressed participant admitted. "But I think he had a lot of guts for doing this. Would Bibi do the same thing with Palesinian community leaders?"

The Cable

The Clapper memo revealed

Yesterday, we reported that the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee were resisting the nomination of James Clapper to become the next director of national intelligence because he had argued in an April 28 memo against strengthening that very position.

Today, we have obtained a copy of the memo (pdf), which is entitled, "Discussion Draft: Provisions for FY2010 Intelligence Authorization Act that would expand DNI authorities over leadership and management of DOD's intelligence components."

The paper, written by Clapper's staff, but not signed by Clapper himself, spells out 17 concerns that the Pentagon apparently had with the intelligence policy bill making its way through Congress. It's clearly an attempt to defend the secretary of defense's authority over defense intelligence agencies against what the memo's writers see as encroachment by the Office of the DNI.

The bill "contains several provisions that, if enacted, would grant authorities to the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) that would conflict with longstanding authorities of the Secretary of Defense over the management, direction, and oversight of intelligence components for which the Secretary remains responsible," the memo states. "These provisions in the aggregate have the potential to significantly impact the Secretary of Defense's statutory responsibility to exercise authority, direction, and control over elements of the Defense Intelligence Enterprise and by extension, his ability to determine how elements of the Defense Intelligence Enterprise provide support to the warfighter."

The first objection the memo raises is about the bill's provision to bring the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (which focuses on top-secret intelligence satellites and maps) under the "direction" of the DNI with an altered mission. Clapper led NGA from 2001 to 2006 and was reportedly removed from that job by then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld after he testified that he wouldn't mind if NGA control was transferred to the DNI.

So what's the big deal about this memo?

The White House is arguing that Clapper is not against a stronger role for the DNI and also that the paper does not represent his personal views on the role of the DNI. As White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told Sen. Kit Bond when defending Clapper, "Where he stands is where he sits."

The White House is pushing back hard against Feinstein and Bond's assertion that Clapper doesn't support a strong DNI, pointing to an article Clapper wrote in February in The Oxford Handbook of National Security Intelligence  entitled, "The Role of Defense in Shaping U.S. Intelligence Reform," where he acknowledges his views about the ODNI have changed over time.

Some quotes in the article seem to suggest that Clapper is happy with recent enhancements of the ODNI but other quotes seem to suggest he doesn't want to see ODNI have more power.

"I have come to believe that we will not see legislation that gives the DNI unambiguous authority in the near term nor do I believe much more authority is warranted," Clapper wrote.

Overall, the White House line on intelligence reform right now is that a more streamlined ODNI can be more effective and ODNI doesn't have to have control over every agency in order to lead the community, as the senators prefer.

"There is an important distinction between ‘centralization' of authority over the intelligence community, a community that is distributed within and among a variety of cabinet departments and agencies -- and ‘optimization' of capabilities of the intelligence community," said a White House official. "Strong leadership of the intelligence community is essential, which is why Jim Clapper was selected to be the next DNI." 

The administration sees Feinstein's and Bond's objections as part of their overall push for greater committee jurisdiction over defense department assets. For their part, Hill sources lament that Clapper's memo seemed to be criticizing a bill that they thought had already been negotiated with the administration.

Regardless, Feinstein said she won't move the nomination until her bill gets passed and her concerns are addressed. She meets with Clapper this week.