Two-and-a-half weeks after US President Barack Obama completed his first year in office, observers both in Israel and the US on Sunday gave his Middle East policy largely failing grades for efficacy.
“Since there are no prospects of talks on the horizon, and in many ways what their efforts wrought was a wasted year without any negotiations, I believe the administration deserves an ‘F’ for failure to deliver on results,” Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman told the ADL’s National Executive Committee.
In contrast, Foxman said that Obama deserved a “solid A for his efforts” after “he tried very hard in his first year to bring the parties together with good intentions.”
On strategy, Foxman rated the administration’s performance a “C-minus,” after “the administration... focused on trying to speed up the process toward peace, and is now questioning its own strategy.”
Among the strategic errors cited by Foxman were “unrealistic expectations” and heavy-handed focus on Israeli settlement policy.
Foxman is a Washington insider who has been close to several presidents and has acted as a frequent emissary between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office behind the scenes over the past few decades.
In Israel, representatives of parties on both extremes of the political spectrum tended to award grades similar to Foxman’s
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List) gave Obama a failing grade for results, a middling grade for strategy and a medium-to-high grade for intent.
“There is no doubt that there is a great gap between the hopes and the results,” explained Tibi.
“Obama’s speech in Cairo [in June] brought hope to many in the Middle East,” continued the MK, who at the time, wrote an article for a Hebrew-language daily in which he expressed optimism that Obama’s “perspective and alternative world view” would lead to a change in US policy.
But in the ensuing months, said Tibi, Obama failed to live up to expectations.
“Even on the minor topic of a complete building freeze for a number of months, he did not succeed. Netanyahu forced his perspective upon him,” Tibi said. “The typical American style of Mideast diplomacy carried out by [US envoy George] Mitchell brought no results. The period of Bush was bad. I don’t want to say that today is worse, but the prognosis isn’t good.”
On the opposite end of the political spectrum, the grades submitted by National Union chairman Ya’acov Katz were nearly identical.
“I think that Obama’s intent – that there will be peace among nations – is good. It is not a bad thing that an American president wishes that peace exist among nations and between the Jewish people and the Arab people,” said the outspoken National Union chairman, who gave Obama high-to-moderate marks for intent.
“I think that he is really a person who in his nature wants peace and that is a good thing. I think it is strengthened by the number of Jews around him, because Jews have always wanted peace and been willing to give up much for it.”
But, said Katz, Obama should receive a failing grade for both strategy and results.
“Strategy and results go hand and hand. If you have a bad strategy, then you simply won’t have good results,” he said.
Obama, said Katz, failed to understand the force behind the Jewish settlement enterprise in the West Bank.
“There is a divine tsunami of a return to Zion, and we are in the process of returning. Whoever goes with the divine wave gets to the shore, and those who go against it fail,” he said.
Members of the larger parties were more moderate in their assessment, focusing not on Obama but rather on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
“The blame for the peace process not moving forward lies more with Netanyahu than with Obama,” said MK Shlomo Molla (Kadima). “Obama will get a second chance in his second year. He should make more effort to push peace, even at the price of causing a crisis with Netanyahu.”
Still, Molla gave Obama only a B for intent and near-failing D’s for strategy and implementation.
MK Einat Wilf (Labor) was the most generous in her summary of the US president’s Mideast policy.
“Obama has made important strategic decisions to enhance American
soft and hard power. I am confident that the seeds he has sown in this
first year will bear fruit in the coming years,” said Wilf, who
preferred not to assign grades.
“He has also shown the limits of
engagement. Finally, we would all benefit from a measure of humility in
judging presidential performance, especially after just one year,” she