I honestly believe that if any Israeli parent sat down with those [Palestinian] kids, they’d say I want these kids to succeed.
– Barack Obama, Jerusalem, March 21I hope you will walk the same path we took and God willing, we will see some of you as martyrs.
– Wafa al-Biss, young female terrorist, to dozens of Palestinian schoolchildren who came to welcome her home after her release from prison
Because I love my son, I encouraged him to die a martyr’s death for the sake of Allah...
Allah be praised, my son has attained this happiness.
– Maryam Farahat a.k.a. Umm Nidal a.k.a. Mother of Martyrs, rejoicing at her son’s death in a terrorist attack in which he murdered five Israeli teenagers
Now that the dust is beginning to settle,
the spin subside and the fanfare fade, it is perhaps easier to make a
more sober assessment of Barack Obama’s visit to Israel and to evaluate
the impact it is liable to have on regional developments.Improved acoustics and aesthetics
the most vehement critics of the US president’s policy toward Israel
have to concede that, prime facie, the visit did appear to produce a
number of encouraging rhetorical elements. It is difficult to deny that
from a pro-Israel standpoint, things were certainly made to look and
sound far better than before.
Jonathan Tobin, who has often expressed acerbic disapproval of Obama’s
attitude to Israel, remarked, “... one thing has undoubtedly changed in
the aftermath of the presidential visit to Israel: Barack Obama’s image
as an antagonist of the Jewish state.”
Obama appeared to firmly
endorse the notion of the Jewish people’s aboriginal rights and historic
ties to the Land of Israel, and that the State of Israel should be a
Jewish, declaring: “Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a
Moreover, he seemed to have backpedaled on the issue of settlements.
he designated their ongoing construction “counterproductive to the
cause of peace,” he rebuffed the Palestinian demand that further
negotiations be contingent on a renewed settlement freeze. In an
apparent reversal of US policy, characterized by The Washington Post
as a “stinging rebuttal” of Mahmoud Abbas, Obama sided with Israel’s
position, declaring that talks toward a “broad agreement” should resume
without preconditions.Premature diagnosis?
course, none of this should be dismissed as inconsequential. However, I
would counsel caution before breaking out the champagne.
despite an apparent pro-Israel metamorphosis in his approach to the
Jewish state, it is premature to adopt the upbeat assessment of some
conservative columnists who feel that Obama’s “defenders have been...
vindicated and his critics chastened, if not silenced.”
and its supporters would do well to recall that in the past, strong
statements of support from Obama have had staggeringly short
For example, his rousing pledge at the 2008 AIPAC
conference that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it
must remain undivided,” endured barely 24 hours before backpedaling
began, and “clarifications” were issued that the word “undivided” was
poorly chosen, leaving us to puzzle over what would have constituted a
years later, at the 2012 AIPAC conference he boldly reassured the
audience: “There should not be a shred of doubt by now... I have
But here, too, almost immediately, another
“clarification” was forthcoming, which effectively stripped this
declaration of any operational value, stating: “It [having Israel’s
back] was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any
particular military action.... What it means is that, historically, we
have always cooperated with Israel... just like we do with Great
Britain, just like we do with Japan.”
Clearly, given the great
divergence of existential threat-levels faced by Israel, on the one
hand, and by Great Britain and Japan, on the other, the clarification,
and the alacrity with which it was made, can hardly have been a source
of comfort to Israeli policy-makers or the Israeli public.Ominous undertones
putting past disappointments aside, sober analysis of what was said and
done on this visit – and of what was not – provides reason for
For despite discernibly more attractive wrapping and a
more appealing style of delivery, the substantive content of Obama’s
policy prescriptions remained essentially the same. The tactics to
attain them may have shifted, but the strategic objectives are still
unchanged – and just as perilous for Israel.
sugar-coated surface of benign tones and beguiling gestures, there lurk
ominous undertones; and once the spin is set aside and we focus on the
substance, a disturbing picture emerges, comprised of elements
distinctly reminiscent of the acrimony in the not-to-distant past.
perhaps even more troubling, the sentiments and predilections conveyed
in his public appearances – particularly his address to students at
Jerusalem’s International Convention Center – seemed to portray a man so
out-of-touch with Mideast realities one can only wonder if the
positions he articulated reflect appalling ignorance or artful ill-will.Sequence of non sequiturs
essence, Obama’s address comprised an alarming sequence of non
sequiturs. It is possible to dispute – even dismiss – the factual
veracity, the logical consistency and the contextual relevance of
virtually every line of the policy prescriptions he laid out. However,
given the limits of space, I can focus on but a few.
enumerated the dangers and threats that Israel had faced in the past and
still faces today: “I know that these issues of security are rooted in
an experience that is even more fundamental than the pressing threat of
the day... You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have
rejected your right to exist. Your children grow up knowing that people
they have never met hate them because of who they are...”
then proceeded to prescribe that the best way to contend with them was
to ignore their existence and make perilous concessions to the very
neighbors who reject Israel’s right to exist and hate Israelis merely
because of who they are.
Urging his audience to disregard the
disastrous failures of the past, he insisted that the only way forward
was to make peace via the establishment of a Palestinian state. Blithely
dismissing the ascendant Palestinian extremists with little more than a
cursory mention, Obama pressed Israel to engage the soon-to-be
octogenarian president Abbas, now in his seventh year of his four-year
term and his unpopular, unelected prime minister Salam Fayyad as “true
partners” for peace – seemingly unmindful, or uncaring, of the fact that
even in the improbable event that some agreement might be reached with
them, there is little chance that they could ensure its implementation.Only fixed star in firmament?
acknowledges “the changes sweeping the Arab world. the uncertainty in
the region – people in the streets, changes in leadership, the rise of
non-secular parties in politics....”
Yet, inexplicably, rather
than counsel caution, to pause and take stock of the long-term impact of
these sea-changes taking place on Israel’s borders, he invokes them as a
reason to push with even greater vigor the very same two-state policy
that he promoted before they occurred.
He claims that, today,
“This truth is more pronounced... As more governments respond to popular
will, the days when Israel could seek peace with a handful of
autocratic leaders are over.
Peace must be made among peoples, not just governments.”
it have been absentmindedness that caused Obama to forget that it is
precisely those new “non-secular” governments and those “people in the
streets” to whose “popular will” they respond to, that are the source of
the hate he himself referred to just a little earlier – a hate of
Israel and Israelis, not because of what they do, but “because of who
they are”? So despite all the conditions which apparently made a
two-state approach previously desirable/feasible being been washed away,
it is now presented as being even more desirable/feasible precisely
because they have been washed away.
Really?? It is as if the
two-state proposal has become the only fixed star in the constantly
changing firmament of Mideast politics. Indeed, one might be excused for
questioning whether support for a Palestinian state is really reasoned
US foreign policy doctrine, or a dogmatic ideological obsession, that
betrays a sinister subtext and a hidden hostility that – despite the
beguiling benignity of his recent visit – still imbue the
Obama-administration’s attitude to Israel.Confounding cause and consequence
decries the lot of the Palestinians. Jettisoning context and inverting
causality, he pontificates: “It is not right to prevent Palestinians
from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around
the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home,”
somehow implying that these unfortunate outcomes are the result of some
malicious, and totally unnecessary, Israeli initiative.
course is a dramatic distortion of reality. For the mentioned
tribulations the Palestinians are enduring, are the exclusive
consequence of the Palestinian leadership’s unflagging efforts to harm
Were it not for the Palestinians’ persistent Judeocidal
endeavors, their farmers would not be prevented from cultivating their
lands, nor their students’ movements restricted.
displacement of people from their homes, one has the impression that
this is something Obama would warmly endorse, as long as those displaced
were Jewish.) But how are we to construe his censure of the Palestinian
plight? How else are we to interpret this – other than as disapproval
of any coercive measure – military or administrative, reactive or
proactive, preemptive or punitive – that Israel may be compelled to
undertake to protect its citizens from violence against them “simply
because of who they are”? Sinister subtext, anyone? False symmetry
was at pains to persuade Israeli youth that their Palestinian
counterparts – and their parents – are very much like them. While this
might have some truth to it on the individual level, it is totally
misleading at the societal level.
The two introductory excerpts –
one from a young Palestinian woman and the other from a Palestinian
parent – do not reflect marginal sentiments in Palestinian society.
Quite the contrary, both figures are lionized by it.
al-Bass, who was arrested attempting to blow up her doctors at
Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center after receiving life-saving
treatment from them, is now a popular motivational speaker for
Moreover, the (recently deceased)
Maryam Farahat a.k.a. Umm Nidal, who publicly wished martyrdom for all
her sons, was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council and
according to ABC (January 26, 2006) was one of the most popular public
figures in Gaza. Indeed, The Christian Science Monitor
(March 14, 2006) reported that the head of the Gaza Community Mental
Health Center, an expert in children’s health, depicted her as follows
“... with a Palestinian pedigree such as hers... Farhat is somewhat
unassailable: For a Palestinian to criticize her would be like attacking
mom and apple pie.”
I kid you not! Need to brush up
it seems that Obama urgently needs to brush up on his knowledge of
Palestinian sociology. He might then discover that the problem is not
the lack of familiarity of Israeli parents with the predicament of
Palestinian youth, but the priorities of Palestinian parents... and
Indeed, he might find it worthwhile to peruse
the words of his former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who, as US
senator, had this this to say about the formative influences Palestinian
youth are subjected to: “These textbooks do not give Palestinian
children an education; they give them an indoctrination. When we viewed
this report in combination with other [Palestinian Authority] media that
these children are exposed to, we see a larger picture that is
disturbing. It is disturbing on a human level, it is disturbing to me as
a mother, it is disturbing to me as a United States senator, because it
basically, profoundly poisons the minds of these children.”“You are not alone”
is still much I have left unaddressed with regard to Obama’s visit: His
refusal to let Ariel University students attend his Jerusalem address
(contrast with his insistence that the Muslim Brotherhood attend his
Cairo one) and what this (subtext) really means for US attitudes
regarding the retention of the major settlement blocs; his disdain for
Israeli democracy by refusing to address the Knesset and by urging his
audience to press its duly elected members to adopt policies they were
elected to oppose...
But I can sense my editor scowling. So let me conclude with the following caveat.
Obama declares “You are not alone,” let’s not forget that last year he
proclaimed “I have Israel’s back” only later to add, “just like Great
Britain and Japan.”
So when he assures Israelis they are not alone, does that include the folks in London and Tokyo as well?
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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