The Jewish problem with Obama

Relations between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government are strained again and a topic of deep concern to US Jews.

By EDWARD KLEIN WITH RICHARD Z. CHESNOFF
October 15, 2010 16:16
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Israeli Pri

Obama speaks as Bibi looks on 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

The Jews have three veltn (worlds): di velt (this world), yene velt (the next world) and Roosevelt.
– Judge Jonah Goldstein, the 1945 Republican candidate for mayor of New York City

In the nearly 80 years since president Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal with a pledge to “help the forgotten man,” relations between American Jews and the Democratic Party have been as close as lips and teeth. Even as Jews prospered and assimilated into the mainstream of American life, most of them remained loyal to FDR’s liberal vision and refrained from following the pattern of other affluent groups by shifting to the Republican Party. Over the course of the past 20 elections, a stunning 75 percent of the Jewish vote has on average gone to the Democratic presidential candidate. As the old saying goes: “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”

If further proof of this were needed, it was provided by the 2008 election of Barack Obama. On a key issue for many Jewish voters – support for Israel – the hawkish John McCain started off with a decisive advantage over Obama, whose past associations with the anti- Semitic Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the Israel-bashing Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi raised troubling questions in the minds of many Jews. And yet, when the vote was tallied, Obama trounced McCain among Jews by a staggering 57 point margin.

“After decades of involvement in the civil rights movement by American Jews, Obama stirred deep emotions in the Jewish community,” Bret Stephens, the deputy editorial page editor of The Wall Street Journal, told me. “The black-Jewish alliance was shattered in the late 1960s, and Jews have yearned ever since to restore it. Jews felt good about voting for Obama, for not only were they voting for a guy they agreed with and liked, but they were also voting for their own personal redemption.”

All this should provide comfort to President Obama as his party heads into the fall’s hotly contested midterm elections and fights to hold onto its majorities in the House and Senate. Faced with public frustration over the flailing economy, high unemployment, massive federal deficits, out-of-control illegal immigration and the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, Democratic candidates need all the help they can get from their friends. And although Jews represent a mere 4% of the American electorate, their political activism and fund-raising prowess give them leverage in important battleground states.

There’s only one hitch. Today, a sizable number of American Jews are having a serious case of buyer’s remorse when it comes to Obama. Recent polls of the Jewish community reflect a significant decline in support from 2008, when 78% of Jewish voters pulled the lever for Obama. According to a recent McLaughlin & Associates poll, a plurality of Jewish voters would now consider voting for someone else for president.

These poll numbers do not begin to measure the depth of displeasure felt by many Jews over Obama’s performance. Their bill of particulars covers a wide variety of complaints, including the president’s frosty behavior toward businessmen in general and Wall Street in particular. But what really appears to irritate American Jews is the president’s roughhouse treatment of Israel.



Obama has recently backed off from some of his public assaults on Israel, but he is still in trouble with large segments of the Jewish community. Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the coordinating body for 52 Jewish groups, estimates that Obama may have lost the support of as much as one-third of Jewish voters. That may overstate the case, but as I discovered during interviews with more than a dozen Jewish leaders over the past several months, many Jews have become so annoyed with the Obama administration that they have closed their wallets and are seriously thinking of sitting out the 2010 election. According to an analysis of Federal Election Commission records by The Washington Post, contributions to Democratic candidates from the financial sector, where Jews hold important positions, are down 65% from two years ago.

“I started breaking with Obama 10 months ago,” says Martin Peretz, editor in chief of The New Republic. “And I know that a lot of West Coast Jews are also having buyer’s remorse. The gut of it is Israel. Will Jews mobilize for Obama in the fall elections? They might be too embarrassed to come out directly against him. But I’ll give you one sign of the times: Chuck Schumer [New York’s senior senator] waited a year and a half before he stood up for Israel, and he’s been having trouble raising money on Wall Street.”

“The assumption on the part of the Obama administration is that because Jews are liberals, they simply will not vote for Republicans,” says Hollywood billionaire Haim Saban, one of the Democratic Party’s mega-donors. “Obama can invite the 10 most prolific Jewish campaign bundlers to the White House for a discussion, and give a wonderful speech, and he’ll think that this may resolve all his problems with American Jews. And it may – or it may not.”

“The idea that we saw a black president in our lifetime is wonderful,” says New York City’s former mayor, Ed Koch. “It conveyed to us that this country has come such a long way. But I never fully accepted that Obama didn’t hear his minister [Jeremiah Wright] make those awful anti-Semitic statements over 20 years. I wanted to believe him. I willed myself to believe him... What he has done is break that trust. Like Humpty Dumpty, once you break it, you can’t put it together again.”

THE CURRENT Jewish problem with Obama can be traced back to his first full day on the job. On January 21, 2009, he summoned his national security team to the Oval Office and laid out a tough new policy toward Israel. According to my sources, Obama said that to make good on his campaign promise to extricate 200,000 American troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US had to create a grand coalition of “moderate” Muslim states and Israel to isolate Iran, which has made no secret of its ambition to become the nuclear hegemon in the Middle East.

The only way to accomplish that goal, he stated, was to eliminate the poisonous effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which provides Iran with an excuse to stir up trouble. Thus it was “a vital national interest of the United States” to stop Israel from building settlements in the occupied West Bank and housing in east Jerusalem, and force the Jewish state to resolve the Palestinian problem.

Previous White Houses had made similar noises about bringing peace to the Middle East, and at first Jewish leaders didn’t pay much attention to leaks emanating from the new administration about a fundamental change in American policy. However, a clue to the president’s true intentions came in March 2009, when Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, met with the president’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. “This is Israel’s moment of truth,” Emanuel told Foxman. “This president is determined to make peace between Israel and the Arabs.”

To many Jews, it seemed highly improbable that a brand-new president would choose to alienate Israel, America’s oldest and most loyal ally in the Middle East. But then, in July 2009, when Obama made his first overseas trip, he chose to visit three Muslim countries – Turkey, Saudi Arabia (where he bowed to King Abdullah) and Egypt. During a landmark speech in Cairo, he announced his intention to seek “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.”

Understandably enough, American Jews were annoyed that the president had failed to include Israel in his Mideast swing. But what rankled them even more was that Obama seemed to adopt the Arab narrative to explain the existence of Israel – namely, that Israel deserved to exist because of past Jewish suffering in Europe, particularly during the Holocaust. Nowhere in his Cairo speech did Obama mention the fact that Jews had a 3,000-year history in the Promised Land.

Things went from bad to worse when the president called a meeting of Jewish leaders in July. Fourteen major Jewish organizations were represented at this meeting.

“I agree with your goal to bring peace to the Middle East,” Foxman told the president. “But the perception is that you’re only pressuring Israel and not the Arabs.” Foxman said the president agreed. Another Jewish leader at the meeting said, “If you want Israel to take risks for peace, the best way is to make Israel feel that its staunch friend America is behind it.”

“You are absolutely wrong,” the president replied. “For the past eight years [under the Bush administration], Israel had a friend in the United States and it didn’t make peace.”

“I came away from the meeting being convinced that Obama has introduced a new strategy and that it’s revealing itself in steps,” Foxman told me. “Unlike other administrations, this one is applying linkage in the Middle East. It’s saying that if you only resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, most of the problems in the Middle East can be ameliorated and the lions will lie down with the lambs.

A source who attended the meeting also told us, “All the president’s advisers on the Middle East, starting with George Mitchell, believe in linkage, and they’re telling the president you have to prove to the Arab Muslim world that you are different than previous presidents and you can separate yourself from Israel, distance yourself from the settlements issue. After all, settlements are something that American Jews don’t like anyway, so it’s a win-win proposition.”

The Anti-Defamation League was the first mainstream Jewish organization to openly criticize the president on the issue of the Middle East. Soon, other groups began to join the chorus. However, the great majority of Jews remained steadfast behind Obama and his administration’s liberal agenda. They simply were not ready to criticize their country’s first African-American president, a man in whom they had invested so many of their own hopes and dreams.

On March 10 of this year, a relatively low-level official in the Interior Ministry issued a permit for 1,600 new housing units for Israelis in the Ramat Shlomo section of east Jerusalem. The ill-timed announcement came on the very day Vice President Joe Biden arrived to kick-start a round of indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu immediately apologized to Biden, who accepted his expression of regret. But Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, called off the “proximity talks.”

The next day, at the regularly scheduled weekly breakfast meeting between the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama made his feelings clear. He was livid. As he saw it, the Israelis had purposely humiliated his vice president and tried to sabotage his peace plan. It was a personal affront, and he wouldn’t stand for such treatment. He instructed Clinton to call Netanyahu and read him the riot act.

The following day, during a 43-minute harangue, Clinton delivered a set of ultimatums to Netanyahu. Prefacing each remark with the phrase “I have been instructed to tell you,” she demanded that Israel release a substantial number of Palestinian prisoners as a token of goodwill; lift its siege of Gaza; suspend all settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem; accept that a symbolic number of Palestinians be given the “right of return” to Israel under a future peace treaty; and agree to place the question of the status of Jerusalem at the top of the peace-talks agenda.

“If you refuse these demands,” Clinton told Netanyahu, according to my sources, “the United States government will conclude that we no longer share the same interests.” Netanyahu bit his tongue and remained noncommittal about the American demands, though he did eventually agree to ease the blockade of Gaza.

That same Friday, Ambassador Michael Oren was summoned to the State Department and given a severe dressing down. Someone who saw him that night at a party described him as “shaken.” And things did not end there. Ten days later, Netanyahu was invited to the White House, where he was treated less than elegantly.

The White House seemed strangely indifferent to the feelings of resentment that its treatment of Netanyahu aroused in the Jewish community. For shortly after Netanyahu returned to Israel, the president risked provoking even greater Jewish outrage by insinuating that American troops were dying in Iraq and Afghanistan because Israel refused to agree to peace with the Palestinians. The Israeli-Arab conflict “is costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasures,” he said.

A PERCEPTION began to spread throughout the Jewish community that the Obama administration was not only outwardly hostile to Israel but perhaps, without even knowing it, hostile to Jews as well. This thesis was forcefully argued by Jonathan Kellerman, the best-selling suspense novelist and clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

“My personal opinion... is that the bifurcation of Israel and Judaism is structurally fallacious,” writes Kellerman. “The Land of Israel is an essential ingredient of Judaism practiced fully.

Thus, it is impossible to be anti-Israel and not be anti-Jewish. And in fact, the war being waged against Israel by the Muslim world is, at the core, a religious dispute. Radical Islamists no longer talk about Zionists; they come right out and broadcast their goal of eradicating worldwide Jewry.”

The impression of an anti-Jewish bias at the highest echelons of the Obama administration, though unproved, was given added force in April when James Jones, the retired Marine Corps four-star general who served as Obama’s national security adviser, delivered a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and opened his remarks with a joke that was widely interpreted by many Jews as being flagrantly anti-Semitic.

“I’d just like to tell you a story that I think is true,” Jones began. “It happened recently in southern Afghanistan. A member of the Taliban was separated from his fighting party and wandered around for a few days in the desert, lost, out of food, no water. And he looked on the horizon and he saw what looked like a little shack and he walked towards that shack. And as he got to it, it turned out it was a little store owned by a Jewish merchant. And the Taliban warrior went up to him and said, ‘I need water. Give me some water.’ And the merchant said, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have any water, but would you like a tie? We have a nice sale of ties today.’

“Whereupon the Taliban erupted into a stream of language that I can’t repeat, but about Israel, about Jewish people, about the man himself, about his family, and just said, ‘I need water, you try to sell me ties, you people don’t get it.’

“And impassively the merchant stood there until the Taliban was through with his diatribe and said, ‘Well, I’m sorry that I don’t have water for you and I forgive you for all of the insults you’ve levied against me, my family, my country. But I will help you out. If you go over that hill and walk about two miles, there is a restaurant there and they have all the water you need.’

“And the Taliban, instead of saying thanks, still muttering under his breath, disappears over the hill, only to come back an hour later. And walking up to the merchant says, ‘Your brother tells me [you] need a tie to get into the restaurant.’”

At a certain point, many Jews began to wonder if there was something more behind the Obama administration’s confrontational approach toward Israel than a simple difference of policy. As a result, they began to take a second look at Obama’s past for clues to his present behavior. In particular, they were curious how Chicago’s bare-knuckle politics had shaped Obama’s outlook.

“Maybe Jews and blacks were once the closest of allies in Chicago,” said Joseph Aaron, the liberal editor of The Jewish News, Chicago’s largest Jewish newspaper, “but in the years that Obama was being shaped, a lot of young blacks, especially in the Southside neighborhood where Obama lived, harbored animosity toward Jews and Israel.

“Two central issues divided blacks and Jews in those years. Blacks saw affirmative action as a way to overcome prejudice, while many Jews saw it as a quota system designed to keep them out. It was also a time when Israel, snubbed by many nations, especially in black Africa, chose to forge close ties with the apartheid regime in South Africa. That included selling Israeli arms to South Africa. We never realized the degree to which those links to South Africa hurt black sensitivities.

“Add it all up and you don’t come up with an anti-Semitic Obama. That is not who Obama is. What you do come up with is someone who doesn’t really understand our attachment to Israel or Israel’s importance to Jews as a people, a president who doesn’t have a gut love for Israel like some of his predecessors, but someone who understands the Palestinian position better than any president we’ve had, someone with no natural affinity for Jews or Israel, and someone who approaches the Middle East, as he does most everything else, dispassionately and with a burning desire to fix the problem.”

As The New York Times wrote about Obama in the months leading up to the 2008 Democratic National Convention: “The secret of his transformation [from a newcomer] to the brink of claiming the Democratic presidential nomination can be described as the politics of maximum unity. [Obama] moved from his leftist...

base to more centrist circles; he forged early alliances with the good-government reform crowd only to be embraced later by the city’s all-po werful Democratic bosses; he railed against pork-barrel politics but engaged in it when needed; and he empathized with the views of the Palestinian friends before adroitly courting the city’s politically potent Jewish community.”

That courtship brought Obama the support of some of the wealthiest Jews in Chicago.

They included Penny Pritzker of the Hyatt Hotel chain family; Betty Lu Saltzman, daughter of the late realestate baron Philip Klutznik; former congressman Abner Mikva; Lester Crown, a billionaire benefactor of Jewish charities; and Lee Rosenberg, a media and entertainment mogul, who accompanied Obama on his 2004 senatorial election campaign visit to Israel, where he placed a handwritten prayer for peace in the cracks of the Western Wall.

Few of these early Jewish sponsors have publicly criticized the president for his tough line on Israel. But our sources tell us that at least three of his Chicago backers – Penny Pritzker, Lester Crown and Lee Rosenberg, the recently installed president of AIPAC – have privately expressed their distress in private conversations with Obama.

SOME PEOPLE blame Obama’s Jewish problem on his advisers, including his recently departed chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, whose Israeli father was a member of the Irgun underground during Israel’s struggle for independence; Dennis Ross, the State Department’s special adviser on the Persian Gulf; George Mitchell, the president’s special envoy to the Middle East; and Valerie Jarrett, a close friend of the Obama family who attends practically all of the president’s meetings and is usually the last person to leave the Oval Office.

But Richard Chesnoff, who has had more than 40 years of experience reporting from the Middle East and who’s done extensive research on Obama’s management style, doesn’t agree with that assessment. “In my opinion,” wrote Chesnoff, “Obama’s problem in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conundrum doesn’t come from the advice he’s getting from his advisers, but rather in his one-man style and his inflated view of his own leadership talents. Obama believes that no matter what the odds against it, he can bring everyone together kumbaya style, so that we can solve hitherto insoluble problems. Perhaps even more egregiously, he seems to have an exaggerated sense of his own depth of understanding of the Middle East, which is simply not borne out by his background or experience.”

“The problem is naïveté in the Obama administration,” adds Robert Lieber, professor of government at Georgetown University. “The president came into office with the assumption that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is by far the most central urgent problem in the region – which it is not – and that it is the key that unlocks everything else in the region. And they believe the situation was ripe for progress, which it absolutely isn’t.”

By the end of March, most of the organized Jewish community was in full cry against the Obama administration’s treatment of Israel.

However, the voice of New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer, the most influential elected Jewish official in Washington, was conspicuously silent. That gave Ed Koch, an incurable gadfly, the opportunity to taunt his enemy Schumer in his blog, “Ed Koch Commentary.”

“Chuck Schumer resented my blog,” Koch told Klein. “He called me and said, ‘How can you say this? I’m a protector of Israel.’ And I said, ‘Chuck, you’re not speaking out!’ And he said, ‘I’m doing it behind the scenes.’ He was upset because there was a piece quoting me as saying, ‘It’s obvious Chuck wants to be the majority leader in the Senate if Harry Reid leaves, and Chuck doesn’t want to criticize the president and diminish his chances.’” Throughout April, the pressure on Schumer continued to mount. Finally, when P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, announced at a press conference that the relationship of Israel and the US depended on the pace of peace negotiations, Schumer could no longer hold his tongue.

“This is terrible,” he said. “That is a dagger, because the relationship is much deeper than the disagreements on negotiations, and most Americans – Democrat, Republican, Jew, non- Jew – would feel that. So I called up Rahm Emanuel and I called up the White House and I said, ‘If you don’t retract that statement, you are going to hear me publicly blast you on this.’ “You have to show Israel that it’s not going to be forced to do things it doesn’t want to do and can’t do. At the same time, you have to show the Palestinians that they are not going to get their way by just sitting back and not giving in, and not recognizing that there is a State of Israel. And right now, there is a battle going on inside the administration. One side agrees with us, one side doesn’t, and we’re pushing hard to make sure the right side wins and, if not, we’ll have to take it to the next step.”

After Schumer’s J’accuse, it became clear that Obama had overplayed his hand. In part, it appeared that the president had allowed himself to be influenced by the growing volume of anti-Israel anger coming from the left wing of the Democratic Party, especially from radical students on campuses, where calls for the “delegitimization” of the Jewish state have become strictly kosher. In part, too, he probably placed too much weight on recent sociological studies that indicate a shift in American Jewish attitudes on Israel.

“The majority of today’s American Jews don’t see themselves as outsiders or victims anymore,” says Binyamin Jolkovsky, the publisher and editor of the widely read Internet magazine JewishWorldReview.com. “That’s positive.

But that feeling of equality has also produced a communal negative. The fear that came with being an outsider also gave most Jews, even nonreligious ones, a cohesive sense of responsibility regarding their Jewish identity in general and Israel in particular.

“That’s changed. I’m no senior citizen, but today’s generation didn’t witness the Holocaust, they don’t understand what was entailed in the birth of Israel, they don’t even remember the real threats of the 1967 Six Day War, they probably never read the novel Exodus. The majority of young American Jews think that somehow Israel will always be there. They don’t understand that when your enemies say they want to destroy you, they mean it.”

Most of all, what Obama didn’t count on was that, for all the changes taking place among younger “progressive” Jews, Jerusalem remains a third rail in American politics. The person who seemed to understand that better than anyone else was Elie Wiesel, the Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor, who took out full-page ads on April 16 in major American newspapers to express his views on the city of Jerusalem.

“For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics,” Wiesel wrote. “It is mentioned more than 600 times in Scripture – and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish history than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem.

To many theologians, it is Jewish history, to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city; it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain. When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming.”

Klein interviewed Wiesel following a private lunch that he had in early May with President Obama at the White House. “The invitation came before my public statements on Jerusalem,” Wiesel said. “It was a very good lunch. No small talk. Everything was substance.

I understood his position. We didn’t agree on everything. The president wanted to know why Bibi didn’t fire the minister who made that Jerusalem announcement. I said he would have had to go to his party and say, ‘Give me anyone else.’ But he didn’t and then there was a chain reaction.

“Most of the problems [between America and Israel] remain, but the intensity on both sides and the recriminations are gone. During our lunch, it was clear that the president does at least know that Jerusalem is the center of Jewish history, and he knows you can’t ignore 3,000 to 4,000 years of history. I believe the only way to attain peace is to put Jerusalem at the end of the negotiations, not at the beginning.”

BY THIS summer, with the fall midterm elections looming ever larger in the calculations of the White House, the Obama administration seemed to soften some of its more controversial Mideast policy initiatives. For instance, on Jerusalem, the White House conceded that the question of the city’s status should now come at the end of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, as Wiesel desired, rather than at the beginning, as the president originally wanted.

Along with this apparent U-turn in substance, the White House launched a charm offensive to win back the allegiance of the Jewish community. The president set the tone. He sent a personal letter to Alan Solow, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, in which he reasserted his support for Israel’s security. And he followed that up with a warm message of greeting on the occasion of Israel’s 62nd Independence Day.

Meanwhile, pro-Obama rabbis from local communities all over America were invited to the White House for schmooze fests with Emanuel, Daniel Shapiro, the deputy national security adviser who deals with the Middle East, and Dennis Ross, the White House’s top Iran policy official. “The three men told the Democratic rabbis that the administration has three priorities in the Middle East,” Caroline Glick reported in The Jerusalem Post. “First Obama seeks to isolate Iran. Second, he seeks to significantly reduce the US military presence in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq. And third, he seeks to resolve the Palestinian conflict with Israel.”

As part of its PR campaign, the White House had David Axelrod do a limited mea culpa hangout. “With some of the leadership of the Jewish community there’s been some bumps in the road over the past 15 months,” Axelrod admitted in a phone conversation.

“Some of those bumps resulted purely from a lack of communication on our part. I don’t think we’ve done as good a job as we could have in our communications with the Jewish community during the first year or so of the administration. We’ve had a sustained and vigorous round of communications in the last few months, and I think that’s been helpful.”

The crowning moment in Washington’s charm offensive came in July, when Netanyahu returned to Washington and this time was given the red-carpet treatment. He was honored with a working lunch in the Cabinet Room and a joint press conference with Obama. And there were plenty of opportunities for photos. Following that, in September Obama sponsored direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians – talks that could conceivably meet with some success or simply come to a harsh halt.

But neither the White House’s charm offensive nor the minor adjustments that it has made in its policies could obscure an irrefutable fact: Those changes have been tactical and tonal, not substantive. Indeed, the essential ingredients of the Obama administration’s Mideast policy have not changed. The goal is still the same – to conclude successful peace talks by applying pressure on Israel.

“In my view, the Obama administration has not pulled back from its desire to ingratiate itself with the Arab world,” says Kenneth J.

Bialkin, chairman of the American-Israel Friendship League. “Yes, they’ve pulled back from saying that Israel’s conduct endangers the lives of American soldiers in the Middle East.

But most of its charm offensive was aimed at damage control in order to salvage the Jewish vote this fall.”

Domestic politics surely played a role in the president’s calculations vis-à-vis the American Jewish community. But in the long run, realpolitik – a system of international relations based on practical rather than moral considerations – will determine Obama’s approach to Israel. The major foreign policy question confronting Obama is how to extricate America from the morass of two wars in the Middle East. And the unpleasant truth is that, in pursuit of that goal, he has a diminishing need for Israel. In pursuit of that goal, furthermore, Obama expects Israel to strike a peace accord with the Palestinians and their Arab allies – no matter how real or unreal that expectation may be.

“Obama and his people believe the Palestinian leadership is genuinely ready for historic compromise,” says David Horovitz, the London- born editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

“The unfortunate consensus in Israel – and not just the hawks – is that while we wish [the Arabs] were [ready], they aren’t... [T]o our great sorrow – and to our great cost – we are not convinced that even the relative moderates like Abbas and Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad have internalized the idea that Jews have historic rights here too.”

Indeed, in the days just before the new peace talks began, Palestinian leaders went out of their way to declare that while they might be prepared to negotiate with Israel, they would never recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the Middle East – Israel’s very raison d’etre.

In other words, nothing fundamental has changed in the Arab approach to Israel’s right to exist since the creation of the State of Israel 62 years ago.

Thus, whether the Israelis, the American Jews and the other supporters of the Jewish state like it or not, the harsh truth is that during the second half of Barack Obama’s first term in office, the president’s refusal to face reality in the Middle East is likely to shape American policy.

This article first appeared as a five-part series in the Huffington Post.


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