You have to hand it to US President Barack Obama. He is relentless. Just when
you thought he was shifting gears – easing up on Israel and turning his
attention to Iran’s nuclear weapons program – he pulls out a zinger.
recent courtship of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu led some Israelis and
supporters of Israel in the US to believe the administration had seen the light.
After 18 months, we were told Obama finally realized that contrary to what he
had thought, Palestinian statehood is not the most urgent issue in the Middle
East, Iran’s nuclear weapons program is.
In the past week alone, two
prominent commentators – Aluf Benn from Haaretz and Ehud Ya’ari from Channel 2
both wrote articles claiming that Obama’s Middle East policy has undergone a
transformation. As Benn put it, “President Barack Obama’s campaign of wooing
Israel reflects a fundamental about-face in US policy in the Middle
And in Ya’ari’s words in an article in the Australian, “The
foreign policy team of US President Barack Obama is undertaking a reassessment
of its policy all over the Middle East, including Israel.”
the administration has resolved to cooperate with Israel as an ally rather than
attack it as an obstacle to peace, and that Washington has recognized that Iran
must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons.
The basic notion
informing both of these nearly identical articles is that the Obama
administration’s foreign policy is fundamentally pragmatic rather than
ideologically motivated. Both Ya’ari and Benn, like many of their fellow
commentators on the Left, argue that Obama’s decision to invite Netanyahu to
Washington and treat him like an ally rather than an enemy is proof that when
stripped to its essentials, his foreign policy is pragmatic.
After a year
and half in office, Obama recognized that his previous view of the Middle East
was wrong. And as a pragmatist, he has embarked on a new course.
before the ink on their proclamations had a chance to dry, Obama demonstrated
that their enthusiasm was misplaced. Late last week the administration decided –
apropos of nothing – to upgrade the diplomatic status of the PLO mission in
From now on, the PLO will be allowed to fly its flag like a
Its representatives will enjoy diplomatic immunity just
like diplomats from states.
Indeed the PLO delegate in Washington Maen
Areikat claimed that the administration’s move equates the PLO’s diplomatic
status in the US to that of Canada and states in Western Europe.
the media have claimed that this is a symbolic act and essentially
But this is not true. While this step does not constitute US
recognition of a Palestinian state in the absence of a peace treaty between the
Palestinians and Israel, it certainly sends a clear signal that this is the
direction the US is heading. As such, it represents a dangerous step that will
encourage continued Arab hostility.
TO PUT this move in perspective, it
is worth comparing the PLO’s new status to that of the US’s firm ally and fellow
democracy – Taiwan, the Republic of China. Whereas the PLO now has a “delegation
general” in Washington, Taiwan has the “Taipei Economic and Cultural
When asked to comment on the move, White House
spokesman Thomas Vietor said, “This decision reflects our confidence that
through direct negotiations, we can help achieve a two-state solution with an
independent and viable Palestine living side by side with Israel. We should
begin preparing for that outcome now, as we continue to work with the
Palestinian people on behalf of a better future.”
Like the decision
itself, Vietor’s explanation signals that the Obama administration has not
embraced pragmatism over ideology. Vietor could never have made his statement if
Any pragmatic analysis of the situation leads to the clear
conclusion that there is little chance of the Palestinians agreeing to a
settlement anytime soon. Just this past week Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas
escalated still further his already unacceptable preconditions for direct
Now in addition to his absurd demand that Israel agree
ahead of time to withdraw to the indefensible 1949 armistice lines, Abbas is
demanding that it also agree to withdraw all of its forces to those lines and
accept the deployment of foreign forces along its borders with the Palestinian
These are demands that no government in its right mind would
accept in direct negotiations, let alone as a precondition for them.
any pragmatic US administration upon hearing these demands would recognize that
there is no chance that the Palestinians will agree to any reasonable offer of a
peace treaty in the foreseeable future.
Indeed, for any pragmatic US
administration, the message to send at this time is that statehood can be
achieved only by getting serious about negotiations. That means clarifying that
statehood is not inevitable but, rather a potential result of Abbas deciding to
abandon his preconditions and get serious about talks.
In line with this,
if the US intends to recognize a Palestinian state formed in the framework of a
negotiated peace settlement, then it is utterly ridiculous, in the face of
Abbas’ latest pronouncements, for it to upgrade the Palestinians’ diplomatic
status. The move makes sense only if the US is secretly preparing to help the
Palestinians avoid negotiations and obtain a state that is not established in
the framework of a peace treaty.
But then, an administration that is
willing to recognize a Palestinian state outside the framework of a peace
agreement is an administration that is motivated by ideology and not by
pragmatism. Moreover, it is motivated by an ideology that is fundamentally
opposed to a strong democratic Israel.
This is the case because there is
no Palestinian leader – not the US favorites Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad and
not their competitors in Hamas – who accepts the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
And so any state formed outside the framework of a peace treaty will be in a de
facto state of war with Israel. Indeed, its legitimacy with the Palestinian
people and other Arabs will be defined by its commitment to the eventual
destruction of the Jewish state. And now, by upgrading the PLO’s mission, the
Obama administration is actively encouraging just such an
OBAMA’S DECISION shows that he has not allowed reality to
interfere with his perception of the absence of a Palestinian state as the most
urgent problem he faces in the Middle East. He has adopted other measures that
indicate that he remains fundamentally unconcerned about the threat that Iran
poses to both US national security and to regional security in the Middle
That threat has been spelled out clearly in recent weeks by top US
officials. Last week the outgoing US commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, told
reporters that Iran fields three Shi’ite militias in Iraq whose forces are
attempting to attack US troops as they withdraw from the country. Iran’s goal is
to present the image that the US is withdrawing in defeat.
Afghanistan, last March the Sunday Times reported that Iran is training Taliban
fighters at camps inside Iran. Last Wednesday the deputy commander of the
Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps threatened that US commander Gen. David
Petraeus will be overwhelmed by terror in Afghanistan.
Jazayeri told the Iranian media, “The presence of Petraeus in Afghanistan will
increase terrorism and seal the expansion of American failures.
government has no chance of success as the igniting flames which will engulf
America in Afghanistan are already visible.”
Then there is Iran’s nuclear
As CIA Director Leon Panetta said last month, sanctions
on Iran will “probably not” deter the regime from moving forward.
understanding would be sufficient to convince a pragmatic administration
force must be used to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. A
administration, after all, could be expected to understand what a
Iran would mean for the US’s strategic interests in the region.
becomes a nuclear power it will be able to wreak havoc on oil shipments
Persian Gulf. So too, it will make it all but impossible for the US to
project is military force in the region. The current threat that Iranian
will force US troops to flee Iraq and Afghanistan will likely be
Furthermore, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar can be expected to expel
US forces from their territory as the regimes cut deals with the new
Obama recently ended his public support for appeasing Iran
and seemed to adopt a more confrontational approach as he moved to pass a
round of sanctions at the UN Security Council and when he signed
sanctions. But rhetoric aside, as Michael Ledeen reported at Pajamas
site last week, his appeasement policy remains in force.
Since 1979 the
Swiss Embassy in Teheran has represented US interests. According to
week the Swiss ambassador submitted a request from US congressmen to
their Iranian counterparts. The Iranians rejected their request out of
What this means is that the Obama administration – now working
through congressional proxies – is still trying to cut a deal with
Ahmadinejad and Ali Khamenei.
All of this makes clear the sort of leader
Obama is. He is a pragmatic politician and a radical ideologue all
one. The pragmatic politician understands that going into the
elections in November, he has to convince the US public that he is a
ally for Israel and that he is credible on Iran. So he invited Netanyahu
Washington for a public hug and he made angry declarations about Iran’s
As an ideologue though, even in the midst of his charm offensive
he couldn’t resist the urge to attack the Jewish state, so he signaled
will recognize a Palestinian state that does not recognize it. And as an
ideologue, he can’t stop begging the Iranians to love him.
The desire of
commentators like Benn and Ya’ari to believe that the US government is
rationally is understandable.
But their wish is unsupported by facts. We
can only hope that Netanyahu has not been similarly