Obama speaks as Bibi looks on 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The question I often hear in the United States and in Israel is, “Is Obama good for Israel?” My answer: yes. The direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, the first in nearly two years, confirms this. Results of the first two rounds have confounded skeptics and critics. At the White House Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas his “partner in peace.”
In Jerusalem, where Netanyahu hosted Abbas in his residence for the first time, US envoy George Mitchell told reporters after their third meeting in two consecutive days, “They are tackling up front... the issues that are at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
These talks, orchestrated by President Barack Obama, are good for Israel and good for the US. So are Obama’s overall policies relating to Israel – and Iran. Israelis and Americans, especially Jews, who want to see a secure Israel at peace, a viable Palestinian state alongside it, a stable Middle East and a respected US should support these policies.
YET RECENT polls in Israel and the US indicate the opposite. Sixty-five
percent of Jewish Israelis believe US Jews should criticize the Obama
administration’s policy toward Israel, according to a survey published
in June conducted for the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem. Pew
Research findings released in August show that American Jewish voters
who identify or lean Democratic decreased to 60% from 72% in 2008; while
33% now identify or lean Republican, up from 20% in 2008.
These poll results and charges that Obama is anti- Israel disregard the
facts about his administration’s policies. The contrast between the
reality and the misperception about these policies is stark.
On his first full day in office Obama phoned the leaders of Israel, the
PA, Egypt and Jordan to “communicate his commitment to active engagement
in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term” (his
press secretary’s words). On Obama’s second day, he appointed Mitchell
as Middle East envoy to rebuild the peace process.
The many daunting and pressing challenges awaiting Obama on that first
day have been widely chronicled. He did not have to add the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict to his “to do” list. He should be lauded
for doing so and for remaining steadfast in his commitment.
That decision was pro-Israel. Time is not on Israel’s side if the status
quo and the conflict persist.
Former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin understood this when his government
negotiated with Yasser Arafat. So did former prime minister Ariel Sharon
when he pulled out of Gaza.
IT’S TIME to recount the escalating threats to Israel, as well as some
of the Obama administration’s Israelrelated actions: • Demographic
trends indicate that more Arabs than Jews will populate the land between
the Mediterranean and the Jordan River in another generation or two.
Israel will either cease to be a Jewish state, or cease to be a
democracy as the Jewish minority would rule over the Arab majority.
• Delegitimization of Israel, even in America, is a relatively new
phenomenon. The longer the conflict and occupation of the West Bank
continue, the more widespread this becomes.
• Hizbullah and Hamas, both backed and armed by Iran, are acquiring ever
more sophisticated rockets and missiles able to strike deeper inside
Israel. A peace agreement would deprive these terrorist groups of their
chief reason for attacks and deny other Islamist terrorist groups an
important recruiting tool.
• Iran’s nuclear weapons program poses a threat not only to Israel. The
Obama administration’s leadership led to tougher international sanctions
To be able to get reluctant industrial countries to agree to tougher
sanctions, Obama initially reached out to Iran’s rulers. To convince
Arab countries to back direct talks and to pressure Abbas to come to the
negotiating table, he needed to reach out to the Arab and Muslim world,
as he did in his Cairo address. The Arab League formally endorsed
direct talks this summer – a significant achievement.
Obama did take some missteps. One was his failure early on to speak
directly to the Israeli people.
Another was his administration’s initial emphasis on ending settlement
construction beyond the pre- 1967 borders even though prior negotiations
had no such requirement. This handed Abbas a branch that he climbed up
to avoid direct talks, which Netanyahu called for. Abbas did not climb
down from this position until Arab states, prodded by the Obama
administration, insisted that he do so.
THOSE WHO charge Obama with being anti-Israel also ignore his
contributions to extending Israel’s qualitative military advantage over
Last October, US and Israeli militaries held a major joint air defense
exercise along the coast, “send[ing] a message to Iran, to Hizbullah and
to Hamas that the strategic relationship between the United States and
Israel remains solid,” noted Eytan Gilboa of Bar-Ilan University.
In May, Obama decided to grant Israel $205 million in military aid to
procure more Iron Dome missile defense systems. And just this week the
US envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency urged Arab states to
withdraw a resolution calling on Israel to sign the Nuclear
American and Israeli Jews’ confidence in Obama should be increasing. His
administration’s policies and actions have led to direct talks designed
to reach a peace agreement, to tougher sanctions on Iran intended to
end its nuclear weapons program and to closer US-Israeli military ties.
They benefit Israel, the US and Middle East stability. They should be
supported by Israelis and all Americans, Jews and non-Jews.The writer is a former chairman of the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Originally published in the New York Jewish Week.