A View from Israel: A president’s folly

Yes, the US has repeatedly vetoed anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. But Israel should not be viewing that as a favor from Obama.

Obama 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Obama 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Starting with Iowa on January 3 and lasting through June, voters will be choosing their candidates for the 2012 US presidential elections. And it is in Israel’s best interest to pay attention to the foreign policy position of each candidate as they attempt to garner as many votes as possible.
The top Republican contenders at this point appear to be Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. While the first two have expressed traditional Republican views in general, such as robust defense spending, strong ties with Israel and bulking up border security, Paul stands out for preferring less international intervention, which, of course, likely includes a diminished relationship with Israel.
As for the Democrats, President Barack Obama, as an incumbent, already has an advantage over potential rivals – and there don’t seem to be any strong contenders anyway as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has declared her intention to stay out of the race.
All candidates understand the importance of the Jewish vote and will therefore make Israel a priority, even though many voters are probably more concerned about domestic issues than foreign policy issues.
In his book The Reasoning Voter, Samuel L. Popkin, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, discusses how “campaigns can increase the importance of an issue in an election by raising its perceived importance among voters.”
These types of campaign do not generally change people’s beliefs, but rather change their priorities.
With this past year being a historically important one with the rise of the “Arab Spring,” the fall of various dictators and the death of Osama bin Laden among some of the top highlights, candidates will most likely place the Arab-Israeli conflict at the center of their foreign policy as they seek to help infuse calm into the region.
BUT WHEN foreign powers get involved in the Arab- Israeli conflict, it is often Israel that is pressured to bend and concede with no real movement on the Palestinians’ part. And in this sense, Obama’s foreign policy has been a disaster.
He has pandered to authoritarian rulers in countries guilty of massive human rights violations in the naive hope they will adopt a different worldview.
According to Stephen P. Cohen in his book Beyond America’s Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East, former president Woodrow Wilson believed the US should “seek peace and cooperation rather than military advantage or projection of power.”
Obama has consistently shown his desire to achieve his lofty and idealized Wilsonian ideas for the US’s position in the world.
In a remark at a nuclear security summit in Washington, Obama said, “Whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower,” which some understood to suggest he did not believe the US should maintain its dominant global position.
His 2009 Cairo speech, in which he called for a “new beginning” between the United States and the Muslim world, was naive at best.
So was his demand to remove the term “Islamic extremism” from the 2010 National Security Strategy document.
And Obama has consistently placed unprecedented pressure on Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, while demanding very little from the Palestinians.
One of the most – if not the most – disastrous decisions the Obama administration has made so far, as part of its foreign policy, is its endorsement of the Palestinian narrative that requires Israel to push back its territory to the 1949 armistice lines, otherwise known as the 1967 border.
In a speech in May, Obama announced, “Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.
The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”
Obama’s position has pushed the Palestinians into a corner as they can no longer accept a compromise on the border issue.
Obama has made himself more Palestinian than the Palestinians.
And Republican candidates are aware that Obama has taken the wrong approach in dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. According to Reuters, Romney said recently that Obama has “repeatedly thrown Israel under the bus,” and Gingrich recently thrust himself into controversy by declaring that the Palestinians are an invented people who want to destroy Israel.
Obama, in a pointed reference to his Republican opponents, said the bonds between Israel and the US “transcend partisan politics – or at least they should.”
The White House wants to shore up support among Jewish voters for Obama’s 2012 reelection bid. He won nearly eight of every 10 Jewish votes in 2008 but a slip would jeopardize his re-election drive in battleground states like Florida and Pennsylvania, where Jews are an important swing bloc.
With this in mind, Obama seems to have forgotten over the past three years that even if elections are not on the horizon, Israel is an important issue on a global scale and is not to be tossed to the wolves.
Yet he has done exactly that.
During Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in March, the Jerusalem District Planning Committee approved the construction of 1,200 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a neighborhood in the northern part of Jerusalem – a plan that had been in the works for three years. Biden released a statement in which he voiced his strong opposition to the decision. He wrote, “I condemn the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in east Jerusalem.”
After Netanyahu apologized, Israel thought the episode was done and forgotten, but unthinking strategists at the White House decided to reignite the issue resulting in Hillary Clinton’s approximately 43-minute phone call during which she berated Netanyahu and demanded he halt construction and show resolve to arrive at a settlement with the Palestinians.
According to White House officials, this was all coordinated with the president.
And on the day Biden was leaving, the Palestinians saw fit to dedicate a square in the city of El-Bireh to Dalal al-Mughrabi, the suicide bomber responsible for the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre in which 37 Israelis were killed and 72 wounded.
The US administration’s response was suspiciously muted.
NILE GARDNER, a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst and political commentator, writes in his blog, “While the Obama presidency has moved with the speed of a tortoise in condemning the beating and killing of political protesters in places like Iran and Syria, it has pounced with panther-like agility in condemning every move Israel makes to build more settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as though Israel’s desire to build more homes for its own people is an affront to civilization.”
Gardner also compiled a list of Obama’s insults against Israel.
In March 2010, Obama humiliated Netanyahu by leaving him in the White House Roosevelt Room while he went to have dinner with his family. In great contrast to the way he treats Israel, Obama has gone out of his way to woo Syria, a rogue nation guilty of massive human rights violations.
In his Cairo speech in which he naively called to “broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect,” Obama drew a parallel between the Holocaust and the plight of the Palestinian people in what Gardner describes as “a disturbing example of moral equivalence.”
In September 2009, during his address to the United Nations General Assembly, Obama drew a ridiculous connection between rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and living conditions in Gaza.
Among other US insults to Israel, Gardner includes David Axelrod’s attack on Israeli settlements on Meet the Press, Clinton’s call on Israel in April 2010 to show “respect” and White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’s strange remarks in an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace in March 2010, demanding that Netanyahu come “to the table with constructive ideas for constructive and trustful dialogue about moving the peace process forward.” And of course, there is the recent widely reported conversation between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Obama during which they expressed their distaste for Netanyahu into microphones they did not realize were switched on.
The Obama administration has repeatedly created unnecessary tension with Israel while at the same time burying any Palestinian faults and inaction related to negotiations with Israel.
As the recent Emergency Committee for Israel ads asked, “Why does the Obama administration treat Israel like a punching bag? Enough with the cheap shots. It’s time for the Obama administration to stop blaming Israel first.”
GEORGE WASHINGTON seems to have warned against this type of animosity years ago. In his farewell address, delivered on September 17, 1796, he said, “Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur... Excessive partiality for one foreign nation and excessive dislike of another cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other.”
The US administration would surely argue that it is a “strong supporter of Israel” and that Israel is a “staunch ally,” highlighting the “unwavering bond that exists between the two countries.”
And the administration would point to its covert activities to prove that it really does assist Israel militarily and diplomatically.
But the public should not be judging the president and his administration by what cannot be seen but rather by what we do see.
And what we see is less than encouraging.
We should not forget the moments of haughtiness Obama has displayed towards Israel since he was elected. Nor should we forget that he visited Cairo to make a “groundbreaking” speech – yet never visited Israel as president.
We need to judge Obama by his visible actions and attitude towards Israel. His foreign policy stinks and his Wilsonian method of appeasing the Arabs at Israel’s expense should not be overlooked at the polls.
Yes, the US backs Israel on Iran but it has not moved as quickly as Israel wants it to, as Obama has been dragging his feet to allow for “diplomatic efforts” to take hold.
And yes, the US has repeatedly vetoed anti-Israel resolutions at the UN. But Israel should not be viewing that as a favor from Obama, but rather as a sensible and logical decision by the US to protect its own interests – and strongest ally – in a forum controlled by backward countries.
Israel needs to keep a close eye on the foreign policy approach of all the candidates. If Obama’s 2008 campaign was about domestic change, he may want to make 2012 about change on the foreign policy level by creating a new “new beginning,” change the US’s failed diplomatic strategy in the Middle East and start fighting rogue governments while fully backing Israel.
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