Inside Out: Obama’s commitment to Israel

Obama has remained true to commitment to Israel’s security and legitimacy, to resolution of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Netanyahu and Obama 390 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Netanyahu and Obama 390
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jason Reed)
US President Barack Obama took the opportunity of his speech at the AIPAC policy conference on Sunday to reiterate his administration’s unequivocal commitment to Israel’s security and right to self-defense.
He said, “My administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented.
Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust... Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.”
The president also cited his administration’s record on defending Israel’s legitimacy, saying, “When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism... And whenever an effort is made to delegitimize the state of Israel, my administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now – when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
On the sensitive issue of Iran and its nuclear program, President Obama said the US would not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, adding that he would use whatever means necessary to ensure that, including the use of force. The president suggested that there was still time to allow the combination of diplomacy and crippling economic sanctions to achieve the desired outcome of Iran deciding to “forsake nuclear weapons.”
He warned about the potentially high stakes of military action and noted that “as president and commander in chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war.” President Obama’s statements reflect the sentiments of a steadfast friend of Israel who has proven his commitment to the Jewish state and its continued existence in peace and security.
Contrary to what some American and Israeli critics have said in the past, over the past three years Obama has shown in word and in deed that he has not strayed from either the supportive positions on Israel that were adopted by his predecessors in office, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, or their vision of what Israel needs to ensure that secure future.
According to reports out of President Obama’s White House meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday, the Palestinian issue took a back seat to the Iranian challenge because of domestic Israeli, American and Palestinian political realities on the ground.
Palestinian public figures, such as Saeb Erekat and Hanan Ashrawi, responded with dismay to that state of affairs. The Palestinian Ma’an news agency quoted Erekat as having said in response to Obama’s AIPAC address, “Unfortunately, the speech ignored the requirements for peace as it did not touch on urging Israel to accept the two-state solution, halt settlement activities, and stop imposing facts on the ground.”
Alternately, Sofia Ron-Moriah responded with elation in the editorial column she wrote on Monday for the Israeli right-wing newspaper Makor Rishon, “For the first time in many years, an Israeli prime minister is going to the White House with the Palestinian issue not on the agenda. It is neither the topic of discussion nor a pretext that is secondary, but must be paid lip service.”
However, the Palestinian dismay and Israeli right wing’s glee are almost certainly premature. Just as President Obama has remained true to his two predecessors’ commitment to Israel’s security and legitimacy, he has also remained fully committed to the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a cornerstone of the longstanding American vision for Israel.
The American view of the parameters for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, moreover, has remained quite stable. It envisions the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip less the major settlement blocs (see President Bush’s 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon) while Jerusalem will be divided on a demographic basis (see President Clinton’s 2001 parameters). Here too, President Obama has not departed in any real way from the policies set out by his predecessor.
On this issue Obama and Netanyahu remain deeply divided, and that division is not going to disappear even if the Palestinian issue was put on the back burner in Monday’s meeting.
According to reports in the Hebrew press last week, Netanyahu made an express request to the Jerusalem municipality and his cabinet ministers prior to his departure to Washington not to be blindsided by any “surprises” in the form of new construction tenders for east Jerusalem and the West Bank in and around his White House meeting.
Even if Palestinian politicians and some of the Israeli right wing, albeit for very different reasons, would prefer to say that the Palestinian issue is now off the agenda, the prime minister knows that it isn’t really.
Netanyahu is sure to face an acerbic reaction from the Obama administration to new construction in east Jerusalem neighborhoods and existing West Bank settlements, including those inside the settlement blocs. One can only imagine what a relocation of Migron would cause.
It would be disingenuous to describe that as a sign of a wavering American commitment to Israel under Obama, as some politicians and pundits have done in the past. As noted, Obama has proven himself to be fully committed to Israel, following closely the path laid out before him by presidents Clinton and Bush. That longstanding American commitment manifests itself in unequivocal support for Israel’s right to exist, its right to self-defense and its legitimacy, but not in support Israel’s self-presumed right to settle the West Bank any further.