Power & Politics: On Obama - what, me worry?

Many on the Right are already saying "I told you so."

jager NEW - USE THIS (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
jager NEW - USE THIS
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
With roughly two months to go before Barack Obama becomes the 44th president of the United States, there are worrying signals that US-Israel relations may be in for a bumpy ride. Some on the Jewish Right are already saying, "I told you so." Take the report in London's Sunday Times which implied that Obama would vigorously back the Saudi-sponsored Arab League peace plan that calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines - this according to anonymous sources "close to America's president-elect." Reporters Uzi Mahnaimi in Tel Aviv and Sarah Baxter in Washington asserted that Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, along with President Shimon Peres, back the Saudi initiative. I must have been off the day our foreign minister and president announced their "backing." My impression is that Peres thinks elements of the plan are positive - which they are. Next, Mahnaimi and Baxter tell us the plan would give Israel "effective veto" power to prevent millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants from overwhelming Israel proper. This assertion is backed up by... nothing. Finally, the paper quotes Obama as saying, privately, that it would be "crazy" for Israel to refuse the Saudi deal. The source? An anonymous "senior Obama adviser." THEN THERE are the fears involving the relative influence of people who have offered Obama advice. Take the case of Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares. He's a nuclear disarmament advocate who thinks that "Israel has less need of nuclear weapons now than at any time in its history..." Cirincione, as I understand it, would put both Israel's presumed nuclear arsenal and Iran's arsenal-in-the making on the negotiating table. He'd aim at disarming both states to create a nuclear-free Middle East. Cirincione really does know a lot about nuclear weapons, but clearly doesn't have a clue on how to read the mullahs. Add to the mix a post-election report from the Institute for Science and International Security, an outfit partly funded by Cirincione's Ploughshares, and headed by David Albright. They've just issued a report calling on the incoming Obama administration to press Israel to join a still-in-the-planning-stage Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty. Theoretically, if the pact was ratified and Israel was forced to accept it, the Jewish state could be prevented from producing plutonium for nuclear weapons. Albright also wants Obama to pressure Israel, Egypt and Iran to join the Nuclear Test Ban treaty. And of course the ubiquitous Hamas "moderate" Ahmed Youseff is always available to muddy the waters. Lately, he's told anyone who will listen that he's in secret e-mail contact with people who say they are close to Obama. Ergo, Obama is "negotiating" with Hamas. BETWEEN now and January 20 you can expect a slew of such agenda-driven "news" stories put out by journalists and think-tankers and regurgitated by pundits and bloggers. Everyone wants to influence events, catch the ear of the new president and promote themselves as someone Obama listens to. And those who opposed Obama want to say, "I told you so." We'll know soon enough who Obama really takes advice from when it comes to foreign policy and national security. So far, what we know is that he's turned almost exclusively to former members of the Clinton administration for his transition team. His most significant appointment so far is that of Rahm Emanuel. The adviser who almost never leaves his side is David Axelrod. So don't insult my intelligence by asking me to believe that Obama is some kind of enemy of the Jews. There were folks who said Obama is a clandestine Muslim or closeted commie. So we'll soon be seeing either prayer rugs thrown down in the Oval Office or a photo of Marx up on the wall next to George Washington's - or those who made such claims will be seen as foolhardy. I am hoping the men and women he appoints to work on Middle East issues will not include those who would "save Israel from itself" - the kind who still have their heads in the clouds. But surely Obama is too pragmatic a politician to surround himself with people who have a long track record of proffering bad advice. YET IF he appoints people who think Israel is partly to blame for the failure of the "peace process," that's still not the end of the world. The reason I am keeping my powder dry is that even a cursory look back at American policy toward Israel shows that it has been consistent across administrations. Since 1967, on territory-for-peace, settlements and aid, US policy has remained unswerving. Every single US president from Lyndon B. Johnson to George W. Bush has wanted Israel to exchange territory for peace. If Obama demands we give up all the territory captured in the 1967 Six Day War, that indeed would be a dangerous and radical departure from standing US policy. That would be embracing Mahmoud Abbas's uncompromising position. That would be very bad. But every administration has opposed Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, though many have shown signs of understanding that the biggest obstacle to peace is that even "moderates" among the Palestinians are unrealistic and intransigent in their demands. And anyway, they would be powerless to implement a deal that centrist Israel could live with. The fanatics, meanwhile, oppose any agreement and it is they who control half the Palestinian polity. Of course I worry that Obama may be bad for Israel. But will he be worse than Richard Nixon, who allowed Israel to slowly bleed during the 1973 War so that Henry Kissinger could start from a more advantageous bargaining position? Worse than Gerald Ford, whose "evenhanded" policy toward Israel led him to entirely "reassess" US-Israel relations? Will Obama be worse than Jimmy Carter, who viscerally despised Menachem Begin and was instrumental in undermining early prospects for Palestinian autonomy in Judea and Samaria? What of Ronald Reagan? Think Bitberg, the AWACS to Saudi Arabia and the US decision to open up a diplomatic dialogue with Yasser Arafat's PLO in 1988 - on the preposterous premise that the PLO chief had genuinely accepted Israel's right to exist. Will Obama be worse than George Bush Sr., whose secretary of state, James (f-ck the Jews) Baker, gave out the White House switchboard number during 1990 Congressional testimony, telling Israel: "When you're serious about peace, call us." Worse than old Bill Clinton, who helped engineer Oslo, which begot the second intifada and 1,000 Israeli dead? Will Obama be worse than George W. Bush who was the first president to explicitly make the creation of a Palestinian state US policy? As if Palestinian society is now ready for the responsibilities of statehood. Who exhausted the US in Iraq on a wild-goose chase while the Taliban and the real al-Qaida re-grouped in Afghanistan? Bogged down in Iraq, America has no stomach to confront Iran. SO PLEASE excuse me if I don't get all bent out of shape - at least not before he even takes office - at the prospect that Barack Obama will give Israel a hard time. One other thing: no US president can reasonably be expected to be more "pro-Israel" than Israel itself. If our next government can't build an internal consensus on where our borders should be, on what Israel's red lines are, on which settlements we keep and which we would give up for real peace - that's our problem. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying Obama won't give us some tough innings. What I am saying is that we'd play a better game if we knew what we wanted and pulled together. And Obama might then hear what we're saying - instead of a cacophony of conflicting voices.