Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Barack Obama and Israel.

Let me begin by saying that I don't write this post as a staunch supporter of all things Israel. Not to say that I am a detractor. It is simply not an area that I feel I know enough about, nor that I think about when ruminating about politics, healthcare and the country. I admit to having some conflicting opinions over the years. I am not here to discuss the merits of the formation of Israel or the biblical or historical precedents for Israel. I don't usually sit around and discuss these things about Israel, or any other country. What this is, is a post about a democratic ally of America sitting in a very volatile spot in the world and how our country chooses to treat them and work with them. I keep trying to find a way to understand how the president and I can be so far apart on this issue, and that the president in my opinion could have been so wrong minded about this issue. This isn't even only about whether he made the right or wrong decision when he recently announced, while making statements about the current independence movement in Arab nations, that he felt that peace would be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians only when Israel relented and went back to its 1967 borders. While I think he is wrong about this, or even to give him the benefit of the doubt, way too premature in the process. It is more the way he chose to handle this. The way he chose to do it and about the way you should treat your allies. Although I find I am able to agree with this president much more often than the last president, I cannot support him on this position at this time. So what to make of Obama's position? Is it naïve or is it arrogant? Israel has made many land concessions, and as I have noted in comments on other blogs, it will need to no doubt make more when it comes to its settlements. However, telling another nation that occupied those pieces of land from the nations that attacked it in an unprovoked war meant to ensure its total annihilation, is another matter. Israel perceived that those lands, based on the declared war against it, were necessary for its continued security and survival. America, which has taken many actions from the dawn of our nation through today that have purchased or annexed land from other nations, angered other nations and impugned their sovereignty, such as our invading Pakistan with our weaponry and soldiers to kill Osama bin Laden, should not be casting stones on an issue like this. Don't get me wrong, I think our going into Pakistan for bin Laden was the right thing to do, had to be done, and was a bold, decisive an necessary risk to take. It is an unfortunate fact of life in these times that nations must do unpopular things at times to maintain their own safety and integrity. That president Obama would try to turn the current state of Israeli-Palestinian affairs into an issue of Israeli failings by making this public decree, instead of voicing his opinions privately in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, is remarkable and uncalled for. We can tell our allies what we think but we really should not be trying to turn public opinion against our allies, or to put outside pressure on them, especially when they have valid concerns about their safety and future security if they were to give in to our suggestions. This looks like a flat out Obama push for votes from---at best---Americans tired of hearing about the Middle East and at worst--- American anti-Semites, which he might rightfully believe actually outnumber the Jews living in this country. Nevertheless, to try to get those votes at the expense of an ally who is routinely treated unfairly during UN meeting after meeting, where the actions of terrorists are ignored, but any difficult choices made by Israel are condemned, is unconscionable. I keep trying to figure out some brilliant plan that Obama has; whereby he is going to convince the world that he is more cognizant of the rights of the Palestinians than any president before him so that he can garner their trust and turn it into a real and meaningful peace. But it just seems hard to believe. The President is painting himself into a corner, and doing his best to take Israel there with him. He will not be able to turn in midstride. He will not be able to broker on issues where he has clearly already chosen a side. Why should the Arabs agree to any Obama backtracking? Why should Israel and their supporters believe the President is worried about their sovereignty and security? And where are the hard choices for the Palestinians and the entire Arab world? Where is Obama saying there will be no peace until all Arab countries and the Palestinians acknowledge the rights of Israel to exist, form a lasting cessation of terrorist acts and unprovoked rocket fire into Israel, and allow a peaceful and secure daily life in Israel as most other nations of the free world enjoy?
Now Obama has attempted to ‘clarify ‘his statements by explaining that his points have been the unspoken policy and belief of the US for years and he felt it was better to bring it out into the open. He also points out that he said this should be negotiated swaps as part of this proposal. But maybe this “unspoken American policy” was not made public before because rather than a belief or policy it was a fear or belief that there would not be peace short of these borders, but why should anyone believe these borders will bring peace when they led to war the first time? And the Palestinians, who would be Israel's extremely close neighbors, not only refuse to acknowledge its right to exist but have recently formed a coalition government with a Hamas, an organization designated as a terrorist group that has declared its goal is to seek the destruction of Israel. And what of these proposed swaps Obama mentioned? You can put it on the table but it doesn't mean the parties can agree. There are clearly some differences of opinion that it will be very hard to understand how they are ever going to be worked out---such as Jerusalem. I am not claiming to be qualified in these matters. If you want to know more about these issues, there is a blog, Bruce's MidEast Soundbites,, that has done a good job of trying to be very informative on these issues. I'm not trying to sway your opinions about the Mideast situation. I am speaking about fair treatment for one of our allies, and the only Democratic ally with a proven track record in the region. I am talking about handling things appropriately even when you disagree with an ally. I'm talking about viewing the situation realistically and realizing that even if you think you have a good point, you don't bring it up prematurely. Before we ask an ally to shrink its borders back to ones that left it much less defensible, we’d better demand proof that the other interested parties will ensure the safety of our ally. Amidst the hatred, statements against the rights of Israel and the continued rocket attacks, the other parties in this drama have not demonstrated their readiness and willingness to make the hard choices and do the hard tasks that they must do to bring peace to the table. There may or may not yet be peace in the Middle East. It doesn't look like it's coming very soon. And unless he changes his stance, President Obama will not be the arbitrator of that peace. The question now is, is there even a chance for him to change his stance, and can he ever be relevant in this process again? Sadly, I suspect not.


Bruce said...

You approach this topic with a very interesting query: what motivated President Obama to stray so far from a reasonable position with an ally. I have not ventured there myself.

You seem to have landed on his seeking electoral advantage from those who have MidEast-fatigue and those in the far-left.

Other possibilities exist, all problematic, as the President's motivation will remain personal and beyond our grasp. Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile exercise.

Thus far, many have speculated that the President doesn't understand the MidEast. This is safe territory, but ultimately is unsatisfying. He's had ample opportunity to see what works during his tenure. That this is the second time he snubbed Netanyahu [the first with poor results] should have provided a lesson for him.

Other's have taken the thesis that the President doesn't understand the MidEast, and gone further to suggest that it is the unique complexities of the region that are beyond Obama's grasp. I find this unsatisfying too, as Obama seems reasonably intelligent.

The only thing I can add to the list of speculation, is my that I've had since before his election. It is a fear, not an accusation. I fear President Obama is an ideologically committed Arabist, whose personal sympathies lie firmly in the Palestinian narrative. To stretch this a bit wider, perhaps [with the process stalled indefinitely], he chose to 'leave his mark' by granting the Palestinians a major consession.

I only hope this is the last time he ventures into this territory.

LHwrites said...

I do posit the electoral advantage theory, but not strenuously. I honestly do not know where this is coming from. I can only hope it lands well.