November 10, 2009
Obama's Middle East Policy Falls ApartBy Sammy Benoit
President Obama's Middle East policy is in ruins. While the U.S. continues to press Israel for a settlement freeze (and a freeze on Jerusalem), Obama's strategy is falling apart piece by piece. He has turned the Israeli populace against him and strengthened the hand of Prime Minister Netanyahu. At the same time, he has eroded his own support among American Jews and other U.S. friends of Israel. This is why he has pressured political hacks such as Congressman Steve Israel to lend their names to the anti-Israel group known as J Street.
The Arab League nations answered no to the President's request for a peace gesture, and the President of the Palestinian Authority has used Obama's settlement pressure as his "out" from reentering negotiations. Settlement-building didn't start with Netanyahu, but it didn't become a roadblock to negotiations until Obama was elected.
The entire settlement issue was caused by the Obama administration's naïveté. What the President and his advisers perceived as a minor concession (a settlement freeze) was for Israel a grave sacrifice. This was a major error by the Obama administration. Their insistence on a freeze and their constant public berating of the Jewish State has turned the Israeli population against Obama, especially the Israeli left, whom Obama would look to for support.
His public blasting of Israel has weakened his support among American Jews, who initially bought into his promise that he was a friend of Israel. The news that Obama was breaking a Bush-era pledge to Israel regarding natural expansion in existing settlements only made things worse.
Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began lowering expectations on negotiations and praised what Israel is prepared to do -- namely, refrain from constructing new settlements in the West Bank, but impart no limits on construction in East Jerusalem -- as an "unprecedented" concession. The Palestinians went crazy, so Clinton changed her story.
In remarks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit following their November 4 talks in Cairo, Clinton said the United States would like all current and planned Israeli settlement activity to halt. The U.S. policy opposing Israeli settlement activity has not changed, she said.
She also said that Israel's offer to halt all new settlement activities, to end the expropriation of land, and issue no permits or approvals, while "unprecedented," is "not what we would prefer."
"We would like to see everything ended forever," she said. However, she added that it is "at least a positive movement."
In a November 4 interview with Jackie Northam of National Public Radio, Clinton said the issue of settlements has been "a terrible flashpoint" in the region. Settlements never have been a precondition for negotiations in the past, she said, adding that the Israeli government has gone further than its predecessors in its offer. However, she acknowledged that Arabs and Palestinians have said "it wasn't far enough."
If you are looking for the Obama Administration to demand some sort of move from the Palestinian side, don't hold your breath. The POTUS pressures not the Arabs, but only the Jewish State, even though Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas continues to order terrorist acts against Israel. And then there is that new ploy: Mahmoud Abbas, citing the deadlock, said he would not run for another term in the elections scheduled for January.
According to the Jerusalem Post, U.S. Ambassador to Israel James Cunningham acknowledged during a public appearance in Tel Aviv on Thursday that "there is doubt" among Israelis about Mr. Obama's friendship.
That doubt is well-placed. During the first ten months of his term, Mr. Obama has shown sympathy for the people who would destroy Israel while snubbing the Israelis. Even worse is Obama's desire to cast Israel as the hold-up to peace at every opportunity, whether through his statements, the statements of his subordinates, or his anti-Israel appointments:
With his typical left-wing arrogance, Tom Friedman of the New York Times says that Obama should drop his peace efforts and call a pox on both the Israeli and Palestinian houses because neither side is willing to negotiate. Friedman assumes that President Obama is an idiot who did not understand that peace is unattainable.
I suggest a different scenario. President Obama has a lifetime's worth of anti-Israel sentiments, a cause for great suspicion for Jewish voters during the early part of the campaign. Before the economy collapsed, the Jewish vote was moving away from Obama. In the end it was economics, not Israel, that was the key issue in the 2008 vote. That made it easy for Obama to overcome the Jewish suspicion and win their votes.
Now that he is President, perhaps the reason Obama is pushing for peace so hard is that he knows it is unattainable. It is the very failure of his effort that gives him the excuse to bash and isolate Israel while working to split up the Jewish community. This is exactly what Obama is doing via his anti-Israel statements, anti-Israel appointments, and his "mentor-ship" of J Street.
Last October, just before the election I wrote this about Barack Obama:
A Barack Obama Presidency would return US/Israel relations back to the days of James Baker's "They have my number; they can call me." The days of a US government trying to impose a dangerous one-sided solution on the Jewish State.
I hate admit it, but that prediction was very wrong. Barack Obama has turned out to be much worse than I could have imagined. Just examine the facts and you will agree that in only ten months of work, not only has Obama's policy fallen apart, but he now ranks among the worst presidents in American history with regards to Israel and the Middle East.
Sammy Benoit is the editor of the political blog The Lid.