November 5, 2012
Some American Jews Have Short-Term Memory LossBy Jerrold L. Sobel
Some of my fellow tribesmen, particularly those stuck like glue to the Democratic Party, have short-term memory loss when it comes to Barack Obama and his relationship to Israel. With the selective amnesia they have shown over the recent tragedy and cover-up in Benghazi, they forget or wish not to remember the diplomatic hostility that the Obama administration has shown to Israel and its democratically elected government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Just sixteen months ago, on May 19, 2011, a day before Prime Minister Netanyahu was to arrive in Washington for consultations, President Obama stated, "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines."
Continuing the mantra that has defined his presidency from the outset -- borders and Israeli settlements -- this president has been obsessed with the notion that this issue is the major impediment to peace in the Middle East. This was a radical shift in American Mideast policy, in effect snatching a trump card from the Israelis in the event that negotiations ever were to restart.
Following that speech, the Israeli government quickly responded that the '67 borders would leave the country "indefensible." For those old enough to remember him, famed Israeli diplomat and brilliant orator Abba Eban once referred to these "borders" as the "Auschwitz lines."
In reaction to what he surely must have considered a sandbagging, Netanyahu had an angry phone conversation with his archnemesis of the previous year, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in which the prime minister demanded that the president cut the reference to the '67 borders. But despite frantic requests to the State Department, the president refused to alter his statement.
Increasingly showing his hand and captivated by what he and his administration deem "settlements," Obama's speech was a follow-up to a contrived incident fifteen months prior, on March 9, 2010, during a visit to Israel by Vice President Biden.
During the vice president's stay, Israel's Interior Ministry announced the construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. Biden condemned the move by stating that it was "precisely the kind of step that undermines the trust we need right now." There was more to come.
Taking the announcement as a personal insult, Biden condemned "the substance and timing of the announcement."
What was not recognized by many at the time: these objections to housing in East Jerusalem ushered in a new diplomatic turn in American/Israeli relations. For the first time, an American administration was shown not to unequivocally recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel. As we would see during the Democratic convention this past summer, it was not to be the last time.
Secretary Clinton, not one to be outdone by Biden, got into the act by publicly proclaiming the housing announcement "a deeply negative signal." According to published reports, she placed a 43- minute phone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu lambasting him over the housing announcement, claiming that it endangered indirect peace talks with the Palestinians. "Indirect peace talks" -- that's the operative term. Since construction in Jerusalem and the "West Bank" never precluded talks between Israel and the Palestinians before, it left one to wonder if pronouncements by Mrs. Clinton and her boss actually were the impediment to direct peace talks. After all, long before their interjections, Fatah and the heinous Arafat for many years still negotiated with Israel.
Going back in time another year to November 25, 2009 -- Netanyahu imposed a ten-month moratorium on housing construction in Judea/Samaria (the West Bank). He deemed it "a painful step that will encourage the peace process" and urged the Palestinians to respond in kind. Never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, Mahmoud Abbas continued his recalcitrance, ostensibly because the freeze did not apply to pre-approved housing already in construction.
In an attempt to move the process along and further entice the Palestinian Authority back to the table, Israel even halted construction in areas not affected by the housing freeze. On July 19, Netanyahu froze a major construction project in Pisgat Ze'ev as a "diplomatic gesture" to the United States. What did Netanyahu receive for this gesture? Displeasure from Obama for construction of homes not covered by the agreement.
In the end, what was accomplished by the ten-month moratorium? Absolutely nothing. Except for further recriminations, there was no movement from the Palestinian side. In response, Netanyahu refused an extension unless the Palestinian Authority recognized Israel as a Jewish state. Needless to say, that didn't happen; Abbas was categorically dismissive and continued to refuse negotiations unless Israel extended the freeze. A classic game of ring around the rosy, in which Netanyahu was widely condemned by European nations, but most disturbingly by the man with whom he had begun this endeavor in mind: the president of the United States.
According to the Telegraph and other published reports, on March 25, 2010, Netanyahu was left to stew in the White House after the president abruptly walked out of tense talks and instead had dinner with his wife and daughters. A far cry from the treatment Netanyahu had received during the prior two days, where he was warmly greeted by members of the Congress and was given a standing ovation by the powerful lobby group AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee.
Why was the president so angry? You guessed it: the settlement issue. Forget dinner -- Obama presented Netanyahu with a list of thirteen demands designed to end the feud with the administration and to build Palestinian confidence ahead of the resumption of peace talks. Amongst the demands was a call to end all settlement construction in East Jerusalem, the Israeli capital. To most in the Israeli advocacy community, including this writer, the perception of a role change in American/Israel diplomacy was further accentuated and unmistakable. The president was no longer an impartial mediator, but rather had become a principal in the dispute.
Fast-forward to the July 27, 2012 press conference at the White House, and this change in policy became even more evident. Spokesman Jay Carney was asked by a female reporter what the capital of Israel was. Taken aback, Carney was at a momentary loss for words, then sheepishly replied: "I haven't gotten that question in a while." Catching his composure, he continued, "Our position has not changed." Not letting go, another reporter asked, "Is it Tel Aviv or Jerusalem?" Now flushed and obviously embarrassed, the press secretary could only sophomorically reply, "You know our position." The reporters may have, but Carney sure didn't.
Except to the willfully blind, the president's facade of impartial broker in the Palestinian/Israeli dispute could no longer be hidden following the release of the 2012 Democratic party platform on Monday, September 3. As stated in a September 4, 2012 article by ABC news reporter Chris Good, "Democrats Shift Language on Israel, Remove 'God-Given' from Platform." Gone was the previous reference: "Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths."
Gone also from the platform was the previous reference to Hamas: "The United States and its Quartet partners should continue to isolate Hamas until it renounces terrorism, recognizes Israel's right to exist, and abides by past agreements."
As they've done from day one, the White House went into complete obfuscation mode. "The Obama Administration has followed the same policy towards Jerusalem that previous U.S. Administrations of both parties have done since 1967," a DNC spokeswoman said of the change in platform language. "As the White House said several months ago, the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- which we also said in the 2008 platform. We will continue to work with the parties to resolve this issue as part of a two state solution that secures the future of Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people." As he's done throughout his four years, the president and his handlers were asking you to believe what he says, not what he's done.
In dread fear of alienating a substantial portion of his base amongst Jewish voters, the references to Jerusalem and "God" were restored to the platform on September 5, 2012. Embarrassingly, it was done by three voice votes, a process which many in attendance feel was ramrodded through.
Chances are that Obama had nothing to fear. A large segment of the Jewish population either couldn't care less or does indeed have short-term memory loss regarding his dealings with Israel. They're so intertwined with the Democratic Party that the aforementioned slights and diplomatic space created between the United States and Israel by this president will not affect their allegiance to him. Nothing short of capital crime will.
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