Reflecting on Obama's Israel Policy for Yom Kippur
The Jewish New Year has just passed, and the Day of Atonement, where Jews all over the world reflect, is approaching.
Personally, I am remembering my late dad, who was a staunch supporter of Israel. Shortly before the Nazi invasion of Poland, his father sent him, his mother, and his two sisters to Palestine. He became a Zionist during the early forties and joined the Israeli underground forces. After moving to New York to attend Columbia University, he became a gunrunner for Israel during the War of Independence, smuggling guns onto ships heading for Israel. As I think about my father, I know that he would view with distaste President Obama's actions and rhetoric, both of which empowered the Palestinians to call for a state while in the U.N.
Over the years, the Obama administration has bent over backwards appeasing the Palestinians. For example, in June 2009, the president made his speech in Egypt, where he never outright called for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state -- yet said that "Israel must also live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, and work, and develop their society...Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress."
In 2010, a political offensive was launched against Israel after it announced the construction of apartment buildings in Jerusalem: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton berated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a now-infamous phone call; the U.S. joined the Europeans in condemning Israel; David Axelrod called the apartment construction insulting and an affront to the U.S.; and the White House snubbed Prime Minister Netanyahu.
In February 2011, President Obama said nothing after the Palestinian Authority honored Dalal Mughrabi, a known terrorist; yet in March, he urged Israelis and American Jews to engage in self-reflection and "search your souls" about Israel's dedication to peace. Throughout his speeches to a world audience, Obama has never pressured Abbas to have Hamas release Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier. In May 2011, President Obama did not single out the agreement the Palestinian Authority made with the terrorist organization Hamas, but instead referred to it as "raising questions." In that same speech, Obama called for negotiations based on the 1967 lines, which Israel has said are indefensible. Although he made some positive statements about Israel, Obama's recent U.N. speech does not truly back away from this policy, as he stated that "the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May of this year. That basis is clear. It's well-known to all of us here."
For American Thinker I interviewed former Mayor Ed Koch; Elliott Abrams, former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and deputy national security adviser, supervising U.S. policy towards the Middle East; and Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, to get their thoughts on the president's policies on Israel.
Former Mayor Koch has decided to favorably interpret President Obama's U.N. speech and for the time being has chosen not to be an outspoken critic. Prior to the speech, Koch helped orchestrate the election of a Republican in New York's solidly Democratic 9th Congressional District because "I wanted to send a message to President Obama that he should not take the Jewish vote for granted. I thought he was hostile with some of what he was doing vis-à-vis Israel." Currently, Koch believes that the president has changed his ways since "the president's [U.N.] speech was superb and showed a new policy toward Israel. He recognized the narrative that Israel was created, not as a result of the Holocaust, but as a result that Jews have been there for three thousand years. It is clear to me President Obama got the message, and for now I am supportive of him. I am back on the bus."
Can President Obama be trusted? There is another approach to consider: perhaps it is precisely because he is running for reelection that the president wants people to believe he is moving in the right direction. There are statements made in his U.N. speech comparable to those made during the 2008 election. While in campaign mode, the president said in March 2007 that Israel is "our strongest ally in the region" and, in April 2008, that Hamas must "renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist, and abide by past agreements."
Elliott Abrams believes that this administration is not abiding by President Bush's agreements and that the president's words are just "campaign rhetoric. This administration decided early on to distance itself from Israel. It is significant to note that the Obama administration has always taken the position that the 2004 Bush letter to Prime Minister Sharon is not in any way binding on the U.S. They have run away from that letter and from the Bush policy in a number of ways."
Abrams explained that that the key to the Bush policy was not to distance Israel as an ally, which is exactly what the Obama administration has done. He pointed out that the 2004 Bush letter allowed Israel to build settlements "up and in but not out as long as no additional land would be taken and no new settlements would be built; yet the Obama administration in 2009 said there was no such agreement, which is false. I think this administration seems more interested in real estate than peace."
The president always seems to be hedging his words; he has never emphatically said in no uncertain terms to the world that the Arabs must recognize Israel as a state and its right to exist. Abrams noted that the "U.S. should be demanding it all the time, and yet the Palestinians always get a pass on this. The Palestinians are not ready to accept Israel as a neighbor."
Rabbi Hier is concerned about how the rest of the world, the Europeans, the Arabs, and the Palestinians perceive the president's attitude and policies toward Israel, considering that Obama "has, as president, not visited Israel, but has gone everywhere else in the Arab world. America has been tougher on the Israelis than on the Palestinians. Why don't they say that once Abbas got together with Hamas, Israel should not have to negotiate with the two of them? To have a real peace, Abbas must get rid of the terrorist organization Hamas."
Regarding Jerusalem, Abrams and Rabbi Hier agree with candidate Obama's statement in June 2008 that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided." Rabbi Hier compared a divided Jerusalem to Berlin, which proved to be unsuccessful until it became reunited. Abrams takes a stronger approach, calling the 1948 war "the war to smother Israel" that had Jordan occupying the Western Wall. He feels that it is ridiculous for the president to ask Israel to negotiate territory that Israel already controls.
As recently as last week, Hillary Clinton quickly criticized Israel for resuming the building of apartments in Jerusalem, calling the move "counterproductive." Everyone interviewed cannot understand why Jews cannot build apartments, especially since this administration does not deem it necessary to call for Arabs to refrain from building apartments.
My dad would agree with Mayor Koch, who is convinced that "the Palestinian Authority does not want a two-state solution. In fact, they want a single state where they can overwhelm the Jewish State by a force of numbers." However, he would also argue that President Obama's current statements are political in nature. Those supporting Israel should be very wary, considering the president's past reelection rhetoric. Getting reelected would allow President Obama to put undue pressure on Israel, as he has in the past, at best -- and to turn the tide and recognize a Palestinian State at worst.