The Israel Test and the America Test
President Obama will have an opportunity during his visit to see some of Israel's pioneering technology. The list (with thanks to Tom Gross) includes energy alternatives; search and rescue technology; a bionic exoskeleton that allows paraplegics to walk; and a "third eye" camera that helps prevent automobile collisions.
If he stayed longer, he could see how Israel has become the world's top water recycler, how Israeli agricultural technology has revolutionized desert agriculture, and how three Israeli universities made the top 100 of the Shanghai Ranking, the worlds most authoritative university ranking system. He could eat the food, dance in the nightclubs, or as he said, put on a "disguise, wear a fake moustache and wander through Tel Aviv and go to a bar..."
The question is not what he will see, but how the president will understand Israel's technological revolution, its culture, and its people. How he will respond to what George Gilder called "The Israel Test."
Gilder posited that one's attitude toward Israel -- positive or negative -- is, in fact, a test of and a reflection of one's self. There are those who see the miracle that is Israel, the accomplishments it has, and the democratic principles it treasures in a region largely devoid of those principles and accomplishments, and say, "Yes, those are great. I want to be associated with people who do those things, I want to learn from them, I want to share with them and have them share with me." There are others who see the same things and say, "Yes, but they stole the land, they raped the people. They didn't build this. Their successes would have been Palestinian successes if Israel hadn't stolen them, they don't deserve what they have and I want to punish them for what they have done."
Admiration on the one side, jealousy and vengefulness on the other.You can pretty much sort the world into "these" and "those."You can also apply the same test elsewhere; for example, to the United States.
Israelis greeted the president with skepticism, but with respect for the country he leads and for the long, close and fruitful relations between Israelis and Americans at many levels.
The Palestinians do not have the same relationship with the United States and its people, and have been broadly clear about their displeasure with the president. On the West Bank, Palestinians have been painting swastikas on billboards with the president's face and promising demonstrations and flag burnings, which the PA announced it would not prevent. On the contrary, the PA Ministry of Detainees and Ex-Detainees (yes, really) provided placards for the protesters. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas announced last week that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, despite the U.S. listing of it as such following the deaths of American citizens at Hamas's hands. Abbas also declared one of his top goals to be the release of 1,000 prisoners in Israeli jails (something probably better negotiated with Israel than the Americans) and a renewed "settlement freeze" (something he wasted when the president last produced one).
Palestinians interviewed before the visit were blunt. Some believe that U.S. support for the Palestinians is tainted and constrained by support for Israel. "I know America is the leading country for freedom and human rights, and I respect Obama because he is a good man," said one woman, "but between America and Israel there is a very strong relationship."
Others were less kind. "We will receive (Obama) with shoes.We want to tell America that we hate you and you have no place here. We don't want to see Obama in Palestine... He does not have anything to offer our people," said one. Another was opposed to the president's visit to Bethlehem, "especially since he has made it clear that he is coming as a pilgrim." One of the protest organizers said the Mr. Obama's objective was to support Israel. "Obama is not welcome in Palestine. He has done nothing for the Palestinians."
That would come as news to Americans, including President Obama.
Despite American reservations about aspects of Palestinian behavior, the U.S. has been committed to an independent Palestinians State since the Oslo Accords. It provides hundreds of millions in aid to the PA and hundreds of millions more to UNRWA for the provision of social services to Palestinians. Despite sequestration and the fact that Abbas disregarded the president's strong request that he not seek "country status" at the UN last November, Secretary of State John Kerry is working assiduously to release nearly $500 million in U.S. aid and generate more from the EU. The U.S. has also trained a Palestinian security force that is the nucleus of a future Palestinian Army. The president engineered a 10-month "settlement freeze," distanced the U.S. government from the Israeli prime minister, declined to speak in the seat of the Israeli Government, and posited the 1967 lines as a future border.
An objective fear of losing the benefits many Palestinians don't seem to recognize as benefits may why Abbas banned reporting from the President's trip to Hebron -- lest Palestinian anti-Americanism be widely viewed in the United States, further reducing already limited American patience.
If Gilder's test tells more about the taker than about Israel, Americans largely pass "the Israel test." Israelis generally return the favor despite occasional political tensions. Palestinian attitudes toward Israel, not surprisingly, fall into Gilder's second group -- those who believe that Israel's objective accomplishments are based on illegitimate foundations. If Palestinian attitudes toward American support say more about them than about the United States, one or the other should consider a policy adjustment.
The only one left to take the test is President Obama.
Shoshana Bryen is Senior Director of The Jewish Policy Center.