Sunday, April 4, 2010

"Something Must Be Done": Obama's Pique and Israel's Humiliation

BlueTruth presents another post by our friend Lawrence White.

Quote of the Day; Can anyone make a serious argument that
obtaining a quick peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority
is either possible or a necessity for the United States? No. And the only way
that this claim can be asserted is by systematically censoring out a dozen

Barry Rubin

"Something must be done”. The White House has leaked internal deliberations, in which this expression, describing frustration with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, comes up repeatedly. The State Department and many White House advisers are reiterating that “something must be done”. Everyone nods sagely. Editorials repeat these words in various forms. “The conflict between Israel and its neighbors has gone on for decades. Enough is enough. It is time to do something.”

The Middle East is awash with problems. American soldiers are being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Militant Islamic states like Syria and Iran consider the US to be the great Satan. So-called moderate Arab countries warn Obama that he must force Israel to behave. And our President is listening.

“Something must be done”. The “something” that “must be done” begins with the assumption that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is related to, and in fact is a cause of, all these other problems. Deal effectively with this so-called linkage, and all the other problems will also be solved.

Obama has been speaking to many Arab leaders. Force Israel to do what needs to be done toresolve this, and we will cooperate with you. Our President, many diplomats, and foreign policy gurus buy this. Foreign policy experts like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor and sometime advisor to Obama, believes it. The far left and assorted Israel bashers, many in academic fields or think tanks, have been beating the drums for this concept.

There is only one problem. This assumed linkage flies in the face of all historical evidence. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, none of the supposedly related problems would go away. We would still be in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran would still be a militant theocracy developing nuclear weapons. Syria would still control Lebanon and be prepared to murder anyone who got in the way.Turkey would still be moving in the direction of a fundamentalist Islamic state. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan would still be making mischief. The events of Sept 11, 2001, would still have occurred. (Osama Bin Laden discovered the Israel connection sometime later, correctly calculating that he could get more sympathy that way.)

So does Obama accept this formulation because he believes it? Or for other reasons? Probably both.

Obama has been prosecuting a nasty diplomatic war with Israel for three weeks. In
particular he has focused his ire on Prime Minister Netanyahu. The news has been
leaked that Obama was “livid” in response to a lower level but poorly timed housing announcement in Israel. (This is an odd assertion. He has been our cool President; he has presented himself as Mr. Imperturbable. There is no place for “livid” in this formulation).

So why the war of words, why use the tools of humiliation? There are four related reasons, two of which have been heavily dissected in the media.

1. The most commonly cited reason for the diplomatic war against Netanyahu is to prove to the Arabs that Obama is their friend and can deliver on Israel. This presumably will bring the US closer to the Arab states, and will also lead to a willingness by the Palestinians to enter into negotiations, if not directly with Israel, then with America acting as proxy.

According to this formulation the Arab refusal to negotiate is because Israel is continuing with construction in the occupied territories, including Jerusalem. Obama takes that excuse at face value, and hopes to entice the Arabs to negotiate based on proving that he is even-handed or even tilting toward the Arabs. He will signal that he can force Israel to stop building, thereby proving that the Arabs can trust him.

There are several problems with this. The Palestinians previously negotiated with Israel for years while building was occurring. The refusal to negotiate now is a direct result of Obama setting new conditions for one side only when he demanded a building freeze. Palestinian Authority President Abbas could not do less. Further, our President does not seem to understand that the Arab states and the Palestinian authority have turned down any number of reasonable offers to achieve an independent state and accept peace.

An examination of the record shows that the Arabs will continue to come up with excuses to avoid a peace agreement. (In fact, they do not want any agreement that requires accepting a Jewish state in the area). Further, they realize that they do not need to negotiate as long as the US is doing their dirty work. US pressure on Israel has historically made the Arabs more intransigent, not less.

2. A second speculation being advanced is that Obama and his coterie consider the current Israeli government to be far-right and not representative of Israeli opinion. According to this theory, President Obama initiateda confrontation with Netanyahu in the belief that if he humiliates Netanyahu sufficiently, the fear of losing US support will panic Israel into jettisoning Netanyahu’s government, and replace it with the more agreeable centrist Kadima party headed by Tsipi Livni. At the least, it is hoped that Kadima would come into the coalition and replace the tw o main right-wing parties. Presumably it will then be far easier to force Israel to do the US bidding. Similar thinking has been expressed by J Street and by journalists who are White House favorites.

Again, the reality has been different. Obama’s reckless actions have had the result of unifying Israelis, who trust Obama even less than before. Further the issue of building in Jerusalem is one on which almost all Israelis are in agreement. As Netanyahu put it, Jerusalem is not a settlement, it is the capital of Israel. Israelis, as well as most American Jews, see Obama’s actions not so much as a humiliation of Netanyahu as a humiliation of Israel, as well as a message to all those Americans who support Israel. So if a change in Israeli leadership is Obama’s goal, this action has backfired.

3. The harangue of Israel can be seen as a consolation prize for Obama’s left-wing supporters. Many of Obama’s actions on non-Israel related matters have antagonized his base. Those to his left believe that his health care legislation is too centrist; his failure to include a single payer plan or at the least a public option has been upsetting. . They are also greatly concerned that we are still in Iraq, and that Obama chose to increase our military commitment in Afghanistan.

What better way to solidify his support among these ideologues, most of whom are Israel haters, than to play the role of hostile enforcer toward Israel? Getting tough with Israel has gained him points with his hard core far-left supporters.

4. Finally, there is the personal issue. Jonathan F. Keiler , writing in American Thinker, has pointed out that Obama dislikes Israel and “harbors an affinity for the Muslim/Arab world, to include the so-called Palestinian Arabs”. Our President, who has both a thin skin and a narcissistic streak, believes that he has been defied and insulted by the pesky Israelis, who have been the pernicious source of all the trouble in the area.

Further, when the concessions he expected from the Palestinians in response to Netanyahu’s construction freeze failed to materialize, his anti-Israel supporters convinced him that it was Israel’s fault.

Finally, the degree of hostility and the needless humiliation inflicted by Obama on the Prime Minister of Israel is so out of proportion to anything needed that it indicates more than simply policy differences or a need to placate the Arabs. There is no easy way to say this, but Obama has displayed an innate distaste for the Jewish state. We have seen this play before, and it usually doesn't end well for the Jews.

Obama’s many campaign statements about rock-solid support for Israel are now being repeated with little enthusiasm by his advisers when they speak to the media, and were dutifully recited by Secretary Hillary Clinton in her AIPAC speech. But the bloom is off the rose. These statements not only sound insincere, but appear to be automatic slogans designed to garner Jewish votes and financial support, with no conviction behind them.

Right now, Israel’s supporters have ample reason for anxiety. Obama’s ten demands of Israel, when coupled with the words “This can’t go on this way, something must be done” are strong indicators that he intends to impose a settlement rather than rely on one negotiated between the parties. All the Sturm and Drang may simply be preamble. This is the meaning of J Street’s rhetoric and ">their recent New York Times advertisement. This is also the meaning behind the repeated expression of “something must be done” by various administration insiders. The language of Walt and Mearsheimer, of Jimmy Carter, of the Goldstone report and others, all support imposing a settlement as the next step.

An imposed settlement by Obama will be dressed up in the robes of “tough love”, or “we are rescuing Israel because we know better than they”. The assumption is that the experts,
who have not had to endure daily rocket fire, suicide bombers, and inflammatory rhetoric, somehow have better judgment than the democratically elected leaders of that beleaguered nation.

On the surface, it may sound reasonable. But a forced settlement, with Obama acting as advocate for Arab unlimited demands, is the worst way to deal with the problem, and in fact will solve nothing. Unfortunately, Obama has no understanding that Arab intransigence will never be slaked by leaning on Israel.

There are three main lessons that Obama has yet to learn. First, the Israel-Palestinian problem is not the critical nexus that influences all problems in the Middle East. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, none of the other problems would magically go away. Secondly, there will be no peace between the parties until the Arab states accept the presence of a Jewish state in their midst. Third, Obama needs to understand history and context. He is apparently unaware of the persistent obstructionism of the Arab states, a perverse role that has prevented an autonomous Palestinian state for over 60 years.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, in the 1960s when urban America was exploding, suggested that the most effective way of dealing with the problems might be "benign neglect". Of course, he was pilloried for this. Yet that is the best course in this case, until such time as the Arabs accept the presence of a Jewish state .

"Something must be done". It is time to challenge this notion, and ask the real question. Why?

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