Friday, June 05, 2009

More of the Same

As I'm sure you can imagine, there are those who aren't as pleased with Obama's speech in Cairo as we are. One of the critics is Caroline Glick, an Israeli-American journalist and Israeli hard-liner. This is how her column begins:

From an Israeli perspective, Pres. Barack Obama’s speech today in Cairo was deeply disturbing. Both rhetorically and programmatically, Obama’s speech was a renunciation of America’s strategic alliance with Israel.

So at least you know where she's coming from at the outset. Her claim is ridiculous. It's difficult to come to the conclusion that our "strategic alliance" with Israel is at an end when Congress has slated to give Israel $30 billion in military aid over the next ten years. Have you heard any chatter about that promise being revoked? Me neither. And if you'll allow me a moment of realpolitik, what exactly our we getting out of our supposedly "strategic alliance" with Israel? During the Bush administration we sent military aid to Israel and essentially gave them carte blanche to do as they wished with Hamas and Hezbollah. In return, we are blamed as the facilitators of Israeli violence against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, and Islamic terrorists use that support in their propaganda campaigns against us. Perhaps the Israelis think they are safer if they go to war repeatedly against Hamas, but are we?

Glick goes on:

In addition to his morally outrageous characterization of Israel and factually inaccurate account of its foundations, Obama struck out at the Jewish state through the two policies he outlined in his address. His first policy involves coercing Israel into barring all Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria (otherwise known as the West Bank), and Jerusalem.

"Otherwise known"? The "West Bank" is what everyone in the world calls the portion of Earth presently occupied by 2.4 million Palestinians, and the 300,000 Israeli settlers who would like to take that land from them, except the Israelis and some our very own special right-wingers. Calling it otherwise is propaganda, pure and simple.

Lastly, this paragraphs smacks of the short-sightedness that is entirely typical of Israeli hard-liners:

Obama claims that this policy will increase prospects for peace. But this is untrue. As Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas made clear in his Washington Post interview last week, Obama’s trenchant campaign against Jewish construction in these areas has convinced the Palestinians they have no reason to be flexible in their positions towards Israel. Indeed, Obama’s assault on Israeli construction and his unsubstantiated, bigoted claim that the presence of Jews in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem impedes progress towards peace ensures that there will be no agreement whatsoever between Israel and the Palestinians.

After all, why would the Palestinians make a deal with Israel when they know that Obama will blame Israel for the absence of a peace agreement?


The only silver lining for Israelis from the president’s speech in Cairo and his general positions on the Middle East is that Obama has overplayed his hand. Far from bending to his will, a large majority of Israelis perceives Obama as a hostile force and has rallied in support of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu against the administration. This public support gives Netanyahu the maneuver room he needs to take the actions that Israel needs to take to defend against the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran and to assert its national rights and to defend itself against Palestinian terrorists and other Arab and non-Arab anti-Semites who wish it ill.

It's certainly true that Abbas has taken a wait-and-see approach, and that he believes that since Netanyahu will never agree to a real settlement freeze his only course of action is to wait for Netanyahu to be pushed out of office. But the Palestinians will never agree to a comprehensive peace that permits the Israelis to continue the expansion of settlements in the West Bank (and why would they?) and that, coupled with Israeli insistence on at the very least the "natural growth" of settlements is a major sticking point in any peace agreement.  For Glick to call Israeli instransigence as an obstacle to peace an "unsubstantiated, bigoted claim" is especially absurd, since she just referred to an interview with Abbas in which he said quite plainly that there can be no peace with settlement expansion. Only by signaling an end to the past American policy of winking at the Israelis every time a settlement freeze is discussed, can Obama hope to push the peace process forward. So in fact, taking a harder stance on settlement expansion is the only way to move the peace process forward.  

As for her "silver lining"...well, that she may be right about. The Israelis may very well decide to rally around Netanyahu and continue to oppose a settlement freeze or restraint in their military actions against the Palestinians. This is frustrating no doubt, but neither is it an obstacle to peace in the long-run. Doing as Glick desires will result in the continued marginalization of Israel, which in turn will contribute towards a softening of American support for Israel, which in turn will reduce Israeli freedom to act unilaterally with the Palestinians, which in turn will help bring the Israelis to the negotiating table. It would be best for everyone, but most especially the Israelis, to realize this and so make moves towards peace now when they stand to gain a great propaganda victory in doing so. But provided Obama is in office long enough, and provided he continues to deny Israel American approval of the actions they take against the Palestinians, they will eventually come around in one fashion or another.

UPDATE: Another stupid response to the Obama speech:

“I have to admire the residents of Iroquois territory for assuming that they have a right to determine where Jews lives in Jerusalem.”

Thus did Israeli government press director Daniel Seamen caustically dismiss President Obama’s opposition to Israel’s right to “natural growth” of its settlements in Arab East Jerusalem and on the West Bank.

That's from the "you did it so why can't I?" approach to diplomacy. No one was more caustic about American segregation than the Soviets, who under Stalin deported millions of ethnic minorities who were considered a possible threat to the State. And now the Israeli government attempts to hoist the Obama administration on its own petard, I guess for having the audacity to not to give back land to the Mohawks, Senecas and whatnot before criticizing Israeli's activities in the West Bank. Any reader of this blog knows of our Native American affiliations, but that's just ridiculous. But that does prompt me to ask: why the Iriquois? They are hardly the tribe most well-known for having their land stolen, and for forced relocation. Of all tribes the Cherokee are possibly the most cogent example of forced relocation, but even tribes like the Sioux and the Apache should be more well-known examples, given how intertwined they are in the lore of the American west. Are Israeli children learning something different in school from us? Or was that also an unstated reference to the credit the Iriquois are given for inspiring American democracy?


adam said...

Great post. You know, Netanyahu might not be as bad as we think in the sense that a peace deal agreed to by an Israeli hawk will be seen as legitimate ("only Nixon can go to China" and all that). But that of course depends on President Obama convincing him to go along... which is why we need to hope Ahmadinejad loses so they can't pull the "Iran" card anymore.

Xanthippas said...

That's a good point. One has to allow for the possibility that Netanyahu will come around, which would actually make the peace process easier than if someone on the Israeli left was trying to promote it.