Obama Shows He Can be Tough
There is at least one exception to President Obama's "No Drama Obama" persona. When it comes to Israel, he can be sincerely nasty. Last week, Obama blind-sided Netanyahu for the second time in three years. The first occurred three years ago, when Obama announced the United States' support for the 1967 lines as the basis for negotiations, as Netanyahu was en route to the U.S. to meet with the President and address Congress.
And last week, on the eve of Netanyahu's departure for the U.S. again to the meet the President and address AIPAC, Obama pulled the same stunt in the form of an interview with Bloomberg's Jeffrey Goldberg. He warned that the United States would be increasingly unable to prevent Israel's international isolation – a prediction that Goldberg rightly characterized as a "thinly veiled threat" – as in "nice little Jewish state you've got here, I'd hate to see something happen to it." He accused Netanyahu of having pursued an aggressive settlement policy. And for good measure, he completely absolved Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of any responsibility for the stalemate in negotiations and characterized the Palestinian people as "ready for peace."
The fact that Obama's remarks were not accompanied by any of the false bravado he employs when he has no intention of following up – no talk of "red lines," no claims that "I don't bluff" – made his implicit threat more menacing.
Compare the President's initial response to the Russian invasion and takeover of Crimea, "You [Putin] are so 19th century." (That no doubt amused Putin, who would rather be the return of 18th century Catherine the Great.) The greater urgency of the warning to Israel prompted Victor Davis Hanson to quip that the President would do far better if he imagined "Russia is 'Israel' and Putin is 'Netanyahu,'" and vice versa.
Plainly President Obama is not, as veteran peace processor Aaron David Miller already noted in 2010, someone "in love with the idea of Israel." Goldberg made the same point describing Obama as no longer forced by political considerations to feign a love of Israel that he does not possess.
EACH OF THE PRESIDENT'S MAIN POINTS to Goldberg was patently untrue. With respect to Israeli settlement activity, he made no mention of Israel's ten-month freeze in Obama's first term, which failed to even lure Abbas to the bargaining table. And, as Evelyn Gordon documented, fewer building permits have been issued in Judaea and Samaria per annum in Netanyahu's second term in office than under his predecessors, Olmert, Sharon, and Barak, each of whom was hailed as a peacemaker.
Obama's claim that the United States will not be able to stave off Israel's international isolation is balderdash. Nothing has diminished American capacity to do so, just the will. There have been no dramatic new developments in Palestinian-Israeli relations, apart from the doomed peace initiative Secretary of State Kerry launched as soon as he was confirmed.
That initiative has something of the obsessive about it. The very week that casualties in Syria passed the 100,000 mark and Egypt, by far the most populous and best armed Arab country, was undergoing its second revolution in two years, Kerry was busy shuttling back and forth between the Palestinians and Israel, as if he were Henry Kissinger at the end of the Yom Kippur War.
Whatever superficial plausibility the claim that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict lies at the heart of the Mideast's chronic instability might have once enjoyed – never very great – has been demolished by events of the last two years. Upheavals having nothing remotely to do with Israel -- though they certainly have consequences for Israel – have taken place throughout the Middle East, including in Libya, Syria, and Egypt. Israel has nothing to do with the chronic backwardness of the Muslim world, its high rates of illiteracy, the inability of regimes to feed their people, or the second-class status of women throughout the Arab world. Nor did it have anything to do with the seven year war between Iraq and Iran.
President Obama's characterization of Abbas as the best peace partner that Israel can ever hope for is similarly fanciful. He cannot point to a single concession that Abbas has made to provide momentum to the negotiations. For the Palestinians, just showing up is always enough of a concession. Israel, meanwhile, agreed to the release of 100 murderers of Israeli citizens to jumpstart negotiations.
While Prime Minister Netanyahu has reportedly agreed to Secretary of State Kerry's framework for further negotiations, Abbas has proclaimed from every hill and mountain top that he does not. In particular, he has made clear that he will never agree to recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and that he has no authority to concede the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees.
Just as Yasir Arafat walked away from the offer of a Palestinian state at Camp David in 2000 without even making a counter proposal, so Abbas walked away from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's even more generous offer in 2008, and for the same reason Arafat offered – he had no desire to be assassinated by his own people. Under Islamic law, it is forbidden to ever acquiesce in infidel possession of lands once ruled by Moslems. That is why Abbas can never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, but it is also why there can never be, in current circumstances, a final agreement ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Nor would an agreement signed by an autocratic leader like Abbas, totally lacking in any democratic mandate, be worth much. Contrary to Obama's assertion, every Palestinian poll shows that a majority oppose a two-state solution – and all the more so one that would allow Israel to defend itself against Judaea and Samaria becoming another failed terrorist state, like the Gaza Strip, and would allow the retention by Israel of the major settlement blocks, as promised by President George W. Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2004.
The Palestinians, President Obama told Goldberg, "still prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job, send their kids to school, travel overseas . . . without feeling as if they are restricted or constrained as a people." If he is so concerned about the freedom of the Palestinian people, let him compare the quality of democratic rights – freedom of speech, the press, and association (e.g., civil society organizations) – under Israeli rule prior to 1993 and under Arafat and Abbas since. A free press with nearly forty independent papers flourished under Israeli rule. One of Arafat's first acts as head of the Palestinian Authority was to place the entire media under PA control.
"Iraqi-American intellectual Kanan Makiya took a real hit to his reputation among Arab and Western leftists when he argued that Arab intellectuals had done an enormous disservice to Arabs by highlighting the Palestinian cause above democracy and human rights in Arab states," writes Reuel Marc Gerecht in his excellent recent essay "The Baleful Peace Process" (Weekly Standard, March 17 2014). President Obama follows the lead of those Arab intellectuals.
PRESIDENT OBAMA'S LATEST AMBUSH of Prime Minister Netanyahu is of a piece with other recent acts of hostility to Israel, both big and small. The percentage of tourist visa requests denied Israelis in 2013 was 9.7% compared to just 2.5% in 2007, the last year of the Bush presidency, and hundreds of requests for visas from members of the Israeli security forces, many of whom have been regular visitors to the United States over a period of years, have been denied. (Meanwhile, the State Department announced this week that it will consider waivers on a case-by-case basis for Syrian refugees who have materially aided terrorist organizations.)
Obama's 2015 fiscal year budget proposal cuts funding for the joint American-Israeli Arrow I, Arrow II and David Slingshot missile defense systems by $200,000,000, or more than two-thirds, and does not renew funding for the Iron Dome missile defense, which just last week shot down five rockets fired at Israel. Given the 80,000 or so missiles in Hezbollah's possession and Iran's ongoing work on missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead on Israel, such missile defense is crucial to Israel's survival.
Just last week, Israel interdicted hundreds of longer range rockets being shipped from Iran to Hamas. White House press secretary Jay Carney, however, pointedly refused to see any relevance of the Israeli capture for ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran or for Israel's missile defense needs.
Those needs are multiplied exponentially now, as it has become clear that the United States will do nothing to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear breakout capacity.
But from the point of view of the misnomered "peace process," nothing comes close to Sunday's statement by State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki that the United States no longer views it as necessary that the Palestinian Authority recognize Israel as a Jewish state "[even] as part of the final agreement." That is an explicit reversal of Secretary of State Kerry's position until now, and shows how far the administration is prepared to accept every Palestinian no in its desperation to proceed. More important, it is an assurance that this administration can never achieve a binding and final peace agreement because it will never require of Abbas or his successor renunciation of the Islamic view of the irrevocable nature of Islamic sovereignty over the entirety of Israel
AS WE HAVE NOTED BEFORE, there is one happy consequence of the open hostility towards Israel of President Obama. As Daniel Pipes points out, under friendly presidents whom Israel trusts to "have its back," Israel has often made dangerous concessions to the Palestinians. That temptation has now been removed.
While Prime Minister Netanyahu would be delighted to find a way to rid Israel of the responsibility of exercising any form of authority over millions of Palestinians, he will not do so at the cost of putting the existence of the state of Israel in peril. And President Obama has given him no cause not to think that is what he would be doing.