By James Gundun – Washington D.C.
The display shouldn’t be so shocking. President Barack Obama was a professor before a politician, and that scholarly charm and cool helped get him elected. As if explaining a basic science problem – what goes up must come down, and vice versa – Obama calmly dismissed the suggestion that US-Israeli relations have reached a crisis.
"We and the Israeli people have a special bond that’s not going to go away, but friends are going to disagree sometimes. There is a disagreement in terms of how we can move this peace process forward."
Say what they wish, but Israel and America are in a crisis. A crisis isn’t world ending, it’s a time of trial when an important decision must be made. The present qualifies, but let’s issue Obama a temporary pass since he has larger problems at hand. Suppose US-Israeli relations aren’t in a crisis.
Obama has still created a crisis in the Middle East, one that stems partly from a crisis within himself.
Though he spoke of being a statesman and took the stage like one, Obama’s behavior that has been anything except statesmanlike in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A professorial nature has done him little good, hatching theories that exploded during testing. Meanwhile his detached demeanor has spawned an unhealthy mass of people questioning his control over US-Israeli policy.
Now his inner pitchman is failing him. Obama finally ended his silence and entered the dispute between America and Israel, but with a whimper. The stage had been cleared, the media ready to project him to six continents, and he chose to defend America’s bond to Israel’s security again, treating the Palestinians as a formality.
"I specifically sent Vice President Biden to Israel to send a message of support and reassurance about my belief that Israel’s security is sacrosanct and that we have a host of shared interests,” he said.
“The actions that were taken by the interior minister in Israel weren’t helpful to [the peace] process. Prime Minister Netanyahu acknowledged as much and apologized for it… What we need right now is both sides to recognize that it is in their interests to move this peace process forward."
Obama’s target audience remains Israel, US congress, and Israeli lobbyists, but if Israel may not even buy his rhetoric why would the Palestinians, Arab states, the Muslim world, and a growing portion of the international community?
Just recently King Abdullah of Jordan told Lady Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, "Jerusalem is a red line and the world should not be silent about Israel’s attempts to get rid of Jerusalem’s Arab residents, Muslims or Christians.” The Saudi King lurks behind him.
The world outside of Israel doesn’t want to hear about Israel’s security ad nauseam, doesn’t need to. Obama ended up saving the worst for last, wasting his position and the world’s time with a message that hasn’t just been repeated, but at several points copied nearly word for word – as if America and Israel are following the same script.
Vice President Joe Biden, while blunting his previous criticism of Israel’s approval of 1,600 units in East Jerusalem, spoke many similar phrases. Obama says he sent him so it’s natural for them to say the same things at first. But, like the Gaza war, Obama’s silence quickly grew to a deafening pitch as various White House officials deployed to shield him, scold Israel, and still keep the bond intact. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came after Biden, followed by David Axelrod, then Clinton again, who publicly started the climb down.
"Oh, I don’t buy that," Clinton told reporters Tuesday at the State Department, responding to whether US-Israeli relations are in a crisis. "We have an absolute commitment to Israel’s security. We have a close, unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American and Israeli people."
One must wonder why Clinton made these statements if Obama was planning to say the same a day later. Such a message loses impact when repeatedly endlessly, but Obama’s words are downright eerie compared to a New York Times op-ed by Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to America. Oren’s article is dated March 17th, the same day Obama gave his interview with Fox News.
Its title: “For Israel and America, a Disagreement, Not a Crisis.” Its first sentence: “Israel and America enjoy a deep and multi-layered friendship, but even the closest allies can sometimes disagree.”
There’s a good chance that Oren wrote his article before Obama’s interview. The op-ed came out the night of the interview so parts of it had to be written beforehand, and it gives no indication of being a response to Obama. Oren doesn’t mention the interview at all, relying on Biden’s security promise for his conclusion.
Thus if you wanted to hear Obama’s thoughts you just had to read Oren’s!
With his theories and persuasion failing him, Obama is running out of options and colliding with other elements in the US political system. Certainly he’s no military mind, notoriously weak on foreign policy experience and dominated by rings of military officials. Afghanistan was calculated on the 2012 election and apparently detached from Israel and Palestine. By now General David Petraeus’s warning that US policy with Israel is negatively affecting the Middle East has spread far and wide.
Petraeus believed that Israel hadn’t gotten the message yet and so lit a fire under the White House, hoping it too would learn a lesson.
The last two weeks suggest both were lost during transmission. Headlines around the world read, “Obama: No crisis in Israel-US ties.” Those fortunate enough to observe the Jerusalem Post’s front page could watch the chaos visually manifest as it broke. A picture of Obama, on the left, rests above that very headline. On the right a picture of Petraeus, below him, “Arab-Israeli conflict hurts US.”
The Telegraph reported, “Mr. Obama himself is said to have grown increasingly convinced that further paralysis in the Middle East peace process could risk the lives of US soldiers overseas,” but his actions bear no indication of that belief.
With his other avenues sealing shut Obama has reverted to his politician ways. Whether good or bad for the Israeli government, the White House is reportedly trying to manipulate the Knesset’s makeup. According to the Atlantic Monthly’s Jeremy Goldberg, the White House has decided that the peace process is impossible with Netanyahu’s current right-wing coalition and is trying to reinstall Kadima.
Many Israelis are also fed up with their government, but US meddling won’t be a popular solution. Unfortunately Obama’s inner politician guided him to his present troubles and secretive politics are likely to dig America’s hole deeper. Netanyahu is too savvy for Obama, most Israeli politicians are.
According to Tariq Alhomayed, editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, “the White House believed that Netanyahu’s government was too weak to stand up to Washington’s pressure, but the surprise – according to my source – is that it was Obama who weakened. The source added that the smartest thing that Netanyahu did was to play the waiting game while domestic problems weakened Obama.”
“In addition to this, a source familiar with Washington told me that the reason for his surprise was that he received this rebuke from Hillary Clinton, rather than Obama. This is surprising because Hillary Clinton is much appreciated in Israel right now, in contrast to Obama. The Israeli dislike of Obama is no secret, and there was great expectation during the first meeting between Obama and Netanyahu at the White House in May 2009. My sources told me that following this meeting Netanyahu believed that he could circumvent Obama through the use of Israel’s friends in the Senate.”
So the situation stands. Until Obama fulfills his personal goal of becoming a statesman, one who makes hard decisions and sacrifices, the White House is unlikely to established any sort of control on Netanyahu. The peace process as the world knows it won’t be moving far forward until America reanalyzes the absoluteness of its relationship with Israel and adopts an iron stand on Palestine.
It’s not like Kadima will divide Jerusalem either.
King Abdullah was only a part of Lady Ashton’s itinerary; the EU’s High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy had also met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. According to senior negotiation Saeb Erekat, Abbas gave her a letter demanding the EU intervene and pressure Israel into a full settlement freeze, West Bank and Jerusalem. Erekat reaffirmed that any negotiations, indirect or face to face, are impossible unless Israel reverses its last settlement approval and halts all construction.
Israel has given every sign of continuing construction, and by the look of it, military action in Gaza isn’t far off.
“It is time for tough decisions in the Security Council and in Europe,” someone once said. “It is time for a new Churchill policy, not a Chamberlain policy – and that is our expectation.”
These are the words of another of Ashton’s audience. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told her a lot of things, but none so true as his demand for real statesmanship in the Middle East.
– James Gundun is a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst based in Washington D.C. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him in The Trench, a realist newsletter, at www.hadalzone.blogspot.com.