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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Obama please don't come here

Although we disagree on the 'settlements,' Shmuel Rosner has reached the same conclusion that I have about a potential Obama trip to Israel: It serves no useful purpose.
Both Benn and Burston seem to believe that Israelis disapprove of Obama because they don't understand what he wants--simply because he has failed to explain it to them. It's unsurprising that columnists friendly to the ideas of the Israeli center-left would suggest that Israelis are actually in line with Obama's agenda. But there's an easier way of interpreting Israelis' uneasiness with Obama: They do understand him, and do not agree with him. If that's the case, more Obama-talk will not make a big difference. It is very common to blame "communication" when things go badly between two parties. However, there are many things that no improvement of communication will remedy.


Yes, Israelis might appreciate the honor of having the U.S. president talking directly to them. (As Benn writes, "In the 16 rosy years of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, Israelis became spoiled by unfettered presidential attention.") But what exactly is he going to tell them? That peace is good for all and that he wants to advance peace? They know. That Palestinians suffer? They know. That he cares deeply for Israel's security? They know he says that, and would like to believe it, but the real game-changer will require proof, not words. Clinton and Bush didn't just say "We care for Israel" and instantly become darlings of the Israeli public. They showed they care--mostly by getting along well with the Israeli governments of Rabin and Sharon respectively. The Obama administration has done little to curry Israeli trust with their churlish attitude toward Netanyahu. In this sense, I agree with Benn and Burston: Regardless of the inevitable vapidity of an Obama speech directed at Israelis, the act of making the trip to Israel would be at least be a "deed"--a demonstration of good will on his part.

But words alone will not make Israelis trust Obama. Israelis do not suffer from lack of understanding of the issues; they suffer from peace-fatigue. They look at "peace processes" with suspicion, based on experience and events. They are scarred enough to know what has working and what has not, and they are tired of the good intentions of enthusiastic novices, believing that with their youth and their smarts they'll be able to come up with some magic trick that can somehow round a square. What Obama needs is a convincing plan that makes sense. It does not look like he has one.
Unfortunately, it seems that Obama will be coming here in the not-too-distant future anyway.
If you believe Obama's policy is the right one, as I do, the latest public opinion surveys from Israel are disappointing--but not insurmountable. Obama needs to explain his policy to the Israeli public. He also needs some front-end concessions from the Arab states who will benefit from a Middle East peace deal, starting with Saudi Arabia. Given the recent events in Iran, the election results in Lebanon, Syria's renewed cooperation and a softer tone from Hamas (and the cessation of missiles fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians), this is a promising moment. But progress will only be made if Israelis understand that a settlement freeze (and, ultimately, a retrenchment) and the peace process that follows are in their long-term best interests. The President needs to address that, especially since Benjamin Netanyahu won't.

Update: I'm told that Obama is already planning to make this sort of effort--Israeli television interviews etc.--in the coming weeks.
Well, here's hoping that he doesn't come and that Israel's television stations either decline the opportunity to interview him or ask harder questions than the fawning American media ask him.

But if he does come, I hope it's for as short a time as possible, not on a Friday and while the weather is still good. I'd hate to have to blog for three days straight from the middle of a street in a cold rain.


At 2:39 PM, Blogger Steven said...

..."Softer tone from Hamas"... LOL

At 2:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, Barack!

At 6:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so, you hate him for not going to israel

you hate him for going to israel

instead of wasting time writing entire columns about obama, you can just write


we will all get the picture

At 7:43 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

And if he did come - what would he have to offer Israel? America hasn't even tried to puncture the unyielding Arab hostility and rejection of Israel. Israel wants peace - but there's a difference between a want and a need. As long as the Arabs reject it, Israel will be able to survive. There is nothing so bad the status quo today needs to be changed. And Obumbler doesn't get it.

At 7:52 PM, Blogger Kae Gregory said...

Any chance of you keeping him there? Biden would be a gas as President and, as we all have been repeated told, there is just nothing funny about Obama. Besides, Barack Hussein Obama, that's a name that belongs in the that area of the world - a little further east perhaps - but the general area. And no, I don't hate Obama, but I would love to see him anywhere else but here.


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