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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why Obama's problems with Israel are different

Former peace processor Aaron David Miller tries to explain why President Obama's problems with Israel are more complicated than his predecessors' dealings:
But President Obama's Bibi problem is different in several respects from his predecessors -- a fact that all but guarantees that tensions with the Israelis on this issue are not going to subside anytime soon. The 2012 election has kept them in a box. Indeed, the president's speech at the U.N. General Assembly last month notwithstanding -- more a campaign speech than one that addressed the Israeli-Palestinian issue -- if Obama is re-elected, buckle your seat belts. It's going to be a wild ride with the Israelis.

First, the others -- Kissinger, Carter, Bush 41, and Baker, unlike Obama (so far) -- all succeeded. Their fights with their Israeli counterparts were productive; indeed they all had a strategy -- and sufficient will and commitment on the part of Israelis and Arabs to do serious diplomacy. At the end of the day, despite the tensions, everybody went home a winner. Even Bill Clinton managed to hammer out two agreements with Netanyahu, though neither was completely implemented.

Second, part of the reason these three succeeded was that despite the toughness and the tension, there was a third "T" -- a modicum of trust that allowed each side to work with the other in something other than a zero-sum game environment. They built a mutual stake in the other's success. Former Secretary of State Baker will tell you that he had plenty of struggles with Shamir, but the two worked out a good personal relationship -- no leaks, respecting mutual red lines and so on.

President Obama has yet to do that, and neither has Netanyahu. On the Arab-Israel issue, the president believes Bibi is a con man, and Netanyahu thinks the president wants somebody else as prime minister. The president is almost certainly persuaded that Netanyahu is buying time, playing American politics and hoping that the next president is a Republican who won't be so focused on pressing Israel on the peace process. If the administration could find a way to engineer regime change in Israel, it would.

Indeed, the key folks that deal with the peace process at State and at the White House are veterans of dealing with Netanyahu (Hillary Clinton and Dennis Ross). They have seen the movie before, and they had hoped not to be in the sequel.

Finally, there's the president himself, who clearly believes he knows best how to run the peace process. Obama doesn't just have a Bibi problem, he's got an Israel problem. Obama is not anti-Israel, but unlike his two predecessors -- Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- he's not in love with the idea of Israel.

He falls somewhere north of Jimmy Carter on the pro-Israel spectrum and south of George H.W. Bush. Here the president's coolness and detachment works against him. His early tough rhetoric against settlements and his commitment to fix the peace process whether or not Israel agreed created a pretty rocky foundation for gaining the trust and confidence so critical on the Israeli side, if a president wants them to do politically tough things later.

Yes, Mr. President, Israelis can be frustrating. Just ask Kissinger, Carter and Baker. And this Israeli prime minister may simply not be willing or able to do the deal you want him to do. But if there's any chance of it, you're going to have to find a better way to deal with him, figure out how to stabilize the relationship and find a better balance than pandering to Netanyahu on one hand or trying to punish him on the other.
Miller's missing three points. One is factual: Obama's relations with Israel are well south of Jimmy Carter's relations with Israel while Carter was President. As President, Carter never drew anything near as low as a 4% approval rating among Israeli Jews. Yes, as an ex-President, Carter's antipathy toward Israel is well-known. But Carter kept his true feelings at least somewhat in check until he was no longer President. Obama has not succeeded in doing so. As bad as last week was in Cannes, it could have been a lot worse.

Second, Miller writes that Obama is not anti-Israel, but that he doesn't have the warm feelings for Israel that Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had. That's not how most Israelis see it. Here, Obama is viewed as indifferent to us at best and as downright hateful at worst. It's not just his approach to the 'peace process.' It's the 'engagement' with Iran and Syria, the fact that he opposed sanctions on Iran (a fact that's largely forgotten today - but for Howard Berman pushing the sanctions they might never have passed), the fact that Obama hasn't even visited Israel as President, the fact that he's cozied up more and more to Turkey's Erdogan as Erdogan has become more and more hostile to Israel.... I could go on and on, but you can get the picture and it takes in a lot more than Obama's fumbling the 'peace process.'

Finally, Miller totally ignores the fact that Obama's sympathies lie with Islam and that many of his mentors are Islamists and anti-Semites. No, he's not a Muslim. But as Barry Rubin has explained (both in articles and in private emails between us), Obama has warm feelings for Islam generally as a result of his childhood in Indonesia. But Islam in Indonesia is not the same as Islam in the Arab world. And Islam in the 2010's is much more expansionist and - if it's possible - more hostile to Israel and Jews than it was in the 1960's (yes, it was anti-Israel in the 1960's, but they did not have quite the same confident swagger to attack Israel on so many fronts).

Obama's close mentors include former 'Palestinian' terrorist Rashid Khalidi, Khalidi's mentor Edward Said, and Obama's anti-Semitic preacher Jeremiah Wright. Obama sat in Wright's church for more than 20 years absorbing Sunday after Sunday of anti-Semitic diatribes. There is no way that none of it rubbed off.

There is no way that Obama will bring peace to this region. No one here trusts him and no one here is going to trust him regardless of how much he claims that he's pushing military cooperation and no matter what he does on Iran.

But Miller is correct about one thing: If God forbid Obama is reelected, it's going to be a wild ride.

Read the whole thing.

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At 12:22 AM, Blogger Sunlight said...

Well, I'd say the difference is that most of the administrations, especially the Bush people, made friends in the region related to the oil market. President Obama's alliances are more related to al Shabaab and the Muslim Bros. These people are fighters re philosophy, not oil. You might be able to hold sway with the oil people, but not the jihadis. (I still want to know if the Libya rebels are al Shabaab.)

At 12:54 AM, Blogger BH in Iowa said...

As long as Obama is focused on regime change in Israel and not Iran, his anti-Israel credentials are secure. It is clear where his sympathies lie.


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