As we saw in the NY-9 special election, President Obama’s approach to Israel is becoming toxic for his own party. Indeed, what is remarkable is the near unanimity among Democrats and Republicans about Obama’s failed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the necessary steps going forward.
The Emergency Committee for Israel is out with a full-page ad in the New York Times, which reads as follows:
Over the past two and a half years, President Obama has built a record that is not pro-Israel. He tells Jews they cannot build in Jerusalem; he has criticized Israel at the UN; he has pressured Israel to apologize to terrorists; he seeks the division of Jerusalem.
Because of these policies, Israel and the Palestinians have never been further from peace. As Israel faces hostility and instability in the Middle East, it is more important than ever that America and our leaders stand with our democratic ally, Israel.
During his 2008 campaign for president, Senator Obama promised to be a staunch and reliable friend of the Jewish State. There is still time for President Obama to keep that promise. Here are five steps that would begin to put his presidency on such a path:
1. When President Obama speaks to the UN General Assembly, he should refrain from criticizing Israel, as he has done in the past. Instead, he can deliver a ringing and unqualified defense of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state, denounce efforts to scapegoat and delegitimize Israel, and reassert the deep and unbreakable U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and wellbeing. And he can act in line with this commitment by announcing the United States’ departure from the appalling, anti-Israel UN Human Rights Council.
2. President Obama can make clear that there will be real consequences for the Palestinian Authority’s plans to unite with Hamas and declare statehood at the UN in defiance of its agreements with Israel and the United States. He can state that doing so will jeopardize U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority.
3. President Obama can revive the pledge he made in 2008 that Jerusalem will never be divided, and he can state that it is the policy of the U.S. government that Jerusalem is and will remain Israel’s undivided capital.
4. President Obama can reaffirm the 2004 Bush-Sharon letter, which endorsed Israel’s need for secure, defensible borders, rejected the so-called Palestinian “right of return,” and acknowledged that Israel should not be expected to withdraw to the pre-1967 armistice lines.
5. President Obama can announce that he plans to visit Israel to reaffirm the U.S.-Israel relationship and to show Israel’s antagonists in the region that his administration stands clearly and proudly with Israel.
ECI chairman and co-founder Bill Kristol tells me: “Our hope is not lost that President Obama will prove to be a friend of the free people of Israel in their land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” Although ECI is a conservative pro-Israel group, I would hazard a guess that very few pro-Israel Democrats would have any problem with those recommendations.
My own view is that while hope should never be lost, it is not realistic to believe that this president will be able to regain the trust of either side in the Middle East conflict. Mahmoud Abbas is out to embarrass him personally at the U.N. Security Council. The Israeli people by a huge majority distrust him and view him as pro-Palestinian. In short, I don’t believe that Israeli-U.S. relations will be mended entirely until there is a new president.
Part of the problem is the administration’s sheer incompetence and self-delusion. In a New York Magazine piece by John Heilemann, administration officials try to spin the public (and maybe themselves) in an effort to justify their ineffective approach to the Middle East. In doing so, however, they reveal themselves to be hopelessly naive and deeply antagonistic toward the Jewish state.
Take this, for example, on Obama’s reaction to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s appearance with Obama before the press following Obama’s Arab Spring speech:
Obama was furious with Netanyahu, who in choosing to ignore the crucial qualifier about land swaps had twisted Obama’s words beyond recognition—the kind of mendacious misinterpretation that makes the presidential mental. The senior most members of Obama’s team felt much the same. Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Bob Gates, Bill Daley, the former Mideast-peace envoy George Mitchell: All were apoplectic with the prime minister, whose behavior over the past two years had already tried their patience. “The collective view here is that he is a small-minded, fairly craven politician,” says an administration source deeply involved in its efforts to push the parties to the negotiating table. “And one who simply isn’t serious about making peace.”
In other words, Obama hates Netanyahu and doesn’t understand why ambushing the Israelis with an inflammatory statement on the “1967 borders” (itself a misnomer intended to put the Israelis on the defensive) would be a problem. This is supposed to make the case that “Barack Obama is the best thing Israel has going for it right now”? In legal parlance it seems like an admission against interest.
Then there is this:
During Obama’s transition, the Israelis and the Palestinians had been at war in Gaza. So Mitchell began traveling in the region, searching for a series of measures that might change the climate sufficiently to get the two sides talking again. What he heard uniformly from the Arab states was that a halt to the construction of Israeli settlements was key. “The idea came from the Palestinians first and the rest of the Arabs second—and I mean all of them,” says Jonathan Prince, a senior State Department aide who worked with Mitchell. “We were told it was the only way to give the Palestinians political cover to get them back to the negotiating table.”
If this is true, it’s horrifying that Obama would have swallowed this pro-Palestinian propaganda hook, line and sinker, and, moreover, adopted it as U.S. policy. Thank goodness they didn’t go to Tehran, or Obama might have concluded the real problem was the mere existence of the Jewish state.
In other cases, the Obama team attempts to minimize (or is clueless about) its errors. The problem with the Cairo speech, they insist, is that Obama didn’t visit Israel on that trip. No. The problem was the speech itself. which regurgitated the Palestinian view that Israel’s existence was justified only by the Holocaust (and not by 3,000 years of Jewish history), analogized the Palestinians to enslaved African Americans and entirely ignored over 60 years of Palestinian rejectionism.
The Obama effort at spin actually makes my point. This is an administration that is deeply hostile to the Jewish state, shockingly incompetent and convinced of its own virtue. I wish I could share Kristol’s hope, but every scrap of evidence convinces me that this president is incapable of substantial improvement. He lacks the historical perspective, the emotional attachment to Israel and the ability to reflect on his own errors. And pro-Israel voters know it.