President Obama almost made it through his trip to Israel without demonstrating the incoherence at the heart of his approach to the region. Almost.
If he now understands and can recite how many times Israel has offered the Palestinians their own state, why was he lecturing Israeli students on the unjustness of the Palestinians lack of statehood?
If he extolled Israeli democracy, why wasn’t he telling Mahmoud Abbas to have free and fair elections?
If he understands that there are to be “two states for two peoples,” why doesn’t he adopt as U.S. policy — as he did with “1967 borders” plus land swaps — the truism that the right of return for Palestinians must be only to the Palestinian state?
If he respects the Israelis’ elected government and its right to make decisions on its own, why go to a university to implore college kids to lobby their government to make peace? And what else could Israel offer that hasn’t been tried already?
The biggest impediment to peace, of course, is that the Palestinian Authority has made a pact with Hamas. Maybe Obama should have mentioned that and the impossibility of a Palestinian state so long as that embrace continues.
The problem with merely changing rhetoric is that exposes the gap between speeches and mindset and between rhetoric and actions.
Nevertheless, friends of Israel will be glad to hear that Obama will leave the fruitless peace processing to Secretary of State John Kerry and not use his own good offices to strong-arm Israel. And Obama has dropped the “illegitimate” modifier to “settlements.”
The most curious part of the trip came at the very end. I have a great deal of sympathy with this sentiment expressed by the New York Sun:
Mr. Obama ended his visit by hornswoggling Prime Minister Netanyahu into apologizing to the Turkish premier, Recep Erdogan, for the deaths on the Motor Vessel Mavi Marmarra. We don’t fault Mr. Netanyahu. . . . But sending the Mavi Marmarra to run Israel’s blockade was one of the most provocative acts any major country has ever countenanced against Israel. The blood of the nine dead is entirely on Turkish hands. It was the Turk who owed the apology. By maneuvering things the other way around Mr. Obama offered an incentive for more trouble that will mar the good feelings he seems so sincerely to want to engender.
Ironically, what a U.N. investigation defended (astonishingly for the United Nations) – Israel’s right of self-defense and right to maintain a blockade– Obama pressured Israel to apologize for to the enablers of the raid.
One can argue that the terms if the apology are muted. It went to pains to reiterate that Israel’s own report found there were missteps (“In light of Israel’s investigation into the incident, which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the prime minister expressed Israel’s apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury”).
One can hope that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got something more than restoration of diplomatic relations (A green light from Obama on Iran? A promise of bunker-buster bombs?) to make it worth his while. But to the outside world this will look like the United States leaning on Israel to apologize for defending itself. That, unfortunately, sends the wrong signal to the PA, Hamas, Turkey and just about everyone in the region. And unless Israel got something very dear in return, it suggests that Obama still views Israel as the party responsible for conflict and violence.