Saturday, May 8, 2010
That One Little thing......
I totally admit it, I was swept up in Obama fervor. I was a Hillary supporter but when Obama started to pull ahead in the primaries I was taken in by his charm, his great communication skills, his accomplishments and the idea that change was possible. Like many liberally minded Americans, I was disgusted by what had become of America in the Bush years. I readily admitted that Bush had probably faced the worst challenges in his first term as President since FDR. Unlike FDR he did not take those proverbial lemons and make lemonade, instead he made sour milk. US standing in the world in shambles, anti-American sentiment on the streets, the economy crumbling and promises of more of the same with McCain and it was very easy for me to pitch my tent in Obama's camp. OK, I know this was kind of a fluff review, but you get the idea.
One of my favorite Obama campaign spots was from something called The Great Schlep which was a very funny ad targeted at Jews to vote for Obama in Florida. You can see the spot here.
Like in this ad, the one thing that bothered me about Obama was his stance on Israel in that it was hard to tell whether or not he would support the special relationship between Israel and the United States. His name scared me off and his stance on Israel seemed unclear but as a liberal and a candidate of fighting for what is just and right, I shrugged off my lingering doubts and supported him full steam ahead. Actually I was not so excited for the American future since the Clinton era. So, like many Hillary supporters I gave my vote to Obama.
So, he's elected in a sweeping victory and the first year I think he has done fairly well and is obviously not afraid to tackle tough domestic issues like health care. Yes! Economic stimulus package; Yes! Closing Guantanamo Bay; Yes! Health care reform. Despite the blogosphere and Fox news going nuts, I was feeling good about my choice.
Now after nearly a year and a half in office that one little thing is starting to chirp and make noise and it's getting louder. Obama's policies toward Israel are coming at me like a prophecy and as much as I am trying to take a balanced view and not go off the deep end, because I want to love this guy. I want this guy to be the best thing since FDR and sliced bread but it's getting harder and harder.
Obama spent most of the first year of his Presidency focused on domestic issues, which no matter if you agree with him on his policies or not was the right thing to do. The economy was in shambles, and although the President cannot control this directly I do think he took good measures. Then he decided to tackle health care. I have a lot of friends and readers of my blog who are against Obama's health care policies and I am not going to discuss that here.
Meanwhile in the Israeli press, AIPAC, Jewish groups the world over started noticing that the Obama administration was not really backing up its campaign promises toward Israel and not really doing much to get direct negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis started again. This started to become more of an issue in the press as time went on. Hillary Clinton had been to the region a few times but nothing concrete or substantial came out of those visits. President Clinton had been a huge friend to Israel and tried throughout his two terms in office to hammer out a final agreement, but ultimately those talks failed when Yasser Arafat rejected a 1997 proposal by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to declare a Palestinian State (leaving the issues of refugees and the final status of Jerusalem (the two openly most contentious issues)) open for a 2-3 year period and then to be finally negotiated. When Obama asked Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State I thought, okay, I am not sure about Obama's stance on Israel but Hillary is definitely pro-Israel, therefore the peace process is in good hands. So, I put aside my misgivings. Still not much happened in Obama's first year and while the press and Jewish groups were railing about it I was not overly concerned, feeling rightly that Obama needed to focus on the home front.
I am a firm believer that the US is needed for real progress to be made toward a final agreement The US needs to be involved in talks and sponsor them in order for the parties to get to the table and actually start talking. Every bit of progress which has been made has followed this formula and it is necessary. It requires the actions and involvement of the President and not just the Secretary of State and Special Envoys. Israel and the US have shared a special relationship among nations and the US is probably the only nation that has stood behind Israel in it's 60 some odd years of statehood. I truly believe that the US is the only nation which truly believes in Israel's right to exist. Other countries are either neutral or tolerant. Even the EU which openly supports Israel's right to exist policy wise, still they quickly condemn Israel when it suits them. I am not an authority on this, but many Europeans I have come in contact with are anti-Israel, they voice that they are Pro-Palestinian, but they see Israel as the aggressor always and believe that what is primary is that the "Occupation" ends and Israel's need for security is secondary. I sometimes wonder if being Pro-Palestinian is now a politically acceptable form of being anti-semitic. OK, not going to descend into that, maybe a post for another time.
Let me be clear in saying that I am absolutely for a Palestinian State. I have lived in Israel and belong to the political party Meretz, which is a little left of my own politics but is the party in Israel that appealed to me the most on many issues. The Palestinians deserve their own state. They have a justifiable claim to the land and have the right to control their own destinies. Although the giving up of land in exchange for peace is never easy for Israel, still it is a necessary step and one which needs to happen. Israel grieved when they had to pull out of Sinai to make peace with Egypt and will grieve one day when they need to pull out of the West Bank too in order to give the Palestinians their state.Difficult for Israel, but without a doubt, absolutely necessary.
Still, all this giving up of land must require something on the Palestinian side When Israel pulled out of Sinai in order to make peace with Egypt, Egypt agreed not to attack and to maintain a peaceful border with Israel. In 33 years there has never been one incident. That is not to say that the Israelis and Egyptians share a great love for one another, they have a difficult history and have been enemies in war, killing one another for many decades. This leaves it's marks. Like a surgical scar, which will stop hurting, the redness will go away, it will fade somewhat Still when you see it or touch it, you remember the pain you were in. This is how it is with Israel and Egypt. Many Israelis love to vacation in Sinai, with it's unspoiled beaches, cheap Bedouin way of life and gorgeous reefs of the Red Sea. Every time I crossed into Sinai from Israel, there was no great love for me at the border, but still in 33 years there has not been a single incident between Israel and Egypt. One of my Israeli friends once said to me on the topic "it is not love, but it is peace."
Israel will not accept less from the Palestinians (and in my mind shouldn't). If they can guarantee peace to Israel, Israel will withdraw, although not without some protests of the religious right (who by the way include an overwhelming amount of American Jews, many of whom were not raised as religious but became religious and in many cases fundamentalist). It will sting, but Israel would suck it up. But Israel needs assurances from the Palestinans that if Israel leaves the West Bank that Gaza will stop shooting rockets into southern Israel and that terrorists will stop taping explosives to their vests, hop a ride into Israel and blow up innocent people while they sit on the street and have cappucinos. This means also that the Palestinians need to seek out and punish terrorist cells in it's midst and publicly condemn terrorism against Israel. Not an easy order for them with Hamas at the helm and a population who for decades is feeling oppressed by the Occupation of the enemy that they feel stole their land. I am simplfying things for the sake of argument, but to me, that is the actual crux of what needs to happen. You may disagree, but hell, it is my blog. You want to argue, get your own blog.
I totally agree in the land for peace formula but I do find it interesting that most of the world sees Israel as illegally occupying this land. Although to be honest, this was land which was won in war and which land Israel did not invade (actually it was Israel that was invaded). I try to not let my mind descend into this but I sometimes wonder if the West Bank was Texas if the world would be screaming about illegally occupied land. After all Texas was won and annexed to the US after the Mexican American war. If this were not about Israel, the Jewish state would the world be screaming and is this yet again anti-semitism rearing it's head?
What Obama is doing now that he has chosen to finally do something is not anywhere in the neighborhood of achieving what needs to be achieved. He is trying to get the Palestinians to the table by giving them lots of assurances on Israel's back. He has guaranteed them a state within two years, although after those articles appeared Obama started pulling back on this and now is reiterating (probably after pressure from Jewish groups and negative press) his support for Israeli security. He has also supported making the middle east a nuclear free zone, all the while refusing to impose sanctions on Iran and now without saying it head on, threatening to put pressure on Israel's own nuclear program, which let's face it is the primary reason why Israel has not been attacked by its neighbors. He is even making promises to the Palestinians that the US will negotiate a settlement on their behalf. Of course the Palestinians would be hugely in favor of that, because they would not even be required to sit at the table and would not have to concede to anything. A total Palestian win-win.
I hate to say it or even think it, but Obama may just end up being the best friend of the Palestinians.
Now I am not going to argue the validity or invalidity of any of these actions on the part of the Obama administration, but it does seem to my way of thinking that Obama is expecting to pressure the Israelis while requiring the Palestinians to do next to nothing to achieve their state. I hate to tell him that is not going to work. The majority of Israelis want peace and are in favor of creating a Palestinian state and are even willing to make some hard sacrifices in order to do it. What Israel is not going to do is roll over and play dead while the Palestinians have to offer no assurances while at the same time Obama Israel under his thumb. Israel needs the US and the special relationship they have without a doubt, but they never have and never will sacrifice their own security interests for that. I think that is a lesson Obama has yet to learn. A blog which I follow pretty regularly and who has a great article on this is called Obama: Waging War Against Israel on all Fronts. Now I don't always agree with this guy on everything but his articles are always interesting and thought provoking.
I do think Obama's current method is to try and do anything to get the Palestinians to the table and he is making grand gestures and assurances without considering Israel's needs in this. I do believe this will backfire. Not only will he not achieve anything substantial in the way of peace talks but eventually he will lose the trust of the Palestinians after he shows them his promises are empty. I am of course most curious why he is choosing to handle things this way. Is it his inexperience in foreign affairs? Maybe he is approaching this academically and thinks if he can just get the Palestinians to the table, he can deal with the rest and then allay the fears of Israel. Does he really think that Israel will just lay down and make peace at any price? I find it hard to believe that someone as intelligent as he is could not understand this. Or is it because accomodating the Palestinians and pressuring the Israelis might be a way to help him realize his own interests. If he gets the Israelis to lay down, he might get somewhere with Iran. If he gets them to roll over and play dead, he might be able to help things in Iraq and Afghanistan and put American soldiers at less risk. There is a school of thought out there that Al Qaeda and its brothers in arms target America because (at least in part) of its support of Israel and if Obama turns into the BFF of the Palestinians, this might help in the war against terror. I am not even going to get started on how the rest of the Arab world treats the Palestinians like the poor stepsister of the Arab World. I think they honestly do not care about the Palestinian situation except that it helps them to keep Israel as an enemy because what is at the heart of this, is not land or peace, but good old fashioned hatred.
If Obama's logic is really to put the pressure on Israel which will in some twisted logic serve American interests by making America less of a target of Islamic fundamentalists, thereby lessening the threat of terrorists against America or American interests, then I think this is the most scary logic of all because it pits American interests against Israeli interests. Israel cannot make peace without American support and brokerage. If American interests are to ultimately force Israel to accept peace at any price, then Israel cannot afford to pay the tab.
I really hope with everything that I am that Obama is showing his inexperience because I really want to love this guy. As time goes on though I wonder what is ultimately behind Obama's policies in the middle east. Please let it be naivete. I hope so, because naivete I can excuse, viewing the situation simply I can also excuse. Is it policy or was that nagging feeling that I, and many Obama supporting Jews have wondered about these last couple of years and have tried to bury as paranoia. Is it policy or anti-semitism disguised as policy. What I hate the most about that thought is not the anti-semitism part, but the part of Obama that turns me into one of those paranoid Jews who sees anti-semitism around every corner. I don't think I will be able to excuse that.
Does anyone else need a drink?