Do you remember the promises? When Obama took over, the Middle East would come to love the US again. As Obama, famously declared in his 2009 Cairo speech, his election meant a “new beginning” with the Muslim world.
The truth, however, is much uglier:
President Obama’s first journey to Israel as president comes amid earth-shattering change in Middle East, much of it for the worse. The Arab Spring, which once raised hopes of freedom and dignity, has diverged onto the dark path of Islamist authoritarian rule. In Syria, tens of thousands of people have died in a bitter civil war that might have recently seen its first use of chemical weapons. And Iran continues its march toward nuclear weapons capability, heedless of international condemnation. Obama’s effort to seek peace between Palestinians and Israelis is in tatters.
And Libya? One word: “Benghazi”.
How about the much anticipated and promised love fest that would occur after that mean old George W Bush was retired and The One waved his mighty hand and blessed his own Middle East policy? Yeah, it hasn’t quite worked out that way:
According to the latest survey by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project, confidence in Obama in Muslim countries dropped from 33% to 24% in his first term. Approval of Obama’s policies declined even further, from 34% to 15%. And support for the United States in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Pakistan is lower today than it was in 2008 in the closing year of George W. Bush’s administration.
Israel, our closest and most important ally in the area isn’t much enamored with Obama:
Of all the strained relationships in the Middle East, the partnership with Israel is the most important and potentially the most easily repaired. Obama is not popular in the country. A poll released last week showed he had a scant 10% approval rating in Israel, with an additional 32% saying they respect but don’t like him.
And, if the tactic of stiffing Israel had the intent of winning popularity among Palestinians, that too hasn’t worked:
If Israelis don’t like Obama, Palestinians are even less favorable.Washington’s perceived failure to take a harder line with Israel over the final status of Jerusalem, and U.S. opposition to President Mahmoud Abbas’ successful campaign for higher Palestinian status in the United Nations, have engendered a deep sense of frustration. Passions spilled over in Bethlehem this week, when young Palestinians defaced a billboard with Obama’s image and burned pictures of him in the streets. Obama’s symbolic nods to Israel’s history are likely to raise Palestinian ire even further.
In fact, none of the administration’s policy initiatives have had any positive impact, or, for the most part, any impact at all (despite a fawning media telling us how wonderful a SecState Hillary Clinton was, this is her legacy too).
So, what will Obama do today in Israel? What he usually does. Make a speech:
The hope that Obama will say the right things in Thursday’s speech at Jerusalem’s convention center is negated by doubts he will follow through. The president has to assure Israelis and Palestinians that he is still engaged if the peace process has any chance of moving forward. In part, this means convincing them that he still matters.
Key point emphasized. If you’ve watched Obama even casually over the past years, you can’t help but have noticed that he’s very strong on “talking the talk”, but hardly ever “walks the walk”. He doesn’t know how.
And there’s absolutely no reason this particular issue will see him even attempt it now. Oh, he’ll say the “right things”. That’s what he does. His problem is he never then does the “right things”. Rhetoric is his action. It’s for the history books, not as a guide to leadership. He’s not a leader.
But you know that. And the results of that lack of leadership are evident for all to see in the Middle East.
This week, Bruce, Michael, and Dale discuss Israel and Obamacare.
The direct link to the podcast can be found here.
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If President Obama is actually serious about an Israeli/Palestinian accord, he better review the speech Benjamin Netanyahu gave before a joint session of Congress today.
He said that to reach a deal, Palestinians must agree to live with a Jewish state that would include areas in the suburbs of Jerusalem and around Tel Aviv.
Jerusalem, he said, “will never be divided,” and Israel’s army would remain along the Jordan River.
While some land where Israelis have settled would lie outside its final borders, he said, the borders would not be identical to those of 1967 and before, which he once again called indefensible. Palestinian refugees and their descendants, he said, would have to find their homes outside these borders, limiting their right of return to old homelands — long a sticking point.
That’s the Israeli bottom line and it isn’t going to change much even if Netanyahu is no longer the Prime Minister. This is it – this is what that state, after years of fighting for its life, has determined is the minimum conditions it must insist on for its self-defense. Essentially, these particular positions aren’t negotiable.
Obama claims his policy and position isn’t new. Obviously the Israelis disagree. There, laid out for everyone to see is Israel’s position. In the meantime, I’d also add, were I Netanyahu, that until Hamas and the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist and renounce violence against Israel, that Israel has no interest in any process. That’s such a basic requirement I’m surprised it has to repeated endlessly.
Netanyahu says he is willing to make painful concessions on behalf of Israel – including some settlements in occupied lands. But he’s not willing to concede any of the above – and it it time for this administration to get a clue if it is serious about the peace process. I simply don’t think it is, and the new conditions laid out by Obama are a way of putting the onus and blame on Israel for being “intransigent” in the face of decades of Palestinian intransigence. This is Obama’s way of saying “not my fault that the peace process I so highly touted fell apart”.
Elliot Abrams asks that question given some news out of the Middle East that has gone virtually undiscussed. You remember the recent announcement that indirect or “proximity” talks were supposed to begin soon between Israel and Palestine. Abrams says, “maybe not”. And the reason is not good news:
Two stories this week in Haaretz, the Israeli daily, make this clear. The first story recounts an interview Abbas gave Israeli TV, and notes that “Abbas said he hopes to get Arab League approval for indirect talks on May 1.” The second story recycles an item from the newspaper Al-Watan in Damascus, and begins this way: “The Arab League is expected to reject the Obama administration’s proposal to begin indirect Middle East peace negotiations in the coming weeks, sources from the 22-state body told Syria’s Al-Watan daily on Tuesday. The League’s Monitoring Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative is scheduled to meet on Saturday to vote on the proposal, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is unlikely to accept any offer for peace talks that does not meet the panel’s approval.”
Of course that changes the game pretty dramatically. If Abbas has ceded the power of the Palestinians to speak for themselves to the Arab League, it complicates any possible solution with Israel. In fact, as Abrams notes, it is a return “to the days when the Palestinians were under the control of Arab states rather than masters of their own future”. And we all know how well that’s turned out.
Second, putting the Arab League in charge magnifies the influence of bad actors. To get negotiations going, the Obama administration now has to convince not only Abbas, but Bashar al Assad. Perhaps this helps explain why George Mitchell has visited Damascus and why the administration persists in “outreach” to Syria despite its continuing evil conduct (most recently, reports of the shipment of Scud missiles to Hezbollah). Having committed itself to the “peace process,” the administration simply cannot afford to treat Syria as it deserves; Syria has too much clout now.
So now, as Abrams notes, since such countries as Syria have a say in what the Palestinians do, we have to tread more lightly than perhaps we could have prior to this little announcement. That reigns in, for instance, putting the amount of diplomatic pressure that the report of SCUDs to Hezbollah deserves.
More than anything, though, it introduces a third party to the talks which has no vested interest in seeing the peace process work. Other than Egypt and Jordan, both of which have peace treaties with Israel, the other 20 nations have demonstrated little care or desire for peace with Israel. If you thought the peace process was tough before, this little wrinkle makes it almost impossible now.