Some hard truths must be discussed that may not be music to the ears of fans of Barack Obama or of Benjamin Netanyahu. Barack Obama's speech was not meant to be pro-Israel and his trip to the Middle East is not meant to be "good for Israel." They are both meant to be good for the United States. Barack Obama didn't even stop in Israel, because this trip was intended to be for the Arab and Muslim world. The United States believes it must mend its relations with 1.5 billion Muslims if it is to be successful in the war against Al Qaeda, and this trip, and the speech, were made to order for that purpose. The speech had few policy declarations in it. It should not be judged on historical accuracy either. It was pure baby kissing. Obama is trying to occupy a part of the position that used to belong to Gamal Abdel Nasser
, El Rais
, THE President, the leader whose photos are in all the coffee shops in the suq.
As Barry Rubin observed
Barack Obamaís speech in Cairo is one of the most bizarre orations ever made by a U.S. president, not a foreign policy statement but rather something invented by Obama, an international campaign speech, as if his main goal was to obtain votes in the next Egyptian primary.
It was precisely an international campaign speech, to compete directly with the popularity of iconic figures like Osama Bin Laden and Ahmadinejad. Therefore, the careful balance sheets of good points and bad points that have been drawn up by many, are almost irrelevant.
Obama said settlement construction or settlements (it is not clear which) "must stop" and are illegitimate. That is a change in recent US policy, which violates understandings that go back to 1992 at least, though Careter and Nixon and Ford administration officials had all said settlements are illegal. . It seems to be directed equally at Ramat Eshkol in Jerusalem and at the Hebrew University on Mt Scopus, at Maaleh Edumim near Jerusalem and at Maskiot in the Jordan Valley. Obama made no distinction. This is not just "Zionist Paranoia." The Palestinian Authority was quick to insist that Obama said that Jerusalem is only for Christians and Muslims, and nobody has contradicted them yet.
The announcement that "settlements must stop" is bad for Israel and it is evidently a violation of former agreements. Nothing he said about Palestinian and Arab issues and stands represented an equal and opposite toughening of the US position. On the contrary.
From the point of view of geopolitical strategy, this speech is hopeless and worthless. Iran isn't going to stop making nuclear weapons because Obama declares his commitment to eliminating nuclear weapons, a quixotic and probably unimplementable and dangerous idea. But that doesn't matter. From the point of view of bargaining with Israel, it is sad that Obama believes the US can waffle on its commitments to Israel, demand no real Arab concessions, and expect that Israel will make firm commitments and real concessions in return. Friends of Israel need to point out these and other problems gently and firmly. However, in connection with this speech, it doesn't matter either. If the entire dialog and "feel good" approach is fruitless and quixotic, friends of Israel can still only warn about the obvious pitfalls, and point out that Obama has gotten absolutely no constructive response for any of his suggestions from the Palestinians, the Arabs or the Iranians.
But friends of Israel need to remember also that if we are perceived as standing in the way of US- Muslim rapprochement, we are putting ourselves in a very undesirable and precarious position. The unpopularity of the previous US administration in the Middle East was definitely not good for Israel. The US is a much more valuable ally if it is popular in the Middle East, so this is an effort we need to support to the extent possible. In any case, the US will pursue the policies it thinks are right, and Israel will need, in the end to adjust to those policies. U.S. policy in the Middle East is not going to revolve around Israel. It never has, and it can't.
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Replies: 5 Comments
Can you please list those countries which acknowledge Israel's right to the West bank, settlements and expansions? Now, sit back and think:why does the rest of the world, virtually without exceptions think that International Laws do apply in fact to the West Bank?Why is it that there is a UNANIMOUS international concensus about Israel giving up the West bank and declaring ALL settlements as illegal?Why do all of Israel's friends urge a complete halt to settlements (colonists- in otherwords?)Once you have a non emotional, non visceral answer, please let me know....
Arpad Joo, Wednesday, June 10th
Why the settlements are important. Excerpts from two characteristically incisive comments by military and intelligence analyst J. E. Dyer at Jonathan Tobinís contentions post yesterday:
The most consistent position from Israeli leaders . . . is that the West Bank is a holistic national defense issue, of which the settlements are an integral element. No aspect of the settlements is divorced from the question of defensible borders for Israel . . .
[Truncated - please do not post entire articles here]
Thomas Braun, Sunday, June 7th
Norman F states that "Demanding Jews stop building in existing communities, including Jerusalem, is an unreasonable demand. No Israeli government can or should prevent Jews from living in them or freeze normal life in them. The US is an important ally of Israel but that doesn't give it carte blanche to ask Israel to abridge the rights of its own citizens."
I think this is completely wrong. Of course an Israeli government can (and should, in my view) be prepared to make important steps in exchange for recognition, peace and a credible security plan backed by the US troops and also approved formally by the EU and the UN. That will involve getting out of the West Bank (other than very minor adjustments allowing some areas contiguous to Israel proper to remain part of Israel, against balancing concessions from Israel to the Palestinian state), and getting out of East Jerusalem.
I am a dedicated supporter of Israel. But I am afraid that Norman is living in a dream world. By the way, he says "asking Israel to take down illegal outposts" is OK -- but why not the massive illegal settlements?
Andrew Halper, Saturday, June 6th
I pretty well agree.
Agood therapist/counsellor embarked on Conflict resolution says things that his client wants to hear in the process of trust building, If succesful he can then influence the sides to listen to, hear and respect, each other and perhaps, change the paradigm.
Barrie Rockman, Saturday, June 6th
No Israeli has expected the US to ever be completely pro-Israel. But Israelis have expected the US to accord Israel the same respect the US seeks for itself. At the end of the day, friends are going to have differences of opinion. But they will still remain friends. If the US wants Israel to help it, it needs to be aware of the limits to which Israel can help instead of making unreasonable demands. Asking Israel to take down illegal outposts and taking measures to make life easier for the Palestinians are things Israel can help with and is doing without prompting from the US because they are also in Israel's interest. On the hand, demanding Jews stop building in existing communities, including Jerusalem, is an unreasonable demand. No Israeli government can or should prevent Jews from living in them or freeze normal life in them. The US is an important ally of Israel but that doesn't give it carte blanche to ask Israel to abridge the rights of its own citizens.
NormanF, Friday, June 5th
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