Is Obama Anti-Israeli?
An uncharacteristically icy breeze has blown over the relationship between the United States and Israel, and it appears the Israelis in particular have little idea how to deal with the new American stance toward them and their policies. The change must seem especially difficult given the history of relations between the two countries over the past eight years, where the modal U.S. response to any Israeli initiative seemed to have been to endorse it. That has clearly changed.
The issue that divides the two countries, of course, is the settlement of Palestinian state question. The Bush administration tepidly endorsed the idea of an independent Palestinian state as part of its so-called Road Map and even rhetorically opposed the expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank that are the current symbol of the loggerheads regarding movement on the Palestinian questions. That said, Bush and Secretary of State Condi Rice did little to push a reluctant Israel toward a peace settlement and kept its objections to the continuing flow of settlers into the occupied zone (a direct violation of international law) behind closed doors. Obama has opened those doors to a new Israeli government much more opposed to the two-state solution than its predecessors (who hardly embraced the idea) and has argued that the creation of a Palestinian state is one of the, if not the, most important hinges for peace in the region.
The Netanyahou government acts like it does not quite know what to do about this new American stance. Obama would clearly like Bibi and Company to halt settlement construction, roll back the Israeli population on the West Bank to something like the pre-1967 dimensions, and proceed with negotiating an independent Palestine. Bibi does not want to do any of these things and probably cannot politically. Netanyahou is, after all, the inheritor of the Greater Israel banner, and his father defined that Greater Israel to include Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan. His career, and his standing in Likud, is premised on keeping and incorporating the occupied West Bank into Israel. Moreover, he heads a minority government with a tenuous hold on power, and his core support base is dominated by settlers and their supporters. Backing down would amount to political suicide (an outcome which, one suspects, would not exactly displease the Obama administration).
Obama, in other words, is trying to influence the Israeli political system to change in ways that system is not sure it wants to change. Set aside the argument that this is precisely what the Israelis have been doing all along in the United States (influencing U.S. policy in Israel’s interests). The question is whether what Obama wants is in the best interest of Isfrael or not: Is Obama anti-Israeli?
Obama and his supporters would clearly say No! Rather, their argument is that compromise on the two-state question (and thus on the settlements) is the only way the Israelis can ever have the peace they have always said is their principal goal. Some Israelis agree with Obama, others do not. Does disagreement over policy make one anti-Israeli? Obama and his supporters think not. Rather, they would argue the “tough love” they are trying to get the Israelis to accept is really the only long-term PRO-Israeli position to take. One can, and people do, disagree on this question. To call proponents on one side or another pro- or anti-Israeli overall is more or less like saying advocates or opponentsof health care reform in the United States are pro-or anti-American.
Bad analogy, one might say. Being on one side or another of health care reform may be important, but the issue of Palestine is potentially life-threatening to Israel, and that makes it different. Those who defend the Likud position argue that the Palsetinians have acted consistently perfidiously (not suspending terrorism, for instance) and that their leadership is corrupt and ineffective. Palestinians, of course, argue much the same about Israeli perfidy (the settlements) and ineffectiveness in suppressing their own fanatics (the settlers).
One way to solve this problem may be an American guarantee (possibly reinforced by other regional actors) physically to provide security for all concerned in implementing a Palestinian state solution. This solution itself would be controversial. Where, for instance, would American forces come from to enforce it, given our military overcommitment in the region? Would either side trust outsiders (they have not in the past)? This might be an impractical solution, but is it any worse than what we have now?
Is Obama anti-Israeli? Or does he just see a different path to Israeli security than the current Israeli regime? It’s a matter of opinion.