Daily Archives: May 25, 2011
When Obama says things like, “friends can disagree” he means
it. His relationship with Israel is no different than that between two friends
who argue politics, often think the other is crazy, but each is the first to
call the other in time of trouble. Each trust the other with their children and
realize, even if unspoken, that the strength of the relationship overshadows
Conservative Republicans and blind Israel supporters continue to cast Obama in the role of Israel’s antagonist.They embrace Netanyahu and criticize Obama. Obama is regularly cast as unsympathetic toward Israel or, worse, ignorant of Israel’s true security
needs. Those on the fringe end of the conservative spectrum, the ones that call
Obama a socialist, continue to believe that Obama prefers international liberal
rights to individual group rights. Consequently, they assume Obama is willing
to kick Israel to the curb while placating Arabs and the international left.
Obama’s comment about a two state solution with 1967 borders set off a
firestorm of fear that Obama truly did not understand Israel’s needs.
Those of us who spend many waking hours thinking, or writing, or teaching about these issues were surprised at the reaction to the 1967 borders. The suggestion that a two state solution use borders somewhere along the 1967 lines is so common in the literature and in
discussions about resolving the conflict that the statement washed right over
me. Most people, including the majority of the Israeli public, prefer a two
state solution with borders being defined as somewhere along 67 lines. It never
occurred to me, or to most people that I talk to, that the borders would be
exactly the old 1967 borders. Netanyahu is correct that those borders would not
be sufficiently defensible. But with buffer zones, electronic surveillance, and
land swaps it’s possible to establish borders for a Palestinian state. To
pounce on this single statement was simply inaccurate and unfair.
Moreover, Obama’s has made some very supportive statements. And playing
politics or simply grubbing for the Jewish vote does not explain these comments
because they commit Obama to a course of action. Hence Obama told AIPAC that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel and it must remain undivided.” This is
an unbelievably provocative statement and probably will not be included in some
final two state solution. Obama has stated clearly that borders from 1967 are
subject to negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians in order to determine
a final status. Any ultimate solution will be negotiated with the Israelis and
Palestinians. I trust Israel will do nothing that undermines its own security.
What more could Obama do with respect to the “Arab spring?”
He has chastised Assad; he has encouraged Yemen’s president Saleh to leave
office; he has supported the people in the streets in Tunisia and Egypt.
Calling on him to send in troops or overtly assert American power is simply
politically irresponsible. Obama has recognized emphatically the special
relationship between Israel and the United States.
Obama is not trying to appeal to everyone. He is encouraging the
Israelis to make necessary movements in an effort to stimulate discussion.
Right now nothing is going on. Netanyahu is not going to negotiate with a
Palestinian government that includes Hamas; he’s adamant about 67 borders not
being defensible so he wants to encroach into land east of Jerusalem toward the
Jordan River. The Arab world is in flux so it does not seem to be the time for
discussions. I credit Obama was trying to encourage additional contact.
Having said all this, I’m sure Netanyahu is not Obama’s favorite
international leader. Obama does have a more accommodating and diplomatic style
whereas Netanyahu knows exactly what he thinks and has little interest in
modifying it. But Obama believes that he is serving the needs of peace and
thereby the needs of Israel. He has acknowledged the problems of dealing with
Hamas. He knows that the 67 borders will require adjustments and land swaps.
And Obama supports and has stated as such Israel’s right to be a Jewish and
democratic state, including its capacity to defend itself. This is important
because the Jewish nature of the state remains problematic. Israel faces
tremendous demographic pressures as well as political ones that threaten the
Jewish and democratic nature of the state. Netanyahu is making a mistake if he
thinks the special nature of the US – Israel relationship means he can behave
any way he wants. The world grows weary of this conflict and is already turning
its attention elsewhere, and everyone’s patience has limitations.
Obama was very helpful to Israel by avoiding issues such as the Arab
Peace Initiative, settlements, and discussion of refugees. It takes leadership
to talk about the Middle East “as it should be.” Obama recognizes
that the current situation is untenable, and that the September UN vote will
precipitate many problems. Of course, Obama’s primary lesson is to value human
rights over locked-jaw nationalism. And his summoning of American freedom
fighters and references to the Boston Tea Party, Rosa Parks, and the Tunisia
street vendor whose defiance sparked the Arab spring is to be applauded.