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Monday, July 6, 2009

The Left's Delusions on Obama and Israel

The timing is uncanny. In the last week, two liberals strongly defended Obama's policies toward Israel. Yet, their defenses are diametrically apart from each other. As such, at best, one is terribly wrong. At worst, both are wrong. In my opinion, both are delusional.

The first comes from Israeli defender, Alan Dershowitz. Dershowitz acknowledges what most of us that follow events surrounding Israel already know...Obama's policies are troublesome to most that are concerned with safety and prosperity of that nation. Dershowitz defends them in two ways. First, he acknowledges that Obama has been much tougher than his predecessors on the issue of settlements. Dershowitz points out that while Obama's rhetoric has been sharper on settlements, the policy is not necessarily any different. Furthermore, just because you are against settlement expansion doesn't mean you don't have the safety of Israel as a top priority. Now, I agree with Dershowitz on the second point. Settlement expansion is not some sort of litmus test on Israel. On the other hand, he makes a quantum leap on the first point.

There is a massive difference between Obama's policies and prior policies on settlements. Prior presidents allowed for "natural growth" whereas Obama doesn't even allow for that. Dershowitz makes this seem as though it is a minor point. It isn't. Without natural growth, this means that the population in settlements couldn't grow. That means for every child born someone would have to leave. If there is no natural growth, there are no settlements period. Furthermore, past presidents have demanded a lot more of both the Palestinians and the Arab world in general. This president saves most of his criticism for Obama himself.

On the issue of Iran, Dershowitze is even more murky. First, he acknowledges that so far Obama's policies have been problematic.

The Obama administration consistently says that Iran should not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons. But prior to the current unrest in the Islamic Republic, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel frightened many supporters of Israel in May by appearing to link American efforts to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons to Israeli actions with regard to the settlements.

This is a disturbing linkage that should be disavowed by the Obama administration. Opposition to a nuclear Iran -- which would endanger the entire world -- should not be dependent in any way on the issue of settlement expansion.

The current turmoil in Iran may strengthen the Obama administration as it seeks to use diplomacy, sanctions and other nonmilitary means to prevent the development of nuclear weapons. But if these tactics fail, the military option, undesirable and dangerous as it is, must not be taken off the table. If the Obama administration were to shift toward learning to live with a nuclear Iran and attempt to deny Israel the painful option of attacking its nuclear targets as a last resort, that would be troubling indeed. Thankfully, the Obama administration's point man on this issue, Dennis Ross, shows no signs of weakening American opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran.

After Dershowitz lays out what he himself considers a disturbing trend, Dershowitz defends that Obama administration by pointing out that Dennis Ross is their point man on Iran. As such, none of us have anythin to fear because Ross is both a veteran of the region and pro Israel.

That's just looney. The Obama's policy toward Iran has just been plain inexplicable. They have maintained a position of outreach. They have been even handed in their response to the protests. The administration to do this day maintains that talks with the current regime are still possible. Their linkage of Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons to the Palestinian/Israeli crisis is so disturbing that Dershowitz himself characterizes it as "disturbing". Yet, after listing out all the reasons to be troubled, all Dershowitz has to say in defense is that Dennis Ross is the point man and thus we need not worry. Is Dershowitz kidding?

The reality is that Obama's policies have so far been decidedly anti Israel. While it's far too early to make a final judgment on Obama's Israeli policy, it's not too early to say that so far it has been nothing short of anti Israel. It's no surprise that a recent Israeli poll gave Obama single digit support in that nation.

The other analyst is Matt Yglesias. He supports Obama's Israeli policy because he sees it as sufficiently anti Israel.

There was no sign of this change in the post-election transition process. Hillary Clinton, who as senator from New York had staked out extremely pro-Israel positions, was made secretary of state. Robert Gates, George W Bush’s secretary of defence, was kept in place. As these secretaries began staffing their offices, many foreign policy hands who had supported Obama began to fear that they were being frozen out. People who’d spent more than a year working to put him in the White House began complaining to me that there seemed to be room on the president’s national security team for all kinds of people except his own supporters.

It now seems that while Obama was alarming some of his fans, he was also lulling his opponents into a false sense of complacency. In the past couple of months, he has adopted a tough stance against Binyamin Netanyahu’s government and his approach has flummoxed the pro-Israel lobby.The first major sign of change came at a meeting of the lobby’s flagship organisation, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), on 5 May. The annual gathering attracts big-name politicians from across the political spectrum and this year’s session was no exception. But the message from some of the most influential Democrats did more than attempt even-handedness.

“Israel must work toward a two-state solution,” said Vice-President Joe Biden, “not build settlements, dismantle outposts, and allow Palestinians freedom of movement, access to economic opportunity and increased security responsibilities.” Senator John Kerry went further, hailing the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 as an important step and arguing that “nothing will do more to show Israel’s commitment to making peace than freezing new settlement activity”.

Yglesias goes on to, in detail, describe how Obama's tough stance toward Israel caught the Israelis off guard, put Netanyahu on the defensive, forced him to soften his tone, and how all of this will soon lead to peace (which presumably Yglesias blames Israel for a lack of) Most of Yglesias' analysis is impossible to confirm. How do you confirm if Israelis were caught off guard? How do you confirm if this put the Israelis on the defensive? All of it is nonsense regardless. That's because after this analysis, Yglesias is forced to acknowledge this.

The new approach has yet to have much of an impact on the ground in the occupied territories, but it has pushed Netanyahu to seek to soften his image in the US with a conciliatory-sounding speech. And Obama’s administration understands that words rather than deeds are what is needed from Israel. Republicans, led by Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, are trying to use the issue against Obama, helped by leaders such as Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, an umbrella group that purports to speak for Jewish Americans. And yet, on 16 June, the Union of Reform Judaism, the largest organisation of synagogues in America, adopted a resolution backing Obama, condemning the “destructive impact of the settlements” in the occupied territories and calling on Israel to freeze settlement activity unconditionally.

In other words, nothing has changed but Netanyahu sounds more conciliatory. Yglesias is delusional because he believes that Israel has no options. He thinks that if the U.S. is tougher with Israel, the tiny nation will be forced to capitulate.

That's just not accurate. All nations have options. If the Israelis are convinced that they are dealing with a president that doesn't have their best interest at heart, the Israelis will look to ally themselves with another nation of relatively equal strength (obviously no one is as strong as America but there are options). One such option is Russia. Israel discovered a major source of natural gas in January. Russia is looking to create an OPEC style cartel in natural gas. Russia would be more than happy to ally itself with Israel if it means a partner in this OPEC style cartel. Israel would have no choice but to ally itself with Russia if they are convinced the U.S. doesn't have its best interest at heart. The problem with treating your ally like an enemy is then your ally will seek new allies. The left should not be under the impression that Israel would ever capitulate and threaten its own safetly simply because we have a president that suddenly talks tough to them.


Anonymous said...

"The left should not be under the impression that Israel would ever capitulate and threaten its own safety simply because we have a president that suddenly talks tough to them."

Actually, that is EXACTLY what will happen. Obama's tenure in office will more than likely be longer than Netanyahu's. It is inevitable that Netanyahu's tenuous coalition will be replaced by a government more open to working with Obama at some point.

In any case, do you *seriously* think that Obama would hesitate to unconditionally supply the Israelis for their next inevitable offensive? I mean you yourself noted that support for Israeli security and support for the settlements are not synonymous. Yet the fact that you concede this didn't stop you from claiming both Yglasias and Dershowitz, when using Obama's numerous pro-Israel administration members as evidence he wouldn't let Israel come to harm, were "delusional" a word that implies illegitimacy of opinion. Why?

mike volpe said...

I'm not really sure what you are trying to say.

What is it that you think that a new admin would work with Obama on? Any admin that agrees to stop natural growth would immediately be through. You can get an agreement to stop building settlements but not natural growth.

I didn't say that Obama would let Israel come to harm. I don't know. What I said was that I'm not feeling that much better just because Dennis Ross is on the case. In fact, I said it's way too early to pass any final judgment on his Israeli policies but that his policies so far are anti Israel.

Stan188 said...

Two points: a recent poll shows that only 6% of the population in Israel trusts Obama. I actually think Obama will not make a second term. His polling numbers are disastrous for this early in the term. Rasmussen has favorability index as -2 for the last three days. 35% strongly disapprove and 33% strongly approve.
As for Dennis Ross, like Colin Powell and Condi Rice, he is an animal of the State Department. I met him in Jerusalem in the early eighties and he said nothing positive about Israel. When asked about the PLO he just took the State Department line.