Israelis, whether they liked Bush or not, knew instinctively that whoever followed him in the White House would do just about anything to reverse Bush's Middle East policy (along with just about everything else Bush did). Bush's unpopularity with the American electorate made this inevitable: whether what Bush did was "right" or "wrong"; effective or not, any new President would want to put his own stamp on his administration as rapidly as possible.
So Obama's speech did not surprise us. Nor does his total misreading of the situation. We are accustomed to being blamed for being the "obstacle to peace" because of a few completely irrelevant settlements. That is NOT why Israel is unwilling to engage in yet more meaningless discussions, and to make yet more worthless --worthless because we get only increased danger in result--concessions while the Arabs commit themselves to absolutely nothing.
IT IS BECAUSE THE PALESTINIANS WILL NOT ABANDON THEIR AVOWED GOAL OF THE DESTRUCTION OF ISRAEL, NOR WILL THEY RECOGNIZE THE RIGHT OF ISRAEL'S EXISTENCE. Somehow, President after President cannot assimilate this simple fact. Israel is expected to bare its collective neck to the Hamas/PA knife; to delegitimate itself while accepting the "right" of Palestinians to total access to every point in the country, to deny itself any means of defending itself. Rockets fall on Ashdod? Tsk, tsk. Israeli civilians killed in suicide attacks on buses? Please, let's not get upset about a minor pecadillo; people die in accidents every day. Israel enter Gaza? The screams of "war crimes" and "atrocity!", not to mention "attempted genocide" ring out loud and clear (and very often, if not from the country which perpetrated the Holocaust, from some of the countries which collaborated with the Nazis and whose Jewish populations were decimated as a result)
I won't, at the moment, go into the problem of precisely who should be governing the land known as "The West Bank", or Gaza. The fact is that the so-called Palestinian Arabs are not the original inhabitants, indeed, a great many of the current inhabitants have been less than a century in the territory (see Joan Peters' "From Time Immemorial" for a fully documented explication of this). All the available archeological evidence shows that the Jews have a prior claim. Anyone familiar with the Bible knows that the area in question, at least as far as Judea and SamariaBut the reality is that both areas are chock-full of Arabs, who aren't going anywhere. If they pose a danger to Israel, and I can't really think of a greater danger than an openly and repeatedly made assertion that they are going to exterminate us, they will have to remain quarantined. There's been a lot of criticism of the security fence, but the fact is, that whenever the borders of the future Palestinian state are determined, there is no automatic "right" of open borders, just as I cannot visit Thailand or Uruguay without a visa even using my US passport. A sovereign country determines to whom it will allow entry and under what conditions.
"Settlements" -- some of which are small towns -- are not really relevant. IF the Palestinians renounce violence, and their avowed aim to destroy Israel, some adjustment can be made. They can hardly expect an open border if they refuse to allow their borders to be open to us. Settlements are used as an issue when they really are not. It is the existence of Israel which is the issue, and Obama should have said something like "When the Palestinians openly admit the right of Israel to exist, and renounce violence against her, then the US will support to the full a bilateral agreement to be fair to both sides".
Obama is ready to try to ride roughshod over Israel as he is trying to ride roughshod over American industry. He's got lots of plans, lots of targets (I find his wanting to "solve" the Middle East in 2 years laughable) but like most Presidents, he is trying to impose his reading of the situation on realities which are quite different than his perceptions. I worry less about a nuclear Iran bombing Tel Aviv (which would not only kill a lot of other Moslems but the radioactivity would blow back on Iran) than a nuclear Iran which threatens Vienna with annihilation unless all Europe buys Iranian oil at $500 a barrel. Or a nuclear Iran which decides to finally get even with all those Sunnis who've sneered at the Shi'ites as schismatics for a few centuries. It would not surprise me in the least if, once the Americans are out of Iraq, Iran decides to settle the score, using its proxies in Iraq, and extend its hegemony over its neighbor. Unfortunately, the message Obama sent to Islamic countries was one of weakness; conciliation is not a tactic of the strong, in their world view. Right now, the Middle East is unstable; Mubarak is old, and not well. The Saudi royal family faces an unprecedented degree of local dissent; the Gulf States are having to cope with reduced oil revenues, Iranian proxies like Hezbollah are hijacking Lebanon and pressuring Syria. Iraq is certainly fragile. Over everything is the specter of religious extremism, from Taliban to the Moslem Brotherhood. To paraphrase an old aphorism, if Israel did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. Opposition to Israel is just about the only unifying factor present today in the Arab world. But, for the moment, the various forces at work are in precarious balance. Let the US be perceived as indecisive or weak, or should Iran gain greatly in power, and the entire framework will shatter.
Obama has until November of 2010 to pull America out of the abyss (or at least to make Americans feel better about the economy; actual recovery will take a lot longer, IMO). His scenario of making Israel into a foreign policy scapegoat yet again will not help him with certain sectors of the American public, especially if, as I expect, Islamic nations rebuff his overtures.
As a postscript, I really wish that Hillary hadn't accepted the post of Foreign Secretary. Of course she is required to support Obama's position. But she is losing credibility daily with those Jewish voters who supported her in the primaries, and this will hurt her in the long run, if she chooses to run in 2012. Tsipi Livni had the good sense to remain in opposition so she wouldn't be tainted by Bibi's government.
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