Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If Only He Would Give a Speech


28 July 09

In a New York Times op-ed, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn analyzes the reasons President Obama has lost the confidence of virtually all Israeli Jews (a recent poll indicated only 6 percent consider the administration pro-Israel):

Mr. Obama’s quest for diplomacy has appeared to Israelis as dangerous American naïveté. The president offered a hand to the Iranians, and got nothing, merely giving them more time to advance their nuclear program. In Israeli eyes, he was humiliated by North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests. And he failed to move Arab governments to take steps to normalize relations with Israel. . . .

Mr. Obama’s [Cairo] speech, which linked Israel’s existence to the Jewish tragedy [in the Holocaust], infuriated many Israelis who sensed its closeness to the narrative of enemies like Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. . . .

[R]epeated peace negotiations and diplomatic statements have indicated that larger, closer-to-home settlements (the “settlement blocs”) will remain in Israeli hands under any two-state solution. Why, then, insist on a total freeze everywhere? And why deny with such force — as the administration did — the existence of previous understandings between the United States and Israel over limited settlement construction?

Benn ends by pleading with Obama to come to Israel to ”speak to us directly.” But what we have here is not a failure to communicate:

1. In his 2007 AIPAC speech, Obama focused on “the stones that will build the road that takes us . . . to lasting peace and security” and noted that some of them “will be heavy and tough for Israel to carry.” He did not mention any stones for the Palestinians to carry.

2. In his 2008 AIPAC speech, he promised to support an undivided Jerusalem but retracted the promise a day later and repeatedly “clarified” his remarks to make it clear he had not meant what he had said.

3. His first interview in office was with an Arab TV station, featuring his praise for the “great courage” it took for the Saudis to make their proposal (centering on an Israeli return to indefensible borders, the redivision of Jerusalem, and the recognition of a Palestinian right of return).

4. Obama’s spokesmen have repeatedly declined to recognize any U.S. obligation to observe the explicit assurances set forth in the 2004 Bush letter — assurances that are in black and white, not in “unenforceable” oral or informal understandings.

5. He told 14 Jewish organizations at the White House that distance between the U.S. and Israel is precisely what he is trying to create and urged Israeli “self-reflection.”

Obama has now sent the same message to Israel multiple times, and the poll cited by Benn shows that most Israelis have heard it. But even now some are willing to believe again, if only he will say the right words in a speech.

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