Monday, July 20, 2009

A Pause for Serious Self-reflection

Jonathan Tobin
19 July 09

When US President Barack Obama met with 15 representatives of American Jewish organizations on July 13, Haaretz reported that he told them that he wanted to help Israel achieve peace but that if they were to benefit from his well-intentioned counsel, Israelis must "engage in serious self-reflection." The breathtaking condescension toward the Jewish state that this remark betrays, as well as the implicit dismissal of the last 16 years of Middle East history, says a lot about Obama and the direction in which American foreign policy is heading.

The fact that Israel has already gone through several periods of serious self-reflection and made costly sacrifices in terms not only of territory but in blood has no significance for the president. Here a just a few items that the president seems to think don't matter in assessing the situation: The failure of a generation of peacemaking including the Oslo Accords and the successor agreements associated with that process, the 2000 Camp David summit, the second intifada, the withdrawal from Gaza, the subsequent use of that territory as a terror base and the failed attempt just last year to get the Palestinian Authority to take yes for an answer on statehood for its people. All have apparently been swept down the White House memory hole. In the age of Obama, like a fundamentalist religion that dates all events as being either before or after a divine revelation, that which occurred prior to his election is meaningless by definition.

Rather than play down his penchant for quarreling with Israel, Obama is proud of it. Indeed, he asserts that such conduct is actually a virtue, since his hammering of Israel is merely "honest talk" that should be interpreted as the highest form of friendship.

Obama's obsession with picking a fight about growth in Jewish settlements in the territories is a classic misdirection play. The US had already agreed that calls for settlement freezes couldn't apply to those communities that it had acknowledged Israel would keep in any peace agreement, let alone in Jerusalem. But Obama has repudiated that pledge partly out of his determination that he must invalidate everything his predecessor did, and partly because settlements are a useful cudgel with which beat Binyamin Netanyahu and the rest of the government Israelis elected only a few months after Obama's own victory.

EVEN MORE important, the entire premise upon which his demand for Israeli reflection is based is false. So long as both the supposedly more moderate Palestinian Authority and the extremist Hamas movement that governs Gaza have no interest in peace on even the most generous terms that Jerusalem can offer - a detail upon which the PA's leaders have been quite explicit - Obama's pressure ploy is pointless. Though Obama speaks to Jewish groups of equal pressure on the Arabs, everything that the administration has done and said in its short time in office makes it clear that the president's sole target is the government in Jerusalem, not the terrorists running Gaza or the corrupt Fatah functionaries in Ramallah.
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