By Barry Rubin
I expected President Barack Obama’s AIPAC speech would be a bunch of feel-good clichés to persuade the audience that he is Israel’s best friend. Thus there would be nothing worth analyzing in it. But as I read the speech carefully I was astonished at how thoroughly Obama reveals his underlying miscomprehension, indifference, and even hostility toward Israel.
Examine this speech and you see everything wrong—far more than in his Cairo or State Department speeches on the Middle East—with Obama’s view of Israel and why he cannot be trusted on this issue.
There are some remarkable Freudian slips in his formulations and they have nothing to do with his discussion of the framework for Israel-Palestinian peace.
He spoke at great length of his support for Israel, how he wants it to be strong and secure, and the common values of the two countries. Yet if he really thinks that, why didn’t he say such things in his State Department speech on the Middle East or elsewhere?
“We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighborhood….When I went to Sderot, I saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket. And when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I grasped the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.”
Yet his regional policies have undermined Israel’s security:
–Without getting anything from Hamas (the group that shoots rockets at Sderot) he pressed Israel to reduce sanctions against Hamas, helped bring into power a pro-Hamas government in Egypt, and sent $400 million in U.S .taxpayer money that objectively strengthens the Hamas regime.
–By not actively opposing Hizballah and Syria taking over Lebanon, thus increasing the threat on Israel’s northern border.
–By waiting so long before he moved on Iran sanctions and by failing to support the Iranian democratic opposition.
–By acting as apologist for the Syrian terrorist-sponsoring dictatorship.
–By not keeping U.S. promises to Israel on countering Hizballah’s return to southern Lebanon and arms’
–By helping create a situation in Egypt that will definitely lead to a radical, anti-American, anti-Israel takeover and probably leading to an Islamist regime there.
–By becoming an apologist and booster of the most anti-Israel (and Islamist) Turkish government ever he has done nothing to help Israel deal with the enmity of its closest regional ally. Obama quickly capitulated to the Gaza flotilla.
–By never really criticizing or pressuring the Palestinian Authority on anything at all, even when it rejected his initiatives, broke its promises to him, or made him look foolish. Consider Vice-President Joe Biden’s temper tantrum about a Jerusalem zoning board okaying a construction project in the distant future to the administration’s basic indifference to ongoing PA incitement and the naming of things against terrorists who murdered Israelis.
That’s not a complete list.
(Incidentally, Obama doesn’t even seem to grasp the existential fear of U.S. Arab allies about Iran’s power or Islamist revolutions that will wipe them off the map.)
He may talk a good game on Sderot and Yad Vashem but in practice his policies have largely ignored the points he made to AIPAC.
“Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels.”
Obama is correct that U.S.-Israel military cooperation remains quite strong but his policy shows he definitely does NOT understand the challenges Israel faces.
“Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
Nice words but in fact Iran is finding a lot of loopholes; Obama is not cracking down on Russia, China, and Turkey (to name the three main countries that are helping Iran).
“As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality. Moreover, Iran continues to support terrorism across the region, including providing weapons and funds to terrorist organizations. So we will continue to work to prevent these actions, and will stand up to groups like Hezbollah who exercise political assassination, and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs.”
As you already know, the Obama administration has distinguished itself by the minimum it has done regarding Iran’s repression of the democratic opposition. And how has the U.S. government stood up to Hizballah? In fact, it has most definitely NOT stood up to Hizballah.
“And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.”
Once again, though, the opposite is true. Up to Obama’s recent State Department speech, the administration’s talking points were NOT to condemn the agreement but to take a wait and see approach. Even Obama’s discussion of the issue in his major speech did not attack the agreement (much less pressure the PA against doing it) but merely said that they would have to prove to Israel they were going to adhere to the Quartet conditions. Indeed, the PA and Hamas have already come up with clever ways to get around these issues.
“As I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination.”
In principle, Obama’s idea that we must do something quick to resolve the Israel-Palestinian issue because of current conditions (I’ve been hearing that exact line for 40 years) sounds nice. In practice, though, here’s what it amounts to: The Palestinians are intransigent. They should not be punished. Israel must make more concessions.
Obama doesn’t take the Hamas threat seriously, nor does he take a real tough line on incitement. The only thing he presses the PA on is that it should talk, not that it should give.
Consider this carefully:
“There is a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process – or the absence of one. Not just in the Arab World, but in Latin America, in Europe, and in Asia. That impatience is growing, and is already manifesting itself in capitols around the world.”
So Obama doesn’t say that the Palestinians are trying to circumvent negotiations with Israel and mutual compromise! No, their problem is that they are too eager for peace.
Ok. Here’s a quiz for you: If the Palestinians are impatient with the slow pace of progress, who is responsible for the lack of progress? If the Palestinians are so eager to make a deal, the fault must be with…Israel.
That paragraph is a Freudian slip on Obama’s part. Yet since the PA wouldn’t negotiate for two years, including almost nine months during an Israeli construction freeze, that would throw into question its eagerness.
(I recall how in 2000 we were told the same thing about Arafat being in a hurry to make a deal. Then when he refused to negotiate more and went to violence, the same people told us how foolish we were in rushing him!)
“But the march to isolate Israel internationally – and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations – will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative.”
Think about how this is totally in contradiction to the history we lived through. The march to isolate Israel internationally will continue no matter what Israel does, whether it is involved in talks or now. Why? Because the goal of those behind it—mainly the Western leftists and Islamists—is to destroy Israel.
Again, though, there’s a Freudian slip here. For Obama’s failure to recognize the motivation means he doesn’t understand the problem. And Obama has contributed to the delegitimization of Israel. What’s he saying here: Israel hasn’t given enough and made enough concessions to move the peace process forward and that’s the reason for growing hostility to Israel.
That means he doesn’t realize the sacrifices Israel has made for the cause of peace: withdrawing from Sinai, southern Lebanon, the Gaza Strip and much of the West Bank; losing more than 2000 people murdered by terrorism; and so on.
Israelis have drawn the precise opposite conclusion. If years of demonstrating our desire for peace, making concessions, taking risks, and empathizing with Palestinian suffering has only intensified the hostility toward us, perhaps that hostility isn’t our fault and is due to something else.
On that point, Obama is totally clueless. For him, Israel still needs to prove it wants peace. But the PA doesn’t.
One more Freudian slip. Israel isn’t doing enough to keep the Palestinians to abandon negotiations. So the fact that the PA doesn’t want to make true peace is…Israel’s fault once again.
Incidentally, can you imagine Obama talking about how Palestinian and Arab behavior might create an “impulse” of Israel “to abandon negotiations”? Of course not.
Obama can quote the Talmud but he can’t deal with the impending catastrophe in Egypt. How can he speak at AIPAC and not mention that the most important country in the Arab world is moving quickly to tear up its peace treaty with Israel, end sanctions on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and create a massive new security problem for Israel! A fitting symbol of his total indifference about, “How difficult that search for security can be.”
On the surface, President Obama’s speech to AIPAC will reassure many about his care and commitment to Israel. Yet a careful reading of the speech shows the exact opposite.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist for PajamasMedia at http://pajamasmedia.com/barryrubin/. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is http://www.gloria-center.org.