By BARRY RUBIN
It seems the Obama administration envisions having Israel pay for everything.
Has the Obama administration, against US interests, declared diplomatic war on Israel? Up until now my view has been that the US government didn’t want a crisis but merely sought to get indirect negotiations going between Israel and Palestinians in order to look good. Even assuming this limited goal, the technique – to keep getting concessions from Israel without asking the Palestinian Authority to do or give anything – has been foolish, but at least it was a generally rational strategy.
But now it has become reasonable to ask whether the Obama White House is running amok, whether it is pushing friction so far out of proportion that it is starting to look like a vendetta based on hostility and ideology.
Part of the framework for such behavior can be called, to borrow a phrase from the health care debate, a “single-payer option.” That is, the administration seems to envision Israel paying for everything: supposedly getting the PA to negotiate, doing away with any Islamist desire to commit acts of terrorism or revolt, keeping Iraq quiet, making Afghanistan stable and solving just about every other global problem.
What makes this even more absurd is that at the very moment when it is coddling Syria and losing the battle for anything but the most minimal sanctions on Iran, the administration has chosen to bash Israel.
DURING HIS visit to Washington last week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu tried to defuse the tension. His partners in government, we should never forget, are Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party, and President Shimon Peres, who has done more to promote Middle East peace than any other living Israeli leader.
But according to reliable sources, Obama went out of his way to be personally hostile, treating Netanyahu like some colonial minion who could be ordered around.
Judging from the evidence, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s AIPAC speech, the administration thinks it knows better what Israelis want than do Netanyahu, Barak and Peres.
Actually, a poll by the highly respected Smith Research company for The Jerusalem Post, found that only 9 percent of Israeli Jews considered the administration more pro-Israel, while 48% said it was more pro-Palestinian. To understand these figures, you have to know that most Israelis are very reluctant to say anything critical of the US, out of genuine respect and concern not to damage relations.
So does the administration want to resolve this issue or to pile on demands in hope of giving the PA so much that it will agree to talk about getting even more unilateral Israeli concessions? Is the goal to overthrow Netanyahu – which isn’t going to happen – or break his spirit so he will follow orders in future – which also isn’t going to happen?
Doesn’t this US government understand that if you prove yourself to be anti-Israel, you will destroy any incentive Israel has to enter negotiations with you as the mediator? Can it not comprehend that it is giving the PA every incentive to keep raising the price?
Can it not sense that if it undermines Israel’s trust in Washington, it will push the whole country further to the Right? If the US government politely asks to stop building in east Jerusalem in exchange for some tangible benefit and for a limited time, many Israelis would be willing to agree. But if this happens in a framework of enmity and threat, with the “reward” being no benefit and even more concessions to follow, even doves will grow sharp beaks.
IT SEEMS as if the Obama administration has chosen just one country to try to pressure and intimidate. And it has picked the worst possible target in this respect, both because of how Israelis think and also given very strong domestic US support for Israel (especially in Congress).
It bashes Israel while ignoring the PA’s naming of a major square in honor of a terrorist who murdered a score of Israeli civilians, with Clinton even claiming this was done by Hamas and not the PA. And as the administration betrays Israel’s main priority – failing to put serious pressure on Iran to stop building nuclear weapons – why should Israel want to do big favors and take big risks for this president?
Finally, since this administration has already unilaterally abrogated two major US promises – the previous president’s recognition that settlement blocs could be absorbed as part of a peace agreement, and the Obama administration’s own pledge to let Israel build in east Jerusalem if it stopped in the West Bank – why should Israel put its faith in some new set of promises?
The Obama administration will have to decide in the coming days: Does it want to try to get some limited concessions from Israel to use as capital in trying to get talks started, using these to brag – futilely, of course – to Arabs and Muslims how they should be nicer to the administration in Iraq and Afghanistan?
Or does it want to live up to the negative stereotypes held by its worst enemies while simultaneously committing political suicide and destroying US credibility in the Middle East.
I guess we’ll find out pretty soon.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. 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). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports, Click Here