Obama and Israel: A Turning Point?

March 25, 2013 3:19 am 1 comment

President Obama aboard Air Force One. Photo: wiki commons.

Both American and Israeli leaders must have heaved sighs of relief as Air Force One departed from Ben-Gurion Airport with President Obama’s visit culminating on a high note for both parties.

Obama engaged in an unprecedented charm offensive in order to overcome the intense Israeli distrust towards him stemming from his initial efforts to appease the Arabs by “providing daylight” between the US and Israel. To that end, four years ago in Cairo, he groveled to the Muslim world and basically endorsed the Palestinian narrative. Subsequently he demanded a unilateral settlement freeze including the Jewish suburbs of East Jerusalem, issued one-sided condemnations of Israel and repeatedly snubbed Prime Minister Netanyahu.

What particularly rankled Israelis in his Cairo speech was his attribution of the creation of Israel to the Holocaust, effectively ignoring the Jewish links with Eretz Israel for 3000 years.

His first speech on arrival at the airport totally repudiated this. He related movingly “to the Jewish homeland” in which Jews prayed and tended the land for 3000 years, describing the rebirth of the Jewish state as an unparalleled historic act of redemption. He subsequently said that Israel was the guarantor that a future Holocaust would never recur. He reaffirmed that “the US is proud to stand with you as your greatest ally and your greatest friend”, describing the “unbreakable” US-Israel alliance as “eternal”.

He subsequently visited the Israel Museum where he viewed the Dead Sea Scrolls –- evidence of the historical linkage between Israel and the Jewish people. He also visited the graves of Zionism’s patriarch, Theodor Herzl directly repudiating Erdogan’s outrageous remarks against Zionism in order to facilitate Netanyahu’s unsavory back down to Turkey which realpolitik demanded for tangible strategic reasons.

Obama repeated his mantra opposing settlement expansion and calling for implementing the two-state solution. He irritated many Israelis by referring to Palestinian suffering without relating it to terrorism and incitement as well as praising the PA as a genuine peace partner. But for the first time he explicitly urged the Palestinians to accept Israel’s offer of negotiating without preconditions. He also made no demands on Israel for further unilateral concessions and hinted but avoided explicitly repeating his former demand that the indefensible 1949 armistice lines with swaps serve as a benchmark for negotiations. Of course, that may be resurrected at a future date.

Israelis remain somewhat queasy as to Obama’s ultimate intentions regarding Iran. Whilst expressing hope that diplomacy could still succeed, he reiterated that he was not bluffing when he vowed as a last resort, to exercise all options to prevent the Iranians from achieving nuclear status, but still declined to set deadlines. There are also concerns that the US may agree to a partial deal in which the Iranians would be permitted to develop medium enriched uranium enabling them subsequently to create a bomb within a very short time span.

Yet on the positive side, a nuclear Iran is now recognized as a threat to the US and the West. And for the first time, Obama stated explicitly that the US accepted and respected Israel’s right to take whatever steps deemed necessary to defend itself – a clear message to the Iranians that if they maintained their current course, the US would not block an Israeli strike.

If after his repeated undertakings, Obama fails to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, he would lose enormous global credibility amongst friends and foes alike and irretrievably tarnish his legacy.

It would however be premature for Israelis to conclude that Obama’s intensively friendly statements and hugs signify a reversal of his political approach.

Even on this visit, unlike Presidents Clinton and Bush, he refused to address the Knesset – the embodiment of Israel’s democratic ethos; declined to visit the Kotel and the Temple Mount to avoid compromising US policy which stipulates that these are disputed areas; and excluded Ariel University students from his address.

American Jewish journalist, Jeffery Goldberg, who is close to Obama, described his views on Israel as being more akin to Israel’s far left newspaper, Ha’aretz, than the political mainstream. His administration is thus likely to remain isolationist and continue to appease rather than confront Islamist regimes.

Some suggest that he seeks popular support in order to renew pressure on Israel to make further unilateral concessions and accept his formula based on the indefensible pre-1967 borders. There is already talk of Secretary of State John Kerry reintroducing the Arab League ‘peace initiative’ based on 1967 borders and repatriation to Israel of Arab refugees.

But Obama is a pragmatist and aware that opinion polls demonstrate that Americans today are more supportive of Israel than ever before and that ongoing confrontation with the Jewish state would create needless problems in Congress where he faces crucial challenges. Indeed, on the eve of his visit over three quarters of the Congress petitioned him to stand by Israel. He has probably also concluded that one sided pressurizing of Israel has been counterproductive.

Some Israelis will dismiss his utterances as mere platitudes and warn against becoming bedazzled by a false dawn. But the political gravitas of such statements should not be underestimated. Never has an American president spoken out with such commitment and passion about Israel and effectively identified himself with the Zionist vision.

He also repudiated calls from the far left, including Israeli so called “peaceniks” and Jews like J Street, urging him to employ “tough love” and pressurize Israel. More importantly he conveyed a powerful message to the Islamists.

Indeed, without suggesting that Israelis were transformed overnight into fans, his unprecedented passionate Zionist speeches and extraordinary efforts to overcome the personal animus with Netanyahu did more than merely ease acute concerns. At least symbolically, they represented a sea change and will historically be recorded as the highlight of his visit.

Politicians must be judged by their actions. Whilst the selection of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense, uncertainty over timing in relation to Iran, the Administration’s infatuation with Abbas and the ongoing US “engagement” with undemocratic Islamist regimes remain grounds for concern, the powerful messages of friendship and support directed towards us by an American President are of enormous significance.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who only days earlier succeeded in cobbling together a government, must be immensely satisfied with Obama’s extraordinary public displays of friendship. Netanyahu spoke for the entire nation when conveying gratitude for US military support which despite the tensions, actually expanded under the Obama administration.

However, most Israelis appreciate that we cannot subcontract our security to any third party – not even the United States – and must rely on our own defensive capabilities.

In the short term, achieving a peace settlement remains a mirage. However, transitory agreements can be implemented which would improve the relationship between Palestinians and Israelis.

The new Israeli government is in an ideal position to move in this direction. If instead of pressuring Israel to commit to final borders or make further unilateral concessions, the Obama administration endorsed its efforts to create interim or partial agreements providing the Palestinians with improved quality of life, this would represent considerable progress. Over time, it may even encourage the emergence of a moderate Palestinian leadership willing to negotiate towards a comprehensive peace settlement.

The writer’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at ileibler@leibler.com. This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish History Why the Holocaust Occurred in Germany, and Why So Few Resisted (REVIEW)

    Why the Holocaust Occurred in Germany, and Why So Few Resisted (REVIEW)

    It’s hard to make a new contribution to the field of Holocaust studies,  but German historian Götz Aly accomplishes just that in Why the Germans, Why the Jews? His premise is that the origins of the Holocaust were rooted in the specific anti-Semitism found in Germany in the decades and centuries before World War II. Aly (who is not Jewish) seeks to prove his theory by studying only pre-Holocaust history, and tracing how the German people’s envy and hatred of [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Looking at Anti-Israel Celebrities and Their Brands

    Looking at Anti-Israel Celebrities and Their Brands

    JNS.org – During the current conflict in Gaza a number of celebrities have voiced their opinions in support of either the Israeli or Palestinian positions. But others—be it during Operation Protective Edge or at other times—have gone further than simply supporting the Palestinians by actively supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, making false accusations about the Jewish state, ignoring Israel’s position on the conflict, or justifying the actions of the terrorist group Hamas. Many of these [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

    Israeli UFC Fighter Returns to Jewish State to Rejoin IDF

    JNS.org – Days after winning his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight bout against Steven Siler on July 26, Israeli-born mixed martial arts competitor Noad Lahat boarded a plane for his native country, choosing to temporarily exit UFC’s octagonal cage to rejoin the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a paratrooper for its operation against Hamas in Gaza. Except he didn’t actually consider it a choice. “When [our] home is in danger, there is no other way for us [but to serve [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    Why We Should Invest in Jewish Children

    JNS.org – My wife Suzy and I will never forget our wedding day. It was not just the uplifting ceremony and beautiful party that left an indelible mark. Some life-altering advice that we received from one of our guests informed and shaped our lives from that day forward. My high school teacher, Rabbi Moshe Yagid, pulled us aside just before the chuppah and challenged us to choose one mitzvah that would be the foundation of our marriage and our lives. He explained [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    LeBron James’ New Coach Shaped by Summer on Kibbutz and Jewish ‘Life Lessons’

    JNS.org – Influenced by his Jewish upbringing and a summer on a kibbutz, basketball coach David Blatt is embarking on his highest-profile challenge yet: coaching LeBron James, the four-time National Basketball Association (NBA) Most Valuable Player who has made waves for returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. After guiding Israel’s storied Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball franchise to its 51st Israeli league championship and 6th Euroleague title this past season, Blatt landed the Cavaliers head-coaching job in June. Just weeks later, [...]

    Read more →
  • Food Jewish Identity Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    Young Syrian Jewish Restauranteur Continues a Family Legacy

    JNS.org – At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is 27-year-old Albert Allaham’s story, too, with a few unusual twists. Albert’s “century” is the 21st—he arrived almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from a small town along the Danube river, his shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.