Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

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. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    North American Studios Look to Israel for Next Animation Hit

    JNS.org – In 2008, Yoram Honig was a producer and director living in Jerusalem, fresh off his first international hit, when the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) came to him with a challenge: build a film industry from scratch in Israel’s capital. “When we started here, was nothing in Jerusalem,” he said during an interview in his office in the Talbiya neighborhood. Now, the Jerusalem Film and Television Fund, which Honig heads as an arm of the JDA, pumps 9 million shekels […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Sports Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic Gold Medalist Gabby Douglas to Wear Leotard With Hebrew Letters in National Competition

    Olympic gold medalist Gabby Douglas will wear a leotard bearing Hebrew lettering when she competes at the P&G Gymnastics Championships over the weekend. Douglas’ Swarovski-outlined outfit will feature the Hebrew word “Elohim,” meaning God, on its left sleeve. The Hebrew detailing honors the athlete’s “rich heritage of faith,” according to apparel manufacturer GK Elite, which produced the leotard and released a preview of it on Wednesday. The company said Douglas’ sister, Joyelle “Joy” Douglas, created the Hebrew design. The outcome of the P&G Championships will help […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Sports British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    British World Heavyweight Champion Should Be Banned From Boxing for Sounding Like Hitler, Says Ukrainian Competitor

    Britain’s world heavyweight champion, Taylor Fury, should be banned from boxing for making Nazi-like comments, a former world champion from the Ukraine said on Thursday, ahead of their upcoming match. “I was in shock at his statements about women, the gay community, and when he got to the Jewish people, he sounded like Hitler,” Wladimir Klitschko told British media, according to Reuters. “We cannot have a champion like that. Either he needs to be shut up or shut down in the ring, or […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Shows Cooking Skills and Humor on Chopped

    Rabbi Hanoch Hecht just made television history; but, unfortunately, he couldn’t have his rugelach and eat it too. Hecht became the first rabbi to compete on the hit show “Chopped,” where contestants are forced to use four random ingredients in their recipes, and have 20-30 minutes to create an appetizer, a main course and a dessert. A contestant is eliminated after each round. Hecht, 32, said that while the dishes and utensils were new, the kitchen was not kosher, so he couldn’t taste […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox Entertainer Stars in Pepsi Max Commercial as New Face of Company’s Israel Campaign (VIDEO)

    Orthodox singer and entertainer Lipa Schmeltzer is starring in a new Pepsi Max commercial for the company’s campaign in Israel. The commercial begins with a bunch of Jewish men eating at a restaurant, when Schmeltzer walks in and tries to decide what to order. An employee at the obviously Israeli eatery offers him a variety of foods, but the entertainer in the end decides on a bottle of Pepsi. Everyone in the restaurant then joins him, drinking Pepsi Max and dancing to […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Book Reviews Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    Jewish Author’s ‘Messy’ Draft Transforms Into Rock Star Novel on Amazon

    JNS.org – “Writing is a messy process,” says author Elizabeth Poliner. “People who don’t write fiction would be surprised to see what early drafts could look like.” But readers wouldn’t know “what a mess it was for the longest time,” as the Jewish author puts it, when reading Poliner’s critically acclaimed latest book, As Close to Us as Breathing. The volume garnered Amazon’s “Best Book” designation in March 2016 as well as rave reviews from the New York Times,W Magazine, NPR, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    Sundance Tour Features Short Film About Elderly Jewish Woman’s Decision to Eat Bacon for First Time

    The Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour, which started on Friday in New York City, features a mini-documentary about an elderly Jewish woman whose journey away from Orthodoxy leads her to taste forbidden food for the first time in her life. In Canadian director Sol Friedman’s Bacon & God’s Wrath, Razie Brownstone talks about ending her lifelong observance of keeping kosher as her 90th birthday approaches. The recently declared atheist said the discovery of the search engine Google spurred a lapse in her Jewish faith and made her decide to […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Food Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    Chabad Rabbi From New York Competes on Food Network’s ‘Chopped’ Cooking Competition

    A Chabad rabbi from Rhinebeck, NY, will face off a priest, a pastor and a nun-in-training in an upcoming episode of the Food Network‘s reality show, “Chopped,” Lubavitch.com reported. Rabbi Hanoch Hecht – who teaches up-and-coming chefs about the intricacies of kosher dietary laws at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) — was nominated for the show by a professional chef, and went through a rigorous interview process at the Food Network’s studios in Chelsea, NY. Months later, he was informed he had been accepted as a contestant in the popular TV cooking competition. “I thought […]

    Read more →