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March 20, 2013 1:12 am

The Obama Administration’s Israel Fixation

avatar by Daniel Pipes

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President Obama being interviewed by Al Arabiya.

Why does Barack Obama focus so much on Israel and its struggle with the Arabs?

It’s not just that he’s spending days in Israel this week, but his disproportionate four-year search to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. His first full day as president in 2009 saw him appointing George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East and also telephoning the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. The White House press secretary justified this surprising emphasis by saying that Obama used his first day in office “to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term.” A few days later, Obama granted his first formal interview as president to Al-Arabiya television channel.

Nor did he subsequently let up. In June 2009, Obama announced that “The moment is now for us to act” to ease tensions between Israel and its neighbors and declared “I want to have a sense of movement and progress. … I’m confident that if we stick with it, having started early, that we can make some serious progress this year.” In May 2011 he announced impatience with regard to Arab-Israeli diplomacy: “we can’t afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace.” The new secretary of state, John Kerry, repeated these sentiments in his Jan. 2013 confirmation hearing: “We need to try to find a way forward.”

Why this fixation on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which ranks only 49th in fatalities since World War II? Because of a strange belief on the Left, rarely stated overtly, that this issue is key not just to the Middle East but to world problems.

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Obama National Security Adviser James L. Jones speaking to J Street.

For an unusually frank statement of this viewpoint, note the spontaneous, awkward comments of James L. Jones, then Obama’s national security adviser, in Oct. 2009. Addressing J Street, he mentioned “pursuing peace between Israel and her neighbors” and continued:

Of all the problems the administration faces globally, that if there was one problem that I would recommend to the president that if he could do anything he wanted to solve one problem, this would be it. Finding a solution to this problem has ripples that echo, that would run globally and affect many other problems that we face elsewhere in the globe. The reverse is not true. This is the epicenter, and this is where we should focus our efforts. And I am delighted that this administration is doing so with such enthusiasm and commitment.

Although delivered a year before the Arab uprising, this statement is worth parsing because it provides an important insight into the White House worldview.

Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict would “affect many other problems that we face elsewhere in the globe.” Jones implies that the conflict’s continuation exacerbates those problems. In one sense, his point is trite: of course, ending any conflict improves the overall atmosphere. But it staggers the imagination to think that the White House awaits resolution on Jerusalem and Palestine refugees to handle Kurdish restlessness, Islamist assaults, Syrian civil insurrection, Iranian nuclear ambitions, Egyptian economic travails, and Yemeni anarchy.

The reverse is not true.” Why would solving other problems not ameliorate the Arab-Israeli conflict? No proof backs up this blithe, illogical drivel. Defeating Islamism, obviously, would indeed help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, as would deflecting the Iranian bomb.

This is the epicenter.” In 2009, the Islamist surge had already riven the Middle East into Iranian- and Saudi-led cold war blocs: Israel and the Palestinians were not then or now the regional center. Arguably, Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia is.

A Medieval world map, with Jerusalem the center of the world.

This is where we should focus our efforts.” Here we get to the nub: Jones wants a focus on housing in Jerusalem and electricity grids in the West Bank rather than on stopping the Iranian nuclear program, assuring oil and gas supplies, dealing with the pattern of dictatorships vs. Islamist insurgencies, or dealing with the increasingly rogue government of Turkey.

At least Jones did not make the outlandish and borderline antisemitic claim that Israel is responsible for all problems in the Middle East; but his milder version of this canard is no less bone-headed. His analysis, sadly, neatly fits the anti-Zionist mentality that increasingly pervades the left wing of the Democratic party.

To understand Obama’s visit to Israel, the next four years, and European Union diplomacy, keep this strange and contorted logic in mind.

Mr. Pipes (DanielPipes.org) is president of the Middle East Forum. © 2013 by Daniel Pipes. All rights reserved. This article was originally published by the National Review.

Although delivered a year before the Arab uprising, this statement is worth parsing because it provides an important insight into the White House worldview.

Solving the Arab-Israeli conflict would “affect many other problems that we face elsewhere in the globe.” Jones implies that the conflict’s continuation exacerbates those problems. In one sense, his point is trite: of course, ending any conflict improves the overall atmosphere. But it staggers the imagination to think that the White House awaits resolution on Jerusalem and Palestine refugees to handle Kurdish restlessness, Islamist assaults, Syrian civil insurrection, Iranian nuclear ambitions, Egyptian economic travails, and Yemeni anarchy.

The reverse is not true.” Why would solving other problems not ameliorate the Arab-Israeli conflict? No proof backs up this blithe, illogical drivel. Defeating Islamism, obviously, would indeed help resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, as would deflecting the Iranian bomb.

This is the epicenter.” In 2009, the Islamist surge had already riven the Middle East into Iranian- and Saudi-led cold war blocs: Israel and the Palestinians were not then or now the regional center. Arguably, Iran, Turkey or Saudi Arabia is.

This is where we should focus our efforts.” Here we get to the nub: Jones wants a focus on housing in Jerusalem and electricity grids in the West Bank rather than on stopping the Iranian nuclear program, assuring oil and gas supplies, dealing with the pattern of dictatorships vs. Islamist insurgencies, or dealing with the increasingly rogue government of Turkey.

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  • Laust

    It seems that in certain instances, you’d like Israel’s role to be unique or at least important, but when it comes to solving the conflict (why this is such a big deal I do not understand. Solving the conflict should be in everybody’s interest), you’d like as little attention as possible?

    Saying that the US administration is overly engaged in the Israel/Palestine issue is just subjective nonsense. You might find a couple of statements here and there suggesting that action need to be taken. Some of them might even be *gasp* a little critical of Israel’s role in the matter. But looking at the facts, what’s actually going on, nothing has changed and the US is standing firmer behind Israel than ever before! The funding is there and the support from the American people is there.

    Some of the conclusions made in this article are very far fetched. For example, to say that James Jones’ statement, “This is where we should focus our efforts”, is somehow bordering anti-semitism seems completely conspiratorial and unfounded. How does making a statement about focusing on solving the Israel/Palestine conflict automatically becomes mild version of anti-semitism? This makes no sense. And it makes even less sense if you take into account that this is simply a statement and that no real action has been taken from the US administration on the matter (sad as it is).

    Just because Netanyahu and Obama aren’t the best of friends, doesn’t mean that the White House is anti-semitic as you like to imply. This reminds me of the regular scare campaigning that goes on many places online when people want to defend Israel against criticism.

  • Jon Garfunkel

    I guess it’s such a burden to be in the party of optimists, but here goes:

    We could follow Caroline Glick’s opinion and no longer have Israel be the #1 recipient of US foreign aid. I suppose then that Israel would start falling of the Washington radar.

    But, then, most Americans don’t agree with Caroline Glick. Hence the U.S. President is engaged with Israel…

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