When President Obama Told Me That Israeli-Palestinian Peace Was Impossible
As many of us are aware, President Obama stumbled at the beginning of his presidency in regard to his relationship with Israel. His speech in Egypt left out the 3,000-year connection between the Jews and the land of Israel, and he put unbearable pressure on Israel during the first few years of his administration.
It was in this context that a group of Orthodox Jewish representatives were invited to meet with President Obama in 2012, with his reelection campaign on the horizon.
As the managing director of the Orthodox Union at the time, I was invited to participate in this meeting. The conversation covered many topics, and it was a generally pleasant interaction. As many of us voiced our fears about his Israel policy, President Obama raised his hand and said that he understood our concerns. He said that pressuring Israel to make peace was not practical, because he had seen that Prime Minister Abbas was a weak leader who was unable to make the concessions necessary for peace.
We were startled to hear President Obama state the obvious as bluntly as he did. And we left the White House that day with a sense that the president understood that the Israelis had no real partner for peace. Unfortunately, our rosy outlook proved to be short-lived.
After listening to Secretary of State John Kerry’s anti-Israel speech, one question was left unanswered: Who should Israel make peace with? The strongest leaders among the Palestinians seem to be those of Hamas, a terrorist organization that aspires to destroy Israel. Even if partners could be found within the Palestinian Authority, who can ensure that ISIS would not take over?
A speech from the US secretary of state, 99% of which was spent attacking home-building in the West Bank, and 1% acknowledged ongoing Palestinian terrorism was not just unbalanced; it bordered on antisemitic. Even those who feel that settlement construction should be stopped were appalled.
At my organization, Aish HaTorah, we work in “occupied territory” — next to the Western Wall. Exactly one year ago, one of our Talmud teachers, Rabbi Reuven Biermacher, the father of seven children, was butchered by two terrorists wielding machetes. Was this because he refused to stop building in the territories? Was this because he oppressed Palestinians? No. It was simply because he was a defenseless Jew.
We Jews have heard from many people throughout the centuries that if we only acted a certain way, we would be protected. You will have to forgive us for following President Reagan’s advice: “Trust, but verify.” In President Obama’s own words, the leadership of the Palestinians is too weak to make peace. How can we trust them to keep us safe?
To be fair, President Obama and John Kerry have done many positive things for the state of Israel over the last eight and four years respectively. I absolutely do not believe that they have any malicious intention towards Israel or the Jews. Unfortunately, whether someone is naive or malicious, the end result is often the same.