Comparing Trump and Obama on Israel and Peace
Eleven months into their respective presidencies, Barack Obama and Donald Trump each received their first international accolades. In 2009, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded then-President Obama the Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts” in “creating a new climate in international politics.” On December 27, 2017, some in the Israeli government called for a train station to be named after Trump — due to his “brave and historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
Setting aside the obvious disparity in prestige, it is worth evaluating each honor within the context of Alfred Nobel’s mandate: to “have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” Applying this standard, it is likely that a public transportation stop will, ironically, prove to be the more noble of the two.
At the time of his award, Obama’s “new climate” had conferred little, if any, benefit to mankind. In his June 2009 Cairo speech, Obama spoke of a “new beginning” in relations between America and the Islamic world. However, these words immediately rang hollow.
While Obama was in Cairo, the Iranian people rose up in opposition to their autocratic government — in what came to be known as the “Green Movement.: Rather than support the democratic aspirations of the movement’s participants, Obama adopted a “low key posture,” as the regime violently reasserted control.
Thus, when faced with a golden opportunity to “strengthen democracy and human rights,” and thereby perform a “great benefit to mankind,” Obama did nothing. Right now, the Iranian people are in the midst of another wave of protests. Although Trump has been silent as other countries, such as Russia, violate human rights, when it comes to Iran, Trump — unlike his predecessor — has pledged “great support” for the protestors.
Although the Nobel Committee likely considered that it would take time for Obama’s “new climate” to materialize, the 44th president continuously fell short of the Committee’s expectations.
For example, Obama overpromised and under delivered in his “vision and work for a world without nuclear weapons.” In September 2009, as a sitting US president, he took the unprecedented step of presiding over a UN Security Council meeting, and authored a resolution calling for international action to address nuclear proliferation.
However, Obama then did little to realize this goal. On his watch, North Korea expanded its nuclear program, and the JCPOA that Obama negotiated with Iran, with its “sunset clauses,” appears to have paved the way for Iran to further develop its nuclear technology. Obama’s policies might spark a nuclear arms race in East Asia and the Middle East.
Further, Obama’s policies in defense of human rights were, according to Human Rights Watch, “shaky [and] more hope than change.” And instead of “strengthening democracy,” Obama did little to support fledgling democratic ambitions, as freedom continued to decline around the world. In sum, Obama did little to confer the positive benefits identified by the Nobel Committee.
In contrast, Trump has received accolades for an action that has significant beneficial implications for “mankind.” Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem removes the greatest obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, because it disabuses the Palestinians of their fantasies that Jews are not indigenous to the land, have no right to a state, and will not retain control of their capital or its holy sites. Thus, this action may finally convince the Palestinians to negotiate in good faith.
Already, the Czech Republic and Guatemala have recognized Jerusalem, suggesting that the international community, whose refusal to do so has helped perpetuate the conflict, may begin following America’s lead. And Saudi Arabia, whose response has been notably muted, has already proposed Abu Dis as a capital of a future Palestinian state.
To be sure, there are critics. The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution expressing “deep regret.” Turkey announced its intent to open an embassy in East Jerusalem. And Iran’s parliament passed a bill that recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of the “State of Palestine.”
Yet, as FDR remarked, “I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.”
In 2015, a former secretary of the Nobel Committee wrote in his memoirs that Obama “failed to live up to the panel’s expectations.” Years from now, it is likely that Trump’s decision will be acknowledged as the first step toward “conferring the greatest benefit to mankind” — peace between Israel and the Palestinians.