Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Why Obama's approach to Israel is collapsing

At least that is the question Steven Rosen is answering.

Putting aside the rebuttals to Obama that Rosen touches upon from Elliot Abrams and Dov Weissglass , Obama's statements themselves about the situation do not hold up to scrutiny. Take for example, Obama's claim that to American Jewish leaders on July 13 that during Bush's 8 year term, "We had no sunlight for eight years, but no progress either." Rosen writes:
Obama's conclusion that former U.S. President George W. Bush achieved nothing by working with Israel is amazing, considering that Bush brought the father of the Israeli settler movement, Ariel Sharon, to withdraw every soldier and every settler from every square inch of Gaza in August 2005 in the largest test of the "land for peace" concept in Israeli-Palestinian history. You would think the experience of the Bush years would have led the Obama team to an opposite conclusion: If settlements had been the obstacle to peace, why did Sharon's removal of 8,000 settlers from 21 settlements lead to the rise of Hamas, thousands of Qassam rockets fired at Israel, and war instead of peace?
But the issue is not merely Obama's highly questionable interpretation of Israel's actions over the past 8 years. Current events in response to Obama's 'tough love' approach towards Israel are also damning:
The theory of "tough love" toward Israel is also failing the test, if it is intended to win concessions from the Palestinian side. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who just completed intensive negotiations with an outgoing Ehud Olmert government that was continuing "natural growth" of settlements within the agreed Bush limits, now says the incoming Benjamin Netanyahu government must "stop all settlement activities in order to resume peace talks over final status issues." His chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, adds, "There can be no half-solutions with regards to the settlements."

...Now, Obama has generated inflated and unsatisfiable expectations in the Arab world, a belief that the U.S. president can and will force total Israeli capitulation and an absolute freeze. The Los Angeles Times reports, "President Obama's public quarrel with Israel ... is developing into a test of the U.S. leader's international credibility, say foreign diplomats and other observers." Anything less than a 100 percent halt "will not only disappoint the Arabs whom the president has courted, but also will be read by adversaries around the globe as a signal that the president can be forced to back down." Or, as Erekat himself put it on Voice of Palestine radio, "If settlement continues ... Arabs and Palestinians [will] believe that the American administration is incapable of swaying Israel to halt its settlement activities." A prominent Palestinian observer, Ghassan Khatib, states, "Should the U.S. government ... fail to make Israel abide by its international commitments, especially regarding ending the expansion of settlements, it will sabotage efforts to renew the political process."
Rosen concludes his analysis of Obama's Israel policy by noting Obama's latest demand regarding Jerusalem and the construction of 20 apartments in the Sheikh Jarrah area of Jerusalem:
How could the administration believe that any major Israeli political party could possibly agree to making any part of Jerusalem Judenrein? Just how far do they plan to go with this policy of confrontation?
With Obama's international creditability at stake--even as approval of both Obama and his economic plan plummet at home--we can probably expect more Chicago-style pressure on Israel.

Obama needs a win, and with enough pressure Israel is more malleable than the economy.

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