Read the counterargument here: “Why Obama’s Mideast Policy Can Work”
Eight months into President Barack Obama’s administration, his Middle East peace “road map” is crystal clear. First, he dialed down the pressure on Iran, whose nuclear weapons program presents an existential threat to Israel. Second, he shifted the blame for Islamic extremism to Israel and solely blamed it for the Palestinian’s plight. Then he unilaterally ratcheted up the pressure on Israel to cease building settlements and to ease its self-defense blockade of Gaza. Now, Obama has upped the ante even further, framing lasting peace in the Middle East as requiring Israel to retreat to its 1967 borders. Although he blandly claims that there are “no preconditions” to relaunching negotiations, in truth he has doomed the peace talks before they even start. Obama has set up Israel as the fall guy for negotiations that will ultimately fail and is the architect of that failure.
When Obama was elected — with 78 percent of the Jewish vote — there was concern about what his administration would mean for the 60 years of unwavering support America had provided Israel. Unlike his Republican opponent, John McCain, or his predecessor, George W. Bush, both longstanding supporters of Israel, Obama had no such track record and was championing a different course, one of détente with such hard-line regimes as Iran and Syria. Jews took heart when then-President-elect Obama selected a Jew, Rahm Emanuel, as his chief of staff, and Hilary Clinton, previously a staunch supporter of Israel from her days as senator from New York, as his secretary of state.
An examination of the first 250 days of President Obama’s administration convincingly demonstrates that the earlier concerns were well founded and the mitigating cabinet appointments mere window dressing. From his first telephone call as president to a head of state — Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority — and his first one-on-one television interview with any news organization — Al Arabiya TV — to his bowing to Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, then embracing the Muslim world at Cairo University and, most recently, rebuking Israel in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, Obama has shown far more concern for strengthening ties with authoritarian regimes on the Arabian Peninsula than to maintaining the historically close alliance with the region’s only true democracy.
His Cairo speech scaled back his support of Israel in favor of establishing new diplomatic channels in the Arab world. He also equated the suffering of the Palestinians with the loss of 6 million Jewish lives in the Holocaust. Worse yet, Obama’s affirmation of the Arab propagandist idea that Israel was created as a response to the Holocaust greatly undermined its legitimacy as a state and ignored Jews’ forced diaspora and Judaism’s historical ties to the Middle East that predate all other religions.
Instead of seeing Israel as the oasis and model for democracy that it is in the Middle East, Obama views the country and its conflict with its neighbors as “this constant wound ... this constant sore, [that] does infect all of our foreign policy.” It is as if the president has blinders on: in effect repeating the red herring that blames the atrocities of 9/11 on America’s support of Israel, in July 2008, Obama stated, “The lack of a resolution to this problem [the Israeli-Palestinian conflict] provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, so we have a national security interest in solving this.” Sound familiar? Former President Jimmy Carter, author of the canard, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” asserts, “lack of progress in the Middle East is one of the main causes for animosity, hatred and even violent acts against America.” Both presidents conveniently neglect the fact that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, perpetrators of multiple attacks on America, never cared or linked any of their actions to the Palestinian cause until after 9/11. Islamic extremists are at war with the spread of Western culture, and the United States is the chief exporter of Western beliefs, so it is a pipe dream to assume that America can achieve détente with “anti-American militant jihadists” by, in effect, offering up Israel as a sacrificial lamb.
In his United Nations address, Obama called for Israel to establish “a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967.” Like Bush before him, Obama referred to the territories Israel won in the Six-Day War — a preemptive defensive strike against armies from nine Arab countries massing on its borders — as “occupied territory” but, unlike Bush, Obama’s proposal has Israel retreating from its own land, returning to indefensible 1967 borders and trusting in the peaceful intentions of its neighbors. Bush didn’t go nearly that far, citing in his 2004 “road map” that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.” Obama went even further, linking America’s continuing support for the Jewish state’s very security with his demand that it surrender the territory, stating, “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians.” Of all the countries in history that have won wars, only Israel is being denied the fruits of its victory in 1967.
Obama appears to have adopted as policy the controversial agreement Carter reached with Hamas last year to establish a Palestinian state in the territories won by Israel 42 years ago. Additionally, and again in sharp contrast to the Bush Administration, which opposed a Palestinian national unity government, Obama has communicated his support, through Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, for the formation of a Hamas-Fatah coalition government. Obama has even gone so far as to request Congress amend the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 to enable the United States to continue to provide financial aid to any Palestinian government if the President determines that it is in the interests of national security.
As the United States, the European Union and other countries have classified Hamas as a terrorist organization, America under Obama would appear to have strange new bedfellows. Perhaps the president has forgotten that Hamas’ charter (Article 7) advocates the killing of all Jews by Muslims, its leaders are Holocaust deniers, that his own FBI director, Robert Mueller, in testimony before the U.S. Senate, cited “the FBI’s assessment that there is a ... threat of a coordinated terrorist attack in the U.S. from Palestinian terrorist organizations, such as Hamas,” that Hamas has never accepted Israel’s right to exist and is committed to “obliterating” it (preamble to Hamas charter), and that, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last January, Hamas and another terrorist organization, Hezbollah, have joined with Iran in fomenting “subversive activity” in Latin America. Or perhaps he believes America’s stated policy of not negotiating with terrorists — established by President Ronald Reagan in 1981 and reaffirmed by Obama as a presidential candidate in April 2008 — should be scrapped.
The United States is proving to be a fair-weather ally, abandoning Israel in the face of an impending existential threat from a nuclear Iran. Obama’s self-declared “evenhanded” approach to solving the Middle East “problem” would appear to consist of continually pressuring Israel to give up its secure borders while simultaneously enabling grave threats to Israel’s very existence, refusing to engage the United States in taking action to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Last May, the president connected the dots thusly: “To the extent that we can make peace ... between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I think it actually strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.” This idealistic view misses the point — Iran isn’t interested in a two-state solution. In the words of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “Israel must be wiped off the map,” is a “stinking corpse,” “is on its way to annihilation” and “has reached the end like a dead rat.” Not a lot of room to negotiate there.
Nor is there room to negotiate Iran’s nuclear weapons program. As Obama belatedly acknowledged on Sept. 26 regarding the country’s newly disclosed nuclear power facility, “the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.” Iran desires global power and to spread the religious and political ideology of the Islamic Revolution, so what’s left to negotiate? Access to nuclear energy for peaceful uses isn’t on Iran’s shopping list.
Iran and Syria rank as the leading state sponsors of terrorism, yet the president has removed a longstanding export ban on American technology to Syria, allowing the transfer of spare aircraft parts, information technology and telecommunications equipment, all material that could also benefit the air force of Syria’s close ally, Iran. At the same time, Obama actually suspended the sale of military equipment to Israel — holding up the shipment of Apache helicopters after Israel moved to defend its citizenry against daily Hamas-enabled rocket barrages earlier this year — equipment necessary to safeguard Israel’s security against overwhelming odds. Syria, an unrepentant state supporter of terrorism, was exempted by Obama from the longtime ban on the sale of sensitive, dual-use technologies. Yet, it is only Israel that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States as America’s most important and dependable ally in combating terrorism. Can the president see the difference?
Obama spoke eloquently to the United Nations about having compassion for “the Palestinian boy in Gaza who has ... no country to call his own.” Where’s his concern for the 3,000-year-old Jewish communities in Arab lands that were ethnically cleansed between 1948 and the early 1970s? Commencing with Arab League retaliation for the declaration of the State of Israel, 1 million Jews were forcibly removed from their homes and personal property, forfeiting 62,000 square miles of land (nearly five times Israel’s 12,600 square miles) and assets worth approximately $300 billion. What of their “right of return?”
By tying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to improving Muslim-U.S. relations, Obama has forced Israel into the position of answering for U.S. failures in the Muslim world and making the sacrifices necessary to mend that relationship. Obama has placed immense pressure on Israel to halt settlement building. Where is the equal pressure on the Palestinian Authority to ensure Israel’s security? Obama’s far greater pressure on the Israelis has emboldened Arab intransigence and moved the Middle East farther away from the prospect of peace. Case in point: Last weekend, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian chairman of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, asserted that Israel’s nuclear weapons program, not Iran’s, is “the number one threat” to Middle East peace. In the words of Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, “Israel seeks Iran’s recognition; Iran seeks Israel’s destruction. So of course it is Israel that poses a threat.” Obama’s strong-arm policies toward Israel have created the opening Arab countries have long sought to solve “the Jewish problem” once and for all.
President Obama’s new, “evenhanded” policy in the Middle East is anything but fair and balanced. His policies increasingly endanger and isolate Israel. At the United Nations, Obama forcefully stated that “the United States of America will never waiver in our efforts to stand up for the right of people everywhere to determine their own destiny,” that is, of course, unless the people are Israelis. Without the Jewish state of Israel as a standard bearer for Western ideals of democracy in the Middle East, the world will be a far more dangerous place. Then it will be America’s turn to stand alone as “Public Enemy No. 1” for Islamic fundamentalists.
Lloyd Greif, the son of Holocaust survivors, is president and CEO of Greif & Co., chairman of the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation and a director of both the Los Angeles Police Foundation and the Los Angeles Area Council, Boy Scouts of America. He is also the benefactor of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at the University of Southern California.
Read the counterargument here: “Why Obama’s Mideast Policy Can Work”
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