Mitt Romney meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, January 2011. (Photo: GPO)
One of President Obama’s many mistakes when it comes to Israel was his insistence on being the anti-Bush whenever possible. It was a mistake he could have avoided, a decision against which he was advised by some of his smarter advisors. President Bush didn’t leave office with a lot of hope for the peace process, but he did leave behind a functioning mechanism for its continuation. And he did it for a reason, as I wrote at the time:
[T]he president is still determined not to repeat what the previous president did. Hopefully, he will be sufficiently determined. Well-positioned persons note that [Bill] Clinton passed down to his successor a dysfunctional peace process. A violent intifada. The size of the abyss into which the two sides slid was commensurate to Clinton’s ambition to bring an end to the conflict. A senior official described it thus: “Clinton drove an expensive race car in order to reach the end of the race, but spun at the curve. What Bush got from him was not a car but a pile of rubble.” The outgoing president - in 10 months - intends to leave his successor the keys to a car in working order.
Obama made the mistake of wanting to start over, scrap whatever mechanism was in place and reinvent the peace process. As Steve Rosen explains in his new paper (see Rosner’s Must Reads):
Obama’s strategy of confrontation over settlements, in other words, has backfired. The Palestinian issue has now regressed to the pre-Madrid situation before 1991: Palestinians once again refuse to meet with Israelis, and speak of abandoning the two-state solution and returning to armed struggle. By comparison, during the term of George W. Bush, who, Obama believes, did so little for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Abbas met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for talks that Abbas himself characterized as among the most productive ever held. Between the November 2007 Annapolis Conference convened by Bush, and the end of 2008, there were 288 negotiation sessions by 12 teams representing Olmert and Abbas, all while limited construction of Jewish homes in east Jerusalem and the settlement blocs continued.
Enter Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee. And what does he tell the pro-Israel crowd of the Faith and Freedom Coalition?
“I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite”.
Apparently, the crowd loved it:
Those words prompted prolonged applause and cheering from an audience of 250 in the ballroom of a Washington hotel.
I don’t. Doing the “opposite” is what got Barack Obama into trouble with Israel, and doing the opposite would get Romney in as much trouble if he insisted on pursuing such a policy. Doing the opposite is the opposite of doing the right thing – that is, of building on one’s predecessor successes and changing where one’s successor had failed. Obviously, at this stage the “opposite” quip is no more than an election one-liner aimed at getting cheers. Alas, such quips have the occasional tendency to become the policy of new administrations, and as a policy it is really a bad one.
So yes, Romney should “do the opposite” from Obama on Israel, but just in one regard: he should do the opposite by not doing the opposite.