Commentary Magazine


Alienating Friends and Influencing No One

Ever so gently, the Washington Post editors wade into the growing controversy over Obama’s stance toward Israel. No, they don’t take him to task over the abysmally one-sided Cairo speech. And they feel compelled to take a shot at the “right wing” Netanyahu government. But then they get down to business, recognizing the Israeli prime minister’s forthcoming speech earlier this year and the president’s ill-conceived course of action:

Rather than pocketing Mr. Netanyahu’s initial concessions — he gave a speech on Palestinian statehood and suggested parameters for curtailing settlements accepted by previous U.S. administrations — Mr. Obama chose to insist on an absolutist demand for a settlement “freeze.” Palestinian and Arab leaders who had accepted previous compromises immediately hardened their positions; they also balked at delivering the “confidence-building” concessions to Israel that the administration seeks. Israeli public opinion, which normally leans against the settler movement, has rallied behind Mr. Netanyahu. And Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, which were active during the Bush administration’s final year, have yet to resume.

U.S. and Israeli officials are working on a compromise that would allow Israel to complete some housing now under construction while freezing new starts for a defined period. Arab states would be expected to take steps in return. Such a deal will expose Mr. Obama to criticism in the Arab world — a public relations hit that he could have avoided had he not escalated the settlements dispute in the first place. At worst, the president may find himself diminished among both Israelis and Arabs before discussions even begin on the issues on which U.S. clout is most needed.

Well, that wasn’t so hard, was it? Perhaps others in Congress and those still spinning so furiously for Obama (Alan Dershowitz included) can at least concede that whatever Obama thought he might be able to achieve by alienating our ally has proven to be counterproductive. He has lost the trust of the Israelis and encouraged intransigence among Palestinians and Arab states.

Moreover, while the Post editors only obliquely acknowledge that the “two governments have also differed over policy toward Iran,” one must consider the consequences of that difference and the ramifications for the relations between the two countries. Israel faces an existential threat from Iran; Obama still fancies a policy of “engagement” with the identity of the fiancée still in doubt and the prospects for success virtually nonexistent. Obama’s advisers mouth platitudes — the U.S. is “committed to Israel’s security.” But does this commitment extend to the current threat by Iranian mullahs to Israel’s security and to the lives of millions of its citizens?

The Post is right that Obama needs to rethink his approach. His current “policy” (which consists of offending one side and then trying to repair the damage without embarrassing himself with the other) will bring neither peace nor security to the region and will only encourage those who fall under the dark cloud of Iran’s nuclear threat to take matters into their own hands.