For the past two years the hottest debate in the pro-Israel community has been over how to assess the Obama administration. Despite the tense relationship with the Israeli government, the fights picked over building in Jerusalem and the pressure for a settlement freeze, there has been a considerable body of opinion that still insisted that Obama had basically changed nothing in the Israel-U.S. relationship.
Even most of those who took this position would concede that the atmospherics between Washington and Jerusalem were considerably worse than they were during the Bush administration. But they argued that when one looked coldly at the facts about the alliance, nothing had been altered. At the very least, they would contend, Obama was no worse than Bush or any other president, since no American leader had ever fully accepted Israel’s positions on territory, settlements or borders.
Their strongest argument consisted of citing the strong cooperation that has continued to exist between the U.S. Defense Department and the Israel Defense Forces. And on this point they are right, though for that to change it would have taken an overt and gratuitous effort by the White House that Obama has not made. So while he deserves credit for maintaining the close defense ties between the two allies, it is mainly for having the sense (both strategic and political) to have not tried to mess it up.
On the surface, the veto cast by the United States in the UN Security Council on Friday ought to be considered more proof of Obama’s steadfastness as a friend of Israel. When all was said and done, he followed in the footsteps of his predecessors and refused to allow the UN body to brand Israel a criminal lawbreaker. That this veto took place after an American effort to head off a vote by proposing a “statement” by the president of Security Council, rather than a formal resolution, was rejected by the Palestinians was testimony to the latter’s intransigence and not to Obama’s loyalty to his Israeli ally. And the unnecessary explanation given after the vote that branded the Jewish state’s position on the issue of settlements as “illegitimate” and went on to claim that they “threatened” peace and “devastate” trust undermined any notion of U.S. support for Israel.