President Obama’s paean to democracy in the Arab world was neoconservative in tone and strongly rooted in an American freedom promotion agenda that the president had derided when running for president as well as in his first years in office. The president’s appeal for human rights and proposals for economic development in the region linked to peaceful change from tyranny to freedom was well said and an entirely proper policy pronouncement. But by linking this appeal to a move that will undermine Israel’s negotiating position, Obama has demonstrated that he has little faith that an American freedom agenda is enough to win over the Arab world.
Contrary to reports that said that Obama had decided to pass on enunciating his idea of a framework for Arab-Israeli peace in the wake of the unity pact between Fatah and Hamas, the president nevertheless proceeded to do just that. Though Obama paid due deference to Israel’s security needs and stated his opposition to Palestinian attempts to delegitimize and isolate Israel, by stating that a framework of peace must be based on the pre-1967 borders, he has dealt the Jewish state a telling diplomatic blow.
Rather than helping to head off a United Nations vote to recognize a Palestinian state without benefit of a peace agreement this fall, Obama’s speech will actually strengthen the Arab argument in favor of such a measure. Their goal is international recognition of a Palestinian state in every inch of the territories without an agreement that will force either Fatah or Hamas to recognize Israel. Obama’s endorsement of the 1967 borders — without any reciprocal measure from a Palestinian Authority that has not only refused to negotiate with Israel but has now allied itself with the Hamas terrorists — will be seen as implicit support for their refusal to talk until Israel concedes everything in advance. Though it was couched in neutral terms laden with rhetoric designed to please friends of Israel, the ultimate impact of this speech damages Israel’s negotiating position and weakens its ability to stave off efforts designed to further isolate it.
But, as even the president seemed to acknowledge, the chances that his formula will actually lead to peace are not great. Why then devote so much attention to this hopeless quest when the real challenge in the region is how Arab societies can transition to freedom from tyranny?
The first reason is that Obama has never wavered from his obsessive belief that Israeli concessions will magically create peace.
Second, and perhaps more importantly, by putting Israel in a corner Obama hopes to score points with the Arab world. Perhaps rightly, the president seems to have concluded that American economic aid to the region and our halting and inconsistent support for freedom isn’t likely to win many Arab hearts and minds. But helping to tilt the diplomatic battlefield even further in favor of Israel’s Palestinian foes may do the trick.
The problem with this strategy is that even this unprecedented move won’t convince those who hate Israel to love America. And by damaging Israel’s diplomatic position and making its isolation more likely, he has also undermined U.S. interests.