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Obama Still Not Fooling Anyone on Israel

When foreign policy “realists,” pseudo-realists, and leftists claim that the pro-Israel establishment is preventing an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, their argument fails to account for one aspect of recent Mideast history: During the administrations of American presidents seen as favoring Israel, the Jewish state’s leaders made serious offers for a final-status agreement.

So the argument that more “daylight” is needed between the U.S. and Israel is generally met with proper skepticism. So is the declaration that President Obama is just as pro-Israel as his predecessors, he’s just showing his friends a bit of tough love–heavy on the tough, light on the love. Aaron David Miller, part of Bill Clinton’s Mideast negotiating team, doesn’t think there’s any reason to fool yourself about that last point. He has written an article for Foreign Policy’s website detailing the six most damaging myths of the U.S.-Israel relationship. No. 6 is: “Barack Obama is just as pro-Israel as Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.” Miller writes:

There’s no question that Obama understands and appreciates the special relationship between Israel and the United States. But Obama isn’t Bill Clinton or George W. Bush when it comes to Israel — not even close. These guys were frustrated by Israeli prime ministers too, but they also were moved and enamored by them (Clinton by Yitzhak Rabin, Bush by Ariel Sharon). They had instinctive, heartfelt empathy for the idea of Israel’s story, and as a consequence they could make allowances at times for Israel’s behavior even when it clashed with their own policy goals. Obama is more like George H.W. Bush when it comes to Israel, but without the strategy…

If Obama had a chance to reset the U.S.-Israel relationship and make it a little less special, he probably would. But I guess that’s the point: He probably won’t have the chance.

Miller has made this point before. And when he says “He probably won’t have the chance,” that’s because the American public and their representatives in the Congress don’t want to downgrade the U.S.-Israeli relationship, so they will work to prevent Obama from doing so. The problem for the president is that he cannot argue that his way is more effective—he thus far has moved the parties in the conflict further away from where they’ve been in the past—or that he is the victim. After all, even Clinton—who never hid his disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu–got Netanyahu to sign a deal, and with Yasser Arafat no less.

Under the previous two administrations—one Democratic, one Republican–the Israeli right, left, and center have all signed agreements, made final-status offers, or led Israel to make unprecedented sacrifices for the peace process. As Yossi Klein Halevi wrote recently: “Israelis still recall with disbelief how Obama refused to honor Bush’s written commitment to Ariel Sharon—that the U.S. would support settlement blocs being incorporated into Israel proper. And never has an American president treated an Israeli prime minister with such shabbiness as Obama has treated Netanyahu. Indeed one gets the impression that of all the world’s leaders, Obama most detests the prime minister of Israel.”

Read that last sentence again and understand why it matters that Obama thinks less of Israel than his predecessors did, and why he has failed both the Israelis and the Palestinians because of it.



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