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Obama and Israel’s “Best Interests”

The headline writers at Bloomberg knew exactly which part of Jeffrey Goldberg’s column would prove juiciest to those perusing the web today: “Obama: ‘Israel Doesn’t Know What Its Best Interests Are’”. The quote from the president will bother Israel’s defenders for the same reason Obama is usually able to push their buttons: Obama’s lack of knowledge about Jewish history, his decision to take potshots at the Likud party as a way to win over those hostile to the Jewish state during the 2008 election, and his refusal to learn basic facts about issues before throwing temper tantrums about them make him among the least credible public officials on the issue of what is in Israel’s best interests.

Goldberg’s access to Obama’s inner circle has made him an excellent source on the Obama administration’s perspective on Israel, though stories like this don’t exactly paint the president in a particularly positive light–especially the president’s belief that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a “coward.” But childish name-calling aside, the president, according to the column, seems to have given up on Netanyahu. He can’t muster outrage at Israeli actions that elicit rage from leftist activists and cartoonishly biased and inaccurate “news” stories. (The New York Times deserves special mention here for publishing an article on the E-1 corridor around Jerusalem and then publishing a “correction” noting that the entire premise of the article was wrong, having since consulted a map.) But the president seems unwilling to admit how he has contributed to the situation that upsets him so.

For example, Obama thinks the only thing that can save Israel long-term is a negotiated settlement over a two-state solution with the Palestinians. But as everyone knows, Obama was the one who pulled the Palestinians away from the negotiating table. Thus, it seems Obama knows what’s in Israel’s best interests and acted against those interests anyway. A bit of humility from the president on this would be appropriate. Additionally, Goldberg writes:

And if Israel, a small state in an inhospitable region, becomes more of a pariah — one that alienates even the affections of the U.S., its last steadfast friend — it won’t survive. Iran poses a short-term threat to Israel’s survival; Israel’s own behavior poses a long-term one.

It’s unclear if this is Goldberg’s opinion or if he is paraphrasing Obama (or both). Of course an isolated Israel would be an increasingly threatened and weakened Israel. But Iran is only a “short-term” threat if the threat is disposed of in the near future. A nuclear Iran would probably be a long-term threat to Israel. And it’s on this issue where the U.S. and Israel are on shaky ground in terms of their alliance. Obama promised not to allow Iran to go nuclear, but Obama isn’t exactly famous for keeping promises, to say the least, and his steadfast opposition to sanctions, which usually results in his own efforts to water them down if he’s been unable to stop them from passing, puts understandable doubts in the minds of some Israeli officials.

Additionally, if you believe Iran to be a “short-term” threat, then you believe soon Iran will not be a threat. Once that threat is removed, it would become substantially easier to move on the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating track anyway, since the terrorist groups that are supplied by Iran reliably disrupt the peace process whenever they (or Iran) feel like it. If Iran’s threat will soon be removed then the peace process Obama cares so much about should get an immediate boost. So if Obama’s really about to remove the Iranian threat, why should he lose patience now?

The truth is, no one knows what Obama is going to do–possibly not even Obama. But he pushed the Palestinians away from the negotiating table and has yet to figure out a way to get them back to it. And he has sent both Israel and Iran contradictory messages by promising to stop Iran but then being the primary obstacle to tougher sanctions and nominating to be his defense secretary a vocal opponent of all the tools that could be used to stop Iran. (Though Chuck Hagel has recanted in return for support from key Democrats, Obama chose Hagel before he flip-flopped.) A president that sends clear messages on those issues and stops picking unnecessary and counterproductive fights with his allies would probably have a lot more credibility to claim to know what’s in Israel’s “best interests.” Obama has yet to be that president.


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