As Jonathan noted yesterday, Israeli pessimism about renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stems from certain important facts that Americans like to ignore but Israelis find impossible to forget. I’d like to add another fact to his list. You might call it the Turkey problem–specifically, President Barack Obama’s blithe disregard of Turkey’s violation of a deal with Israel that he himself brokered.
Any Israeli-Palestinian agreement would presumably involve certain American guarantees, particularly on security. Washington even assigned a very prominent retired general, former commander in Afghanistan John Allen, “to consult with the Israelis about how the United States can help them meet security challenges posed by a Palestinian state,” as the Washington Post’s David Ignatius put it. But America can’t offer this kind of guarantee anymore, because under Obama, U.S. promises to Israel have repeatedly proven worthless. The Turkish deal is a classic example.
While visiting Israel in March, Obama personally twisted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s arm to get him to apologize and pay compensation for Israel’s 2010 raid on a Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza. Since the flotilla sought to break a blockade that even the UN recognizes as legal, and since the Turkish casualties occurred only because an “organized and violent” group of Turks attacked Israel’s boarding party with “iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots” (to quote the UN’s report on the incident), wounding several soldiers and capturing and abusing three, most Israelis considered an apology unwarranted: The soldiers opened fire only in self-defense. Nevertheless, Netanyahu agreed, even making the telephoned apology in Obama’s presence.
In exchange, Turkey was supposed to return its ambassador to Israel, end its show-trials (in absentia) of senior Israeli officials, and otherwise restore normal relations. Five months later, not only has none of this happened, but Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc made clear last month that it never will, because Turkey has appended two new conditions that weren’t part of the deal: Israel must agree that it committed a “wrongful act” (in the original apology, whose wording was carefully negotiated, Israel acknowledged operational errors but not legal wrongdoing), and it must end the Gaza blockade.
Yet Obama hasn’t breathed a word of criticism for this new Turkish stance, much less exerted any pressure on his good friend Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to keep his side of the bargain. So Israel made concessions upfront, the other side pocketed them and then reneged on the promised quid pro quo, and Obama didn’t utter a peep. That hardly encourages Israel to do the same on the Palestinian front.
Clearly, this isn’t the first time Obama has broken a promise to Israel. He reneged on his predecessor’s oral agreement to let Israel continue building in the settlement blocs, outraging even leftists like Haaretz editor Aluf Benn by denying the agreement’s very existence; he reneged on his predecessor’s written promise that any Israeli-Palestinian deal must leave Israel with the settlement blocs and “defensible borders”–a promise Israel paid for by vacating every last inch of Gaza and evicting every last settler–instead publicly declaring that the border must be based on the indefensible 1967 lines; and he reneged on UN Resolution 242, which also promised Israel both defensible borders and the right to keep some of the territory captured in 1967, thereby abandoning the position of every U.S. government since 1967. All this taught Israelis that his successors might similarly scrap any promises he makes Israel today.
But in the Turkey case, he’s shown that he won’t even uphold his own promises to Israel. And that makes the conclusion inescapable: Any cession of real security assets like territory in exchange for American guarantees is a losing proposition for Israel.