In the aftermath of President Obama’s ringing affirmation of Zionism and Jewish rights during his visit to Israel last month, many of his liberal Jewish supporters are justifiably feeling vindicated. But after years of backing Obama and sniping at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, some of them are having a little trouble fully understanding the administration’s moves. While the president also called on Israeli students to pressure their government to make peace, he also reversed course on one of the key elements of his Middle East policy during his first term. When speaking with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, Obama pointedly said that settlements were not the obstacle to peace and that no preconditions should be expected of the Israelis in order to entice the PA back to the negotiating table.
These comments, which received far less play than the president’s Jerusalem speech about peace, represented a significant policy shift. After four years of demanding Israel freeze settlements as well as make other concessions prior to talks, Obama put himself on the same page as Netanyahu when it came to the question of Israel being asked to ante up and virtually guarantee that it would abandon its bargaining chips prior to negotiations. Yet somehow many of the president’s backers haven’t quite assimilated this message.
That was made clear in a letter to Netanyahu organized by the Israel Policy Forum that rounded up many of the usual liberal suspects who have periodically urged Obama to save Israel from itself. While respectful and, for a change, not containing any specific criticisms of Netanyahu’s government and even throwing him a bouquet for his phone call with Turkey’s leader (which they foolishly accept as a “rapprochement” even after the Turks have already reneged on their promises to normalize relations), the group of 100 prominent American Jews did call on Jerusalem to make “concrete confidence building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution.” In other words, in spite of the signals from Obama that the ball is in the Palestinians’ court as far as resuming talks, the IPF’s signees are still reflexively attempting to put the onus on Netanyahu.