Commentary Magazine


Why Obama Got Everything Wrong

In a must-read column, Yossi Klein Halevi makes a number of key observations. Running through them all is a single theme: the Obami grossly miscalculated the consequences when they staged a fight with Bibi Netanyahu.

First is the violence:

The return of menace to Jerusalem is not because a mid-level bureaucrat announced stage four of a seven-stage process in the eventual construction of 1,600 apartments in Ramat Shlomo, a Jewish neighborhood in northeast Jerusalem. … Why, then, the outbreak of violence now? Why Hamas’s “day of rage” over Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority’s call to gather on the Temple Mount to “save” the Dome of the Rock from non-existent plans to build the Third Temple? Why the sudden outrage over rebuilding a synagogue, destroyed by the Jordanians in 1948, in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter, when dozens of synagogues and yeshivas have been built in the quarter without incident? The answer lies not in Jerusalem but in Washington. By placing the issue of building in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem at the center of the peace process, President Obama has inadvertently challenged the Palestinians to do no less.

Second is the assumption that Bibi might be marginalized or toppled by an outcry from the Israeli public:

The popular assumption is that Obama is seeking to prove his resolve as a leader by getting tough with Israel. Given his ineffectiveness against Iran and his tendency to violate his own self-imposed deadlines for sanctions, the Israeli public is not likely to be impressed. Indeed, Israelis’ initial anger at Netanyahu has turned to anger against Obama. According to an Israel Radio poll on March 16, 62 percent of Israelis blame the Obama administration for the crisis, while 20 percent blame Netanyahu.

Third is the ill-conceived goal of preserving the proximity talks:

Now the administration is demanding that Israel negotiate over final status issues in proximity talks as a way of convincing the Palestinians to agree to those talks–as if Israelis would agree to discuss the future of Jerusalem when Palestinian leaders refuse to even sit with them.

How could the Obami have gotten so much so wrong? Well, “Obama could be guilty of such amateurishness was perhaps forgivable because he was, after all, an amateur.” Sheer incompetence cannot be underestimated as an explanation. Certainly sending political bully David Axelrod to beat up on Israel on the Sunday talk shows will go down as among the dumbest foreign-policy moves in the annals of Middle East diplomacy — which has more than its share of them.

Not without justification, some look beyond incompetence to Obama’s mouthing of  Palestinian victimology rhetoric. It’s not hard to conclude that Obama has fallen prey to “clientitis” — a syndrome usually reserved for State Department officials who become too closely identified with the country to which they are assigned.

In this case, Obama has become transfixed by the litany of Palestinian grievances, has come to share their conviction that Israel is the problem, and has failed to deliver the hard news — namely that they need to reject the “right of return to Greater Palestine,” renounce violence, normalize their society, and recognize Israel before there will be “peace.” In so doing he has helped plunge Israel into violence, soured our relations with Israel, and done his Palestinian clients no favors. As with so much regarding Obama, it’s the collision of incompetence and bad ideas that explains another administration debacle.

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