Commentary Magazine


The Error-Ridden Obama Middle East Policy

In a must-read analysis of the Obami assault on Israel, Elliott Abrams writes:

Since the Oslo Accords of 1993, 17 years of efforts under three American presidents and six Israeli prime ministers have taught five clear lessons. Each of them is being ignored by President Obama, which is why his own particular “peace process” has so greatly harmed real efforts at peace. Today the only factor uniting Palestinian, Israeli, and Arab leaders is distrust of the quality, sagacity, and reliability of American leadership in the region.

The lessons Abrams enumerates suggest that we are in for a dangerous and destabilizing period in which the U.S.-Israeli alliance is torn asunder. First in the list of grievous errors: rather than provide Israel with security and reassurance, the Obami are out to bludgeon the Jewish state to cough up concessions:

During the George W. Bush years, the leader of the Israeli right, Ariel Sharon, decided to abandon the idea of a “Greater Israel,” impose constraints on settlement construction in the West Bank (no new settlements, no outward expansion of settlement territory), and remove every settlement in Gaza and four small ones in the West Bank. His closest advisers say all of this was possible for him only in the context of unwavering American support for Israel’s security steps—including the targeting and killing of Hamas terrorists and the refusal to deal with a terrorist leader like Arafat. What was the turning point for Sharon? Bush’s June 24, 2002, speech, where he abandoned Arafat, denounced Palestinian terrorism, and said thorough reforms were the only possible basis for Palestinian statehood. Reassured, Sharon began to act.

Contrast this with the Obama administration, where Israel has been “condemned”—the toughest word in the diplomatic dictionary—for a housing project.

Second, the Obami have failed to hold the Palestinians accountable for their own behavior or make any demands that one would ordinarily place on a party to a negotiation:

Had there been early and regular insistence that incitement end, the Mughrabi incident would never have taken place. The price for such negligence is being paid in both Israeli and Palestinian society: Every such action and every vicious broadcast helps persuade Israelis that Palestinians do not truly seek peace and helps raise a new generation of Palestinians who see Jews as enemies to hate, not neighbors with whom to reach an accommodation. This infantilization of Palestinian society, moreover, moves it further from the responsibilities of statehood, for it holds harmless the most destructive elements of West Bank life and suggests that standards of decency are not necessarily part of progress toward “peace.”

Coupled with these errors is the inordinate fixation on the Palestinian conflict, as the Iran menace goes unchecked. (“Arab leaders want to know what we will do to stop Iran; they want to know if their ally in Washington is going to be the top power in the region. Israelis wonder where the “uh oh, this will make Islamic extremists angry” argument stops. Does anyone think al-Qaeda or the Taliban would be mollified by a settlement freeze?”) And then we see the obsession with what has surely become a counterproductive peace process: “First, it means we care more about getting Syria, Egypt, or others to endorse some negotiating plan than we do about their own internal situations. . . . Second, we use all our chips for the negotiating sessions, instead of applying them to the hard work of nation building. We ask Arab states to reach out to Israel (which they will not do) when we should be demanding that they reach out to the Palestinians (which they might).”

In assessing all of this, one can’t but conclude that the errors are too fundamental and too serious to be easily reversed. It is not as if the problem were a stray comment or a clumsy encounter or one misguided adviser. It is rather the confluence of all of the bad judgments and ill-conceived ideas, which Abrams sets forth, surely held near and dear by the president himself, that have brought about the current crisis in U.S.-Israeli relations. The fixation on fruitless peace processing is not unique to the Obama administration, but has become a far more dangerous endeavor in combination with the Obami’s infatuation with the Palestinian bargaining stance and their determination to muscle Israel into concessions. It’s one thing to have fruitless talks in which the Israelis need not fear the American interlocutors; it’s quite another to be dragged to the table fearing that the Obami have in a very real sense bought into the Palestinian victimology and have become their agent rather than the proverbial “honest broker.”

The results of the Obami’s error-ridden approach are becoming apparent with each passing day: more international attacks on the legitimacy of the Jewish state and its right to self defense (Obama does it, why shouldn’t they?), the reinforcement of the Palestinian rejectionist mentality, and the looming danger of a nuclear-armed Iran, to which the U.S. has no serious response. The Obami are not simply placing Israel at risk; they are marginalizing the U.S. as a bulwark against the terror-sponsoring states of Iran and Syria and against despotic regimes far from the Middle East (they too are watching the Obami’s conduct and drawing lessons). And along the way, we have forfeited that credibility which Clinton told AIPAC the U.S. was so concerned about.

What must friends and foes think, after all, when we abandon our ally, when we ignore violent provocations, when we water down to thin gruel any response to the mullahs, and when we ignore the human-rights atrocities throughout the Muslim World? They see, sadly, the reality of the Obama White House — an administration that is frittering away America’s standing in the world and fast losing its reputation as a defender of democracy, human rights, and freedom. Israel is the immediate victim, but the entire world will become more dangerous and less free as a result.

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