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Obama Scraps Decades-Old Policy of Even-Handedness on Israel

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, as Jonathan noted, single-handedly prevented last week’s G-8 summit from explicitly endorsing the 1967 lines as a starting point for Israeli-Palestinian talks. What made this remarkable, however, was not merely that Harper once again provided the lone pro-Israel voice in an international forum. It’s that Harper, rather than the U.S. president, was the one Israel’s prime minister telephoned for help — because Barack Obama has blatantly abandoned a longstanding American tradition of insisting that international forums meet minimal standards of even-handedness.

It’s hard to overstate the significance of this shift. For decades, when Israel wanted help defending its case in an international forum, it dialed Washington. It didn’t matter whether Democrats or Republicans occupied the White House; Washington was always the address.

That’s because successive U.S. presidents all adopted a simple policy: You can’t target Israel while giving the Palestinians a free pass. You can’t condemn Israeli military operations without also condemning the rocket fire or suicide bombings that prompted them; you can’t demand Israeli concessions at the negotiating table without also demanding Palestinian concessions. As then-UN Ambassador John Danforth explained in a masterful exposition of this policy in 2004, that is how America defines “even-handedness,” and it won’t accept anything less.

But it’s precisely this policy that Obama has abandoned – and that Harper has stepped in to defend. As the latter told reporters after the summit, he doesn’t share Israel’s opposition to mentioning the 1967 lines in principle. What he objected to was the G-8’s attempt to make demands of Israel without also mentioning the concessions Palestinians will have to make for a two-state solution.

“You can’t cherry pick elements of that speech,” Harper said, referring to Obama’s May 19 Middle East policy address. “I think if you’re going to get into other elements, obviously I would like to see reference to elements that were also in President Obama’s speech. Such as, for instance, the fact that one of the states must be a Jewish state. The fact that the Palestinian state must be demilitarized.”

Not so long ago, it would have been the U.S. president insisting on that basic modicum of even-handedness. It’s a measure of how far Obama has undercut the American-Israeli alliance that Jerusalem is now forced to dial Ottawa instead.



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