Commentary Magazine


What Price Will Obama Make Israel Pay?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East. The outgoing chief diplomat arrives just as a cease-fire may be about to take hold, even though rockets continued to hit Israeli cities today. But whether she seeks to take credit for the halt to the fighting or not, her arrival is bound to set off a wave of speculation about what price the Obama administration is about to try to exact from Israel for its diplomatic support in the past week.

The administration has been steadfast in its rhetorical backing of Israel’s right to self-defense against the storm of Hamas rockets that have been aimed at the country’s cities, towns and villages. But right now what may count most will be what President Obama and Secretary Clinton have been saying to the leaders of Egypt and Turkey as they sought to get Hamas’s allies to persuade the Islamist rulers of Gaza to stop firing rockets at Israel. If the U.S. has privately signaled support for concessions to Hamas or even hinted at eventual recognition of the Gaza regime, that could be the opening for another bout of administration pressure on Israel in Obama’s second term. If so, then the president’s kind words about Israel in the past few days will have come at a high price indeed.

Though Egypt and Turkey are attempting to position themselves as sponsors of any new peace on the ground in Gaza, their role in helping to foment the violence is clear. It is doubtful that without the strong diplomatic support they have gotten from the Islamist governments of both countries Hamas would have chosen to pick a fight with Israel at this time. Throughout the fighting, Egypt and Turkey have done their best to demonize Israel. Though Israel is the victim here, those two countries have treated the Israelis as the aggressors and egged on the true aggressor: Hamas. However, if the Obama administration has gotten Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi or the president’s good friend Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to persuade Hamas to stand down, it is reasonable to suppose that they have gotten something in exchange from Washington.

It is equally reasonable to speculate that what they got was a promise that Obama would return to the policy of pressure on Israel that he employed throughout most of his first term until he was forced to terminate it amid his election-year Jewish charm offensive.

This is exactly what many of Israel’s liberal critics have been clamoring for as the missiles rained down on Israeli cities this past week. Far from being conducive to reviving interest in a two-state solution, any concessions to Hamas, Turkey or Egypt will do exactly the opposite. If that is indeed what is in the president’s mind, he is taking American foreign policy down a dead end that will only lead to more bloodshed in the future.

Hamas went to war in no small measure to bolster their standing among Palestinians at the expense of the Palestinian Authority and its Fatah leadership. With Arabs in the West Bank now publicly clamoring for their own Hamas missile launching teams, they have achieved that objective. The notion that Hamas can be co-opted into supporting a new round of peace talks is completely divorced from reality. Hamas has no interest in peace and its ideology is unalterably opposed to any two-state solution, no matter where Israel’s borders would be drawn in such a scheme. The PA and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, are paralyzed and unable to even negotiate, let alone sign such an agreement as they have proved these last four years since the last Israeli offer of a state was rejected. The reason for this is that they know that any deviation from a position demanding the “right of return” or other positions that are synonymous with the end of Israel as a Jewish state will mean even more Palestinians will ditch them for Hamas. The fact that the PA never took advantage of any of Obama’s diplomatic gifts to them in the last four years should have clued the president in on their lack of interest in a deal.

Most Israelis, even those who would happily give up the settlements, understand this and realize any further concessions on territory will bring more terror, not peace. Though the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system has done well in the last week, it would be rapidly overwhelmed were the shooting coming from the West Bank rather than the remote Gaza strip. Until there is a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians that will mean that a group loses rather than gains popularity by trying to kill Jews, peace just isn’t in the offing–no matter what the Israelis put on the table.

More pressure on Israel to give up territory won’t bring about a two-state solution, but it will encourage the Islamists who already run an independent Palestinian state in all but name to dig in their heels and try new provocations. That will mean more dead Israelis and Palestinians, not the progress toward peace that the U.S. says it wants.

Nor should Israel be influenced by an Obama promise related to the Iranian nuclear threat. Though it often is made to seem as if it is only an Israeli issue, a nuclear Iran is just as much of a threat to American influence in the region as it is to Israeli security. If President Obama is to keep his promise never to allow Iran to get such a weapon, it should not be bought again by Israeli concessions.

The United States is right to push for a cease-fire in Gaza. But they should not try to extract a price for it from Israel that will set the stage for another round of fighting when Hamas decides that it is again in their interests to turn up the heat. The president should have learned from his first-term mistakes that pressure on Israel only encourages Palestinian violence, not peace.

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