Obama vs Netanyahu, Round Three
by Daniel Pipes
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Barack Obama gave two major policy speeches about the Middle East in quick succession, May 19 and 22; and while he discussed a number of Middle East topics, the Arab-Israeli conflict portion received the lion's share of attention. Analysts and politicians who care about the Middle East's only democratic country (yes, I use that formulation now that Turkey is under AKP control) have excoriated Obama and see Israel in great jeopardy. For example, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the speech "a disaster" and said that Obama, in effect, asked Israel "to commit suicide."
I see things more positively for Israel. My reasoning:
This is Obama's third gratuitous, unprovoked, and unilateral picking of a fight with Israel. The prior two took place in May 2009 and March 2010: in the one, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared no Israeli building even in eastern Jerusalem and in the other, Vice President Joe Biden got (mock?) outraged when such building did take place.
In all three cases, the fight dwelt on a secondary issue that few had been focused on – Israeli building in the first two cases and the June 4, 1967 ceasefire lines as the basis for a permanent border agreement – until Obama turned them into headlines.
Obama's picking a fight led in all cases to an immediate hardening of positions by both Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis retreated, wounded, disinclined to make concessions, while Palestinians added Obama's demands, Jerusalem and the 1967 lines, to their prior list of demands of Israel.
I predict that a "routed and humiliated" Obama will regret his ill-chosen fight over the 1967 lines and, if he follows his prior schedule, should be crawling back to the prime minister in about four months' time, or September 2011.
In conclusion: As someone opposed to Arab-Israeli negotiations while war is underway and to Obama's presidency, I take solace in his making a hash of diplomacy and politics. This way, Israel is less likely to make more counterproductive "painful concessions" and, with a slew of former Obama supporters abandoning him, Obama has hurt his chances for reelection. (May 24, 2011)
May 25, 2011 update: In what Alexander Bolton of The Hill calls "a rare rebuke of the president," droves of Senate Democrats are rejecting Obama's 1967-lines gambit. Here's a typical statement, from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada): "The place where negotiating will happen must be the negotiating table — and nowhere else. Those negotiations will not happen — and their terms will not be set — through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media. No one should set premature parameters about borders."
The reviews on Obama's handling of Arab-Israeli diplomacy are coming in, and they are scorching. Here, in particular, is the view of Walter Russell Mead in "The Dreamer Goes Down For The Count":
May 25, 2011 update bis: I asked my colleague Steven J. Rosen: why is Barack Obama repeatedly going back and forth between two policies – pick a fight with Israel, make up with it? His reply:
June 10, 2011 update: "Shimon Peres told Obama Palestinians must have area of 1967 lines" reports Shimon Shiffer of Yedi'ot Aharonot. As translated from Hebrew by Aaron Lerner of the Independent Media Review & Analysis (IMRA)
(1) This is hardly the first time that Peres has taken a stance that, when adopted by American politicians leads to an uproar. Another case that comes right to mind was when Peres first used the term "occupied territories."
(2) It's precisely 15 years since the Middle East Quarterly published "Shimon Says" by Roger A. Gerber and Rael Jean Isaac, a collection of what they call Peres' "characteristically idiosyncratic utterances in recent years."
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