A Response to Robert Gates, and How the Obama Administration is [unintentionally] hurting Israel

A few days ago, the White House did not deny a quote giving by a reliable journalist of former Secretary of US Defense, Robert Gates, in which he referred to Israeli Prime Minister as an “ungrateful ally”. This, of course, was not really news worthy. The grave relations between the current Israeli government and the current US administration are not new. But unfortunately, since day 1, this has been the state of mind in the White House regarding the Israeli government. What is much more saddening is that the Obama Administration never attempted to truly hide that fact.

The truth is that as much as its’ easy to criticize to no end (as the following post will demonstrate), the US administration has probably more to do with Israel’s isolation that Israel itself. Now, at no point during this post am I claiming this was done internationally in anyway, but the end result is the same – The Obama administration has contributed greatly to the current situation and the unilateral Palestinian move. Problem is, they don’t seem willing to face it.

Over the past two years, U.S. President Obama has tried to invoke peace talks and promote the peace process in various ways. None of them succeed. True, much can be said for both parties of the process (Israel and the Palestinian Authority), yet Barrack Obama has played a huge part in making the short distance between Jerusalem and Ramallah seem much further.

I want to make it abundantly clear, right off the bat, that I do not think that President Obama had any intention to do so, nor do I believe he is an anti-Israeli. The past two years have been an endless series of mistakes, not predetermined evil master plans. But the fact is, where we stand today, President Obama’s actions have weakened Israel and helped, more than anything, the de-legitimacy campaign against Israel. As a result, he too shares the blame for the almost complete death of the peace process and the growing isolation of Israel.

This is not an anti-Obama article and I am not seeking to intervene in internal U.S.politics and be on the side of one presidential campaign or another. I can’t say that replacing Barrack Obama in 2012 would change anything for better or worse, and I can’t say that he is not capable of learning from his mistakes and achieving great things in the future. This is not a political article (about U.S. politics), but an opinion one.

So why do I believe Barrack Obama has been hurt Israel repeatedly?

In his speech before the Pro-Israel Jewish Lobby, AIPAC, President Obama has iterated that his administration is committed to Israel’s security (ironclad was the word he chose), that it is a national interest of the United States and that he will fight any attempt to de-legitimize Israel. President Obama got many claps and applause, especially when he mentioned that his administration has been the most financially invested one in Israel’s security. And that is true. What President Obama has done and said is 100 percent true – cooperation between military and intelligence have grown, the United States funded the development of Israel’s Iron Dome security system and the two counties share their technologies more than ever.

But like a husband who buys jewelry the day after he forgot his anniversary, Obama is strengthening Israel’s military when the battle field has expanded to many different areas by now. Here is why President Obama has failed to protect Israel where it counts:

The Settlement Freeze

The settlement freeze was a mistake. This was not a move that was coordinated with the Palestinians. He did not make sure that the Palestinians would agree to peace talks once the settlement freeze went into affect. What transpired is ten wasted months of no peace talks and a waste of what was supposed to be a trust-building step made by Israel. That ended up discouraging the Israeli government from making more of these trust-building steps.

Result: No peace process for almost an entire year as the anti-Israel campaign grows.

The Hazing of March 2010

During the ten months moratorium, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has visited Washington several times. In March of 2010, when the moratorium was already six months into effect, the president laundered all the dirty laundry in public. For someone who claims to have strong ties with Israel and being committed to its’ security, he saw Benjamin Netanyahu as an almost side-meeting, with no official presidential photo being released to the media. The meeting between the two leaders and their delegates has been harsh and the media had a field day. What was portrayed at that time did not similar good relations between the two countries, it looked more like a public hazing. Having Israel’s Prime Minister portrayed in the media treated by its’ strongest ally in such a way hurt the status of Israel and gave the Palestinians much more confident in their claims and unwillingness to enter negotiations and make concessions.

It could be said that this was an almost punishment for when Vice President Joe Biden has visited Israel – a district committee has authorized new building plans for East Jerusalem. But why? The moratorium has never included eastJerusalem (though de-facto after Biden’s visit, there was a significant slowdown) – President Obama knew that. Moreover, six months into the moratorium and still no peace process. The Palestinians rejected that peace offering and Obama was trying to cook up some indirect talk formula. This was not a move to embarrass anyone and if it ended doing that – playing kindergarten games of “you did to me, so I’ll do to you” are more unhelpful and counterproductive than anything else.

Responding to Robert Gates’ comment on the matter (something along the lines of “instead of Biden I would have left the country and told him to call me when he wanted to talk peace”) – Netanyahu wasn’t the part at the time that was avoiding peace talks. A moratorium was already six months into affect. Yet while the Palestinians refused to negotiate (or even start negotiations), the US administration demanded more trust-building steps from the country and government who already did one huge trust building step that did not help build any trust.

Honestly, it could be argued that the hazing of March 2010 was more a move by Obama’s advisers who dislike Netanyahu, to say the least. But again – even if a crisis occurred, it showed have been handled the way “friends” handle these things – between themselves, not by dragging a third party called the media into their fight. That didn’t help put the dispute to rest and to advance towards a common goal, this created more animosity and mistrust between the friends.

Obama’s administration is known for many leaks, including the leak of Osama Bin-Laden’s death before Obama’s official announcement. The involvement of the media and the constant leaks of strains in relations were especially counterproductive since the parties involved are democracies who rely on a certain public image in the eyes of their voters. These kindergarten games Obama deployed quickly also became about national pride and not being “Obama’s lapdog” (as some has called it), which does not help the cause and end goal at all.

ResultIsrael’s was portrayed as a country that has lost huge support from its’ biggest ally. This wasn’t only helpful and motivating to those at work de-legitimizing Israel, but has reassured Palestinians that they don’t have to enter peace talks, they don’t have to compromise. More pressure is put on Israel while their demands only grow. This is not the way to achieve a healthy negotiation.

Duplicity in diplomatic relations

When the moratorium was about to expire and finally President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu had started to look like they were working together to start a peace process, Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, was under enormous pressure to enter the peace talks. For weeks (the end of June to almost the middle of August), the Quartet (mainly the US and the European Union) pressured President Abbas to start direct talks with Israel. But the pressure put on Abbas, at that point finding the moratorium very important and demanding for its’ extension, all the while knowing it won’t be extended, were far from the pressure put on Benjamin Netanyahu (during a time when, again, a moratorium was already in affect). In fact, in July and August of 2010, the State Department has upgraded the status of the Palestinian delegation in Washington. This was yet again an example of the different ways an American administration operates when trying to pressure a close friend. While the Palestinian continued to enjoy gifts from around the world just for the prospect of entering peace talks, Israel who has already made concessions and years of trust-building steps that led nowhere (including the current government) received a cold public shower.

Result: With the status of delegation upgraded and virtually little to no pressure in the media, Abbas felt free to abandon the peace process, place the blame on Israel and continue with a unilateral move that has nothing to do with peace.

Moreover, there is the public issue of Jonathan Pollard. Obama still holds to his refusal to accept Israel’s request to free the Israeli spy who has been in prison for over 25 years and his health is deteriorating by the day. The US even refused to allow Pollard to leave the prison for his father’s funeral. While Israel has apologized to no end of the incident and while Pollard has been paying for what he did for 25 years now and could very well die soon in prison, The Obama administration continues to claim that freeing Pollard is a risk to US national security. However, just last year when the FBI uncovered 11 Russian spies who have been operating for years in the United States, not a day went by since these spies stood in a New York City courtroom and pleaded guilty before they were shipped back home to Russia where the media portrayed them as some kind of hero (Just look at what Anna Chapman has been doing this past year). This happened in a swap deal (four spies, two American two British), while one of the spies managed to break free and was last seen in a Cyprus airport. As far as the public knows, the US never caught him or knew what he has learned or told the Russian government.

Result: Israel is again portrayed as the weak country. The unwillingness to free Pollard after all these years, while hurrying to free almost a dozen “freshly-caught spies” in order to maintain good relations with Russia (a country who by all means deserves a lot of global condemnation but received none) helps to de-legitimize Israel and show how weak it is – how much a campaign against it can work (unlike a campaign again Russia, China and so on).

The Peace “Talks” of September 2010

In September of 2010, peace talks actually began between Israel and the Palestinians. But its’ failure was foretold. It was clear that President Abbas was going to blow up the entire process on September 26th – the day the ten months moratorium ended. There was no question about it. The Obama administration, fully knowing that, started working on a deal to extend the moratorium, but that fell through. And yet, President Obama made a huge media circus of the event. It could be because he’s most comfortable in front of the camera (his incredible rhetoric is a testament to that) and even excels at public performances. But all that was achieved was a world focus on a process set to crash shortly after taking off.

Result: The peace process crumbled fast, as expected, with President Abbas walking away from the table, singing the “settlements are bad for peace” song, and Israel was portrayed as the side not interested in peace. The ten months moratorium and the Palestinians’ refusal to enter negotiations, even at the end of the settlement freeze and in fact only coming to Washington due to the enormous pressure put on them was left out of the story. Israel was depicted as not wanting to achieve peace and unwilling to stop its’ vicious incursions, which fueled even more the process to de-legitimize it and enabled the Palestinians’ unilateral move.

As for the issue of the settlement freeze, President Obama has given the Palestinians a constant never-ending excuse. Until an Israeli government is willing to once again freeze settlement activity, including in areas that will be hers when the deal is signed, they won’t enter negotiations. My views on the issue have been made clear enough, I believe. But what transpired is a new hobby for world leaders – every little house built gets condemnation from wall to wall as if that is what destroys the chance for peace, all the while giving the Palestinians more ammunition and less incentive to re-enter the negotiations. It’s not the settlements that are counterproductive, it’s the endless parade of excuses the Palestinians which prevents them from making any kind of compromise in their demands (among them is the fictitious “right of return”).

Close friends pay a visit

To this day, President Obama has never once being in Israel, since he was elected. In over two years of tenure, Obama has never been to visit one of U.S. strongest allies. Even if personal mistrust and dislike occurs between the leaders of the two countries, what should be reflected outwards, in order to truly protect Israel’s security, is “Business as usual”. Just to make it clear, President Obama started his tenure with a visit to Egypt, and the week he gave his “Middle-east speech” (and on that week’s Friday met with Israeli Prime Minister inWashington), he was inJordan. In the past two years, Obama has been to Israel’s neighbors, but not to Israel itself.

Middle-East Speech

In his Middle Easts peech, Obama talked about “the 1967 lines”. Later, in his speech at AIPAC, President Obama would play dumb and claim that his words were distorted. Not true. President Obama made a speech talking about the need for democracy and the intent of the United States to help countries who would work towards democracy (what about countries that are swimming in oil and don’t need to American aid?). At the end of the 35 minutes speech, President Obama made a peace offering – after scolding leaders around the Arab world, some of which are his allies, he presented his formula – the 1967 lines. In his speech, he completely ignored the unity between Fatah and Hamas. He did not include “land swaps” in his “67 lines” declaration. In fact, all of what he clarified in his AIPAC speech, needed clarifying. Because his middle-east speech was directed to the ears of Arab countries, of the Palestinians. His speech in AIPAC was directed at Jewish and Israeli ears. But when he made a speech talking to the Palestinians, trying to get them back to negotiating table, he knew that while the 1967 lines have been agreed to in closed rooms in the past, its’ outing, without clarifying, was unacceptable to the Israelis. Moreover, he made that speech, hours before the Israeli Prime Minister boarded a plane to Washington. At the end of the day, his speech didn’t bring forth any kind of democracy or change in Arab countries throughout the Middle East. It only caused more rupture and continued to present Israel as isolated and rejecting peace in the media.

Speaking of Obama’s speech – why wasn’t he talking about the need for democracy in the future Palestinian state? Why, at a time when Fatah is joining hands with the fundamentalist Hamas (who is on the United States black list), does he not condition the continued financial support of the United States to the Palestinians with basic human rights?

The Clash over Netanyahu’s Congress Speech

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a plan that President Obama didn’t like. Netanyahu planned on coming to Washington, speaking in front of the Congress, and presenting his formula for the peace process. By his account, that should have been enough to get the Palestinians back to direct talks. President Obama did not like this. He probably shouldn’t have. Netanyahu was going to speak to the world while standing on a podium with a Republican majority, and not in a combined effort with him. So Obama made that Middle East speech. This was more of a power play against Netanyahu than anything else. While Netanyahu planned on a ground-breaking speech, Obama did what he did with the settlement freeze – he made one thing the issue, got the Palestinians higher on a tree, distanced the peace process and achieved the complete opposite of what he wanted. All because he once again put all the pressure on one side, while having the other walk out a winner with bag full of excuses. Again, even if he disliked Netanyahu’s move, the end goal of a peace process and of truly ensuring Israel’s security eluded him.

Summary

Honestly, this is only a short list of what Obama has done, most of which are somewhat laconic compared to what can be said about them (even if it doesn’t seem like that). There are many incidents I did not touch (like the flotilla incident), but at the end – I am not claiming either side is doing all they can to promote a peace deal, but President Obama’s actions are also counterproductive. Not because he intended to. Honestly, all I have for that man is a hope that he will make that statement of “Yes, We Can” a reality, that he will learn from his mistakes or from his advisers’ mistakes and that he will be able to strengthen both his own country and mine. Only by stopping the campaign to de-legitimize Israel and bringing both parties to the negotiating table, can peace perhaps be achieved.

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