Commentary Contentions blog,
Jonathan Tobin – 04.15.2010
If there were any lingering doubts in the minds of Democrats who care about Israel that the president they helped elect has fundamentally altered American foreign policy to the Jewish state’s disadvantage, they are now gone. The New York Times officially proclaimed the administration’s changed attitude in a front-page story this morning that ought to send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Barack Obama when he pledged in 2008 that he would be a loyal friend of Israel. In the view of the paper’s Washington correspondents, the moment that signaled what had already been apparent to anyone who was paying attention was the president’s declaration at a Tuesday news conference that resolving the Middle East conflict was “a vital national security interest of the United States.” Mr. Obama went on to state that the conflict is “costing us significantly in terms of blood and treasure,” thus attempting to draw a link between Israel’s attempts to defend itself with the safety of American troops who are fighting Islamist terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world.
By claiming the Arab-Israeli conflict to be a “vital national security interest” that must be resolved, the “frustrated” Obama is making it clear that he will push hard to impose a solution on the parties. The significance of this false argument is that it not only seeks to wrongly put the onus on Israel for the lack of a peace agreement but that it also now attempts to paint any Israeli refusal to accede to Obama’s demands as a betrayal in which a selfish Israel is stabbing America in the back. The response from Obama to this will be, the Times predicts, “tougher policies toward Israel,” since it is, in this view, ignoring America’s interests and even costing American lives.
The problem with this policy is that the basic premise behind it is false. Islamists may hate Israel, but that is not why they are fighting the United States. They are fighting America because they rightly see the West and its culture, values, and belief in democracy as antithetical to their own beliefs and a threat to its survival and growth as they seek to impose their medieval system everywhere they can. Americans are not dying because Israelis want to live in Jerusalem or even the West Bank or even because there is an Israel. If Israel were to disappear tomorrow, that catastrophe would certainly be cheered in the Arab and Islamic world, but it would not end the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, cause Iran to stop its nuclear program, or put al-Qaeda out of business. In fact, a defeat for a country allied with the United States would strengthen Iran and al-Qaeda. But undeterred by the facts and the experience of a generation of failed peace plans that have always foundered not on Israeli intransigence but rather on the absolute refusal of any Palestinian leader to put his signature on a document that will legitimize a Jewish state within any borders, Obama is pushing ahead. In the view of unnamed administration officials who have helpfully explained Obama’s policies to the Times, it is now only a matter of time before the president puts forward his own peace plan. And as the debate on health care illustrated, Obama will attempt to shove his diktat down the throats of the Israelis, whether the vast majority of Americans who support Israel like it or not.
As the Times notes, there is a great irony to Obama’s blazing anger at the Israelis and the urgency with which he views the issue. It comes at a time when the overwhelming majority of Israelis have “become disillusioned with the whole idea of resolving the conflict. Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government has long been skeptical about the benefits of a peace deal with the Palestinians. But skepticism has taken root in the Israeli public as well, particularly after Israel saw little benefit from its traumatic withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.” In other words, after countless concessions made to the Arabs at Oslo, and in subsequent accords and after offers from Israel of a state comprising Gaza, the West Bank, and parts of Jerusalem were refused by the Palestinians in 2000 and 2008, most Israelis have finally figured out that the other side doesn’t want to end the conflict. And they are baffled as to why Obama and his advisers haven’t come to the same all too obvious conclusion. But with the Obama administration now so passionately committed to hammering Israel even as it apparently neglects to take action to stop Iran’s nuclear program, the question remains what will be the response of pro-Israel Democrats. As Obama draws closer to all-out diplomatic war on Israel’s government, the obligation for principled Democrats to speak up in open opposition to these policies cannot be avoided.
While many Democrats have sought to confuse the issue or avoid conflict with the president, stories such as the one on the front page of the Times this morning make it clear that sooner or later, pro-Israel Democrats are going to have to decide whether partisan loyalties will trump their support for the Jewish state’s survival.