Why I still can’t make up my mind

Unlike most of the forty-seven gazillion people who write blogs on political subjects, I have not expressed an opinion on the US presidential race. This is partly because I wanted my blog to be different, partisan in its support for Israel while neutral about American politics. And it is partly because I haven’t completely made up my mind.

Unfortunately “a plague on both your houses” is not constructive when one lives in the country that the houses in question want to control, and when one cares strongly about another country whose fate is almost entirely dependent upon the actions of the first.

I am not going to endorse a candidate today (I can hear campaign managers sighing in relief), but I want to mention a couple of things that will weigh heavily on my decision.

The first is John McCain’s shockingly irresponsible decision to choose  Sarah Palin as his running mate. I understand the calculations that led to the choice, whether they were made by the candidate or by his advisors. But this is not a game that will be over on November 4. It is just not conscionable to choose as deputy someone so totally unqualified, someone so far from qualified that if she should become President the best that we could hope for would be that her actions would actually be determined by shadowy hands in the background, and that these hands would be competent and benign.

Now to Barack Obama. My main problem is his policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When Obama visited Israel in July, he said that he would work hard to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians “starting from the minute I’m sworn into office”.

David Horovitz of the Jerusalem Post interviewed Obama at that time; you should read the whole ineterview, but here are a few things he said:

Horovitz: You’ve said on this trip that you want to work for an Israeli-Palestinian accommodation from the minute you’re sworn in, so let me ask you about the thesis that there is no prospect of Palestinian moderation prevailing and enabling a peace process to really move forward until Iran’s nuclear drive has been thwarted – that so long as the Teheran-backed extremists of Hamas and so on feel that they are in the ascendant, the moderates can’t prevail and that the whole region is now in this kind of holding mode.

Obama: I think there is no doubt that there is a connection between Iran’s strengthening over the last couple of years, partly because some strategic errors have been made on the part of the West. And [the same goes for] the increasing boldness of Hizbullah and Hamas. But I don’t think that’s the only factor and criterion in the lack of progress.

Hamas’s victory in the [Palestinian Authority] election can partly be traced to a sense of frustration among the Palestinian people over how Fatah, over a relatively lengthy period of time, had failed to deliver basic services. I get a strong impression that [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas and [Prime Minister Salaam] Fayad are doing everything they can to address some of those systemic failures by the Palestinian Authority. The failures of Hamas in Gaza to deliver an improved quality of life for their people give pause to the Palestinians to think that pursuing that approach automatically assures greater benefits.

Here Obama displays his complete failure to grasp who Fatah is and what its goals are — a group dedicated to violently replacing Israel with an Arab state. He shows that he does not understand the real motivators of Palestinian politics — clan loyalties, a tendency to choose whichever faction is most aggressive in the struggle against Israel, and gangs of young men with guns. And he takes Abbas and Fayad seriously as Palestinian leaders, when the only Palestinians who agree with him are those who are on the (US financed) payroll.

Horovitz: The current Israeli prime minister told me in an interview a few months ago that the great advantage of the Bush administration on that issue was that they looked at Israel on the basis of “67-plus” – that their starting point was that maybe Israel can expect or deserve support for a slightly larger sovereign presence than the pre-1967 Israel. Do you think of Israel in its final-status incarnation on the basis of “67-plus”?

Obama: Look, I think that both sides on this equation are going to have to make some calculations. Israel may seek “67-plus” and justify it in terms of the buffer that they need for security purposes. They’ve got to consider whether getting that buffer is worth the antagonism of the other party.

The Palestinians are going to have to make a calculation: Are we going to fight for every inch of that ’67 border or, given the fact that 40 years have now passed, and new realities have taken place on the ground, do we take a deal that may not perfectly align with the ’67 boundaries?

My sense is that both sides recognize that there’s going to have to be some give. The question from my perspective is can the parties move beyond a rigid, formulaic or ideological approach and take a practical approach that looks at the larger picture and says, “What’s going to be the best way for us to achieve security and peace?”

Let’s understand what this implies. Obama says that he will work very hard to force Israel — there is no other way that any rational Israeli government could be made to accept this after the lessons learned from the withdrawal from Gaza — to leave most of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Leave aside the fact that the Palestinian claims are complete nonsense: the pre-67 borders are simply the cease-fire lines of 1948, when Jordan illegally seized the eastern part of the Mandate and held it for 19 years — during which time nobody called it “occupied Palestinian territory”. Let’s ask, with Obama, how best to achieve security and peace.

Then consider that today only the presence of the IDF prevents Hamas from taking over the West Bank and turning it into a base of Iranian-sponsored terrorist activity against Israel — just as happened in Gaza. Does Obama think that Fatah could or would — regardless of the amount of American weapons it has — prevent this? Does Obama plan to send US soldiers to occupy the West Bank in place of the IDF?

It’s my opinion that the worst thing that the US can do for the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace is to promote an agreement between Israel and the PA — at least unless there were a popular Palestinian leadership that actually wants peace with a Jewish state. But this is certainly not the case today. Today the result would be Iranian proxy armies to the north, east, and southwest of Israel.

The US has done great damage to Israel and the cause of peace by supporting the Oslo process, by forcing Israel to make concessions at Camp David and Taba which are now being treated as starting points, by pushing for Palestinian elections which Hamas won, by arming and funding Fatah, etc. Barack Obama promises to keep up the tradition.

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3 Responses to “Why I still can’t make up my mind”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I agree with Vic Rosenthal in regard to the difficulty of choosing between two problematic candidates. But I am not sure that one point made in presenting Obama’s position on Fatah is correct. If Tzippi Livni, or for that matter even Ehud Barak is Prime Minister of Israel he would not have to force a Sixty- Seven Borders agreement with Fatah upon the Israeli government. They like Ehud Olmert believe that this is the right answer for Israel.
    So Obama’s position is not a position which is antithetical to all Israeli leaders. In fact it was Bush’s position and it is the position of the great majority of American leaders, and I daresay even American – Jewish leaders.
    So while I believe that position is based on a total misreading of who Fatah is, I don’t believe it makes Obama exceptional.
    I will not here get in to what troubles me about both candidates because there is a lot. I waver in my choice but as I do not vote in America my wavering will not have to come to an end at the ballet box.

  2. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I certainly could be wrong about this, but I believe that Olmert and Livni take this line because the Americans and others insist upon it. It’s not that they are ‘taking orders’ from the US, but simply that they feel that this is the way the wind is blowing and that it’s better to try to control the form that it takes than to oppose it and lose. Possibly a truly courageous Israeli leader could stand against this.
    As far as American Jewish leaders — don’t get me started.

  3. ME says:

    An American Jewish leader, Paul Krugman, won the Nobel Prize in Economics this week. Maybe he can assist with a proprietary plan to implement the 67+ “equation.”