Barry Rubin has a genius for spotting the obvious truths that others miss:
The Obama administration had an idea of making the main — or at least initial — specific tactic of its Middle East policy to get a freeze of apartment-building on Israeli settlements on the West Bank. What happened should have been predictable. Israel is in no hurry to comply, giving the administration a choice between looking foolish and being a bully in a game that isn’t worth the candle.
But there’s a more immediate problem. Syria and the Palestinian Authority, which not long before had been–in part to show Obama that they were most cooperative and eager for peace, no matter how hypocritical that was — are now demanding a freeze on construction as a precondition for any further talks. In other words, the minimal chance for negotiations has been frozen due to the U.S. strategy. The ship is dead in the water.
Unintended consequences, indeed. But what were the intended ones?
As many commentators have pointed out, a freeze on construction inside existing settlements can’t possibly have a significant effect on the practical considerations of any peace agreement. Either a settlement will end up in Israel or it won’t. Therefore the point of Obama’s demand is a psychological one.
So what is the message? The Palestinians would probably say that he is agreeing with them that all the land occupied by Jordan in 1948, including East Jerusalem, is ‘Palestinian land’ in which Israel has no sovereignty. As I pointed out recently, this pretty much eviscerates UN resolution 242, which calls for “secure and recognized borders” and which definitely does not require Israel to evacuate all the land occupied in 1967.
Another possibility is that it is a relatively simple issue which Obama can use to show Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu quickly how much political damage the US can do to him if he doesn’t play along.
Whatever it means, one implication is that Israel should see the US as its ruler, not partner. And yesterday it was made clear that the majority of US Jews are not going to object to this treatment. Monday afternoon, Obama hosted a delegation of 16 Jewish ‘leaders’ from the Center and Left for what apparently turned out to be a friendly game of softball:
The two representatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, president David Victor and president-elect Lee Rosenberg, asked friendly questions about Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively, and did not press the settlements issue. Rosenberg and Solow, who are both from the Chicago area, were major fund-raisers for Obama’s presidential run.
Some of Obama’s loudest critics — the Zionist Organization of America and the National Council of Young Israel, among them — were among the notable absences from the list of those invited to the White House.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, delivered a ringing endorsement of Obama’s demands for a settlement freeze, saying that settlement expansion was not in Israel’s interest. — JTA
Unfortunately, pro-Arab interests, anti-Israel NGOs, academics, left-wing Israelis, and organizations like J Street and Americans for Peace Now — which, for the first time, were invited to a meeting of this type — have created an image of ‘settlements’ which is highly unattractive to liberal American Jews, who are in the majority here.
The image is of ‘religious fanatics’ — almost any version of Orthodox Judaism is seen as extremist — who actively attack and provoke Arabs while living on land and using water that is in some way stolen from them (no matter how land was obtained, of course, Arabs will claim that it is ‘stolen’ and their supporters will amplify their claims).
And there is the oft-repeated assertion that settlements are ‘illegal’, which seems to have become part of common currency although it is simply false (see Jerold S. Auerbach, “Are settlements illegal?“).
The image is wrong, actually absurd for the majority of settlements. But this is the image that suffuses the media.
This is combined with the almost — dare I say it — religious adulation afforded to Barack Obama by many liberal Jews. Put simply, if it’s between Obama and Israel, they come down on the side of Obama — and I say this as a lifelong Democrat who appreciates the historic importance of a black president for the US.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that Obama and most of his Middle East advisors — and of course the historically Arabist State Department — have decided to finally restore Israel to pre-1967 borders, as Henry Kissinger assured the Arabs that we would do in 1975. They see this as necessary in order to ‘repair’ the relationship with the Arab world which they believe was wrecked by George Bush.
They may also accept the Arab position that the Israeli-Arab conflict is caused by occupation, rather than Arab rejectionism (as I believe), and that shrinking Israel will make peace possible. But I suggest that despite what Obama and his spokespeople say, ending the conflict is secondary to their main goal of reducing Israel’s size.
What has kept this from being implemented by previous administrations has been strong resistance on the part of American supporters of Israel, particularly Jews.
Because of the present situation on the Arab side — a strong, popular, rejectionist, Iranian-funded Hamas and a weak, corrupt (and probably also rejectionist) Palestinian Authority — an Israeli withdrawal today cannot be expected to ‘solve’ the conflict in a peaceful way (imagine the withdrawal from Gaza and its consequences, and then multiply this by at least 10).
Therefore, Obama’s insistence on such a withdrawal contradicts his stated commitment to Israel’s security. So resistance to this idea should be even stronger than in the past.
But then, the acceptance of cognitive dissonance — even the ability to believe contradictory propositions — is one of the hallmarks of true religious belief.