Obama Needs to Play The Honest Broker in the Mideast

babelMy Comments: It’s Friday, I’m looking forward to the weekend, and yet the world keeps spinning and I can’t keep up. I’ve found myself turning off the TV when I find airheads talking about Isreal and Gaza, not because it isn’t important, but because I’m tired of hatred that has no other rationale than “my God is better than your God”.

Long ago I came to terms with my relationship with a God, if one indeed exists. Some would have me rethink this in light of my increasing years, but I’m not going to.

So here we have an opinion piece from Great Britain, once the world’s policeman and while hard to accept by some, describes the US right now. We, the public, have made it clear to whomever is making decisions that we are tired of war, and if this means other stupic people are intent on killing each other for the reason described above, so be it.

On the other hand, there is a time for rhetoric, and the commitment to follow it up with a swift kick in the ass. And despite our current aversion to using our military, it might be time to deliver a message.

By Edward Luce July 27, 2014

The rote quality of America’s role masks changes taking place on the president’s watch

Here we are again. Benjamin Netanyahu is reacting like the avenging angel to rockets from Gaza. US President Barack Obama is torn between wanting to censure Israel and the desire not to reward Hamas for its aggression. The response is an exercise in futility. At some point, a sullen ceasefire will be struck and the Arab-Israeli conflict will continue on its downward trajectory. Wounds will deepen and fester. For all his frustrations with the Israeli prime minister, Mr Obama will have to keep biting his tongue. Such is the logic that imprisons him.

But the rote quality of America’s role masks changes taking place on Mr Obama’s watch. For decades, Washington has kept up the pretence of being an even-handed broker in the Arab-Israeli dispute. The policy rested on two pillars. For the most part, Israel’s governments have paid lip service to the two-state solution, and in some cases (notably that of Yitzhak Rabin), genuinely desired it. Whatever the tragedy of the moment, this made it far easier for the US to back the only bona fide democracy in the Middle East.

Second, US-Jewish support for Israel has almost always held strong. This is illustrated by the near-legendary power of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, often ominously referred to as the “Jewish lobby”. The only real exception was President George Bush senior, whose secretary of state, James Baker, said: “They [Jews] didn’t vote for us anyway.” President George Bush Junior did his best to rectify that. But his father’s administration was an aberration. For decades, unquestioning US support for Israel has been as close as you come to an iron law of global relations.

Both pillars are showing cracks. On the first, Mr Netanyahu has mocked Mr Obama’s attempts to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians. He killed Mr Obama’s initial effort by continuing to build settlements in the West Bank. He challenged and outplayed Mr Obama on his home turf in a speech at Aipac’s conference in Washington.Mr Obama is sometimes criticised for a lack of warmth but not often for open dislike. Mr Netanyahu is the exception. Rarely have relations between a US president and an Israeli prime minister bred such antipathy.

By all accounts, relations have grown far worse in the past few weeks. Not only did Mr Netanyahu cripple another Obama effort to foster talks – this time led by the nuclear-fuelled John Kerry (who had to abandon them earlier this year after almost a year of Sisyphean exertion). This month the Israeli leader said out loud what most people knew he thought all along: he does not believe in the two-state solution. “There cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan,” he said. In other words, the West Bank would never control its own defence or foreign policy. Unless he reneges on that stance, there is no point in any more US-led initiatives other than trying to broker ceasefires.

The second pillar is also showing signs of wobbling. In previous crises, the US media was often accused of pro-Israel bias. This time, it is nearer the reverse. Aipac and other groups have complained bitterly about the television networks’ emotive coverage of the deaths of women and children from Israeli shelling at UN protected schools and other facilities in Gaza. Many have kept score sheets of Israeli deaths (more than 40 at the time of writing) versus Palestinian (more than 1,000). A majority of the US public still support Israel’s right to protect itself by targeting Hamas militants, even if it results in heavy civilian deaths. But the numbers reverse for younger Americans. According to Gallup, 51 per cent of millennials disapprove of Israel’s actions versus 23 per cent who approve.

It is too soon to conclude Aipac’s power is waning. It remains one of Washington’s most formidable advocacy groups. But it is losing its monopoly on the debate. At moments such as this, it commands reflexive support; the US Senate voted 100-0 in support of Israel’s response to the rockets. Its sway has notably waned in other areas, however. It failed in February to persuade Congress to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. And its recommendation for a bill authorising force against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria looked set to be rejected last year.
Aipac and Mr Obama were saved by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Other groups, such as J Street, which promotes “moderate and sane” (as opposed to blind) support for Israel, are growing in influence.

The odds are that, once the dust settles in Gaza, Washington will let the situation drift. It is arguably the fourth of Mr Obama’s Middle East crises after Iraq, Iran and Syria. Why waste more capital on it? The answer lies as much within the US as in the Middle East. Unless Mr Obama is prepared to play the role of a genuinely neutral broker, talks are always likely to fail. If, as a growing number of American Jews and a brave minority of Israelis argue, Israel is digging its grave by undercutting moderate Palestinians, it is time for more thoughtful friends in the US to speak out. Why should Aipac be the one with the megaphone?

Peter Beinart, a leading backer of J Street, recounts a story where a senior Democrat made precisely this point to Mr Obama. “ ‘I can’t hear you,” Obama replied. My friend began repeating himself,” writes Mr Beinart. “The president cut him off. ‘You don’t understand,’ Mr Obama said. “I . . . can’t . . . hear . . . you.’ ”

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