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Perspectives

July 30, 2009
Israel not a “sucker” for Obama foreign policy

Worldfocus multimedia producer Ben Piven lived in Tel Aviv in 2007 and reported on Israel and the Palestinian territories. He writes about Israel’s criticisms of U.S. President Barack Obama’s foreign policy.

Beyond all else, the one thing that all visitors to the Holy Land recognize immediately is that queues don’t work properly. Israelis hate waiting in line.

In the queue for a spot on President Barack Obama’s world tour, Israel is towards the middle of the line, and this maddens many Israelis who are clamoring to be at the very front. Not only is Obama asking them to have savlanut (patience in Hebrew), he is also demanding that Israelis conform to the same rules that exist for other nations.

In the opinion piece “Why Obama Won’t Talk to Israel” in Monday’s New York Times, the editor-at-large of Israel’s center-left Haaretz newspaper strongly urged President Obama to deliver a speech directly to the Israeli people. Aluf Benn asserts that Obama’s major mistake has been putting Israel last in a long line of policy speeches directed at major international constituencies — including Arabs, Muslims, Iranians, Africans, Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans and Russians. Israelis argue that they deserve an Obama tour de force.

Obama consults with Shimon Peres on July 23, 2008.

Photo: Flickr user Barack Obama

Benn’s main point is that Israelis have not taken well to a geopolitical stature well-reduced from the coddling experienced during the Clinton and Bush administrations. He believes that Obama needs to re-elevate Israel in order to carry out viable Middle Eastern peacemaking.

At the moment, the subtleties of the Obama Doctrine clearly do not impress Israelis. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is careful never to allow his office or his country to be a freier, the uniquely Israeli term which best translates as “sucker.” The most important law of Israeli culture is not to be duped, rolled over or cajoled by unfair pressure. This entails always cutting in line, resisting shifty sales pitches and dodging authoritative directives.

Many Israelis do not see the Obama Doctrine as multilateral, balanced and pragmatic. According to the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, Israel is the only one of 25 countries surveyed where approval of the U.S. has declined since Obama took office six months ago.

Many of Obama’s speeches, including one given at Moscow’s New Economic School on July 7, have rung hollow with the Israeli public, where a right-leaning ideology now holds sway:

As I said in Cairo, given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over an other will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game – progress must be shared.

One proponent of the Obama Doctrine is Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund. He summarizes the nascent Obama school of foreign policy:

A world view guided by universal compliance with democratic norms and the rule of law; policies driven by the convergence of shared interests and responsibilities; and a statecraft that does not shirk from the application of military force when necessary but promotes America’s interests with respect for other nations and the strength of joint enterprise.

Many American conservatives, critical of Obama’s ambitious idealism and perceived naivete, have always lambasted the Obama Doctrine for ignoring important aspects of a truly robust foreign policy.

Obama has not even inspired the Israeli left to challenge Netanyahu’s ornery stance domestically. Moreover, a recent poll by the Jerusalem Post revealed that half of Israeli Jews believe Obama is more pro-Palestinian than pro-Israel. No surprises there.

Regardless, President Obama knows that relentless expansion of new settlements undermines the legitimacy of the Zionist enterprise. Rule of law in the territories is the bottom-line political issue that he wants to address. But as always, both sides employ hardball and scare tactics in trying to get the other side to budge.

Ultimately, Israel will implement a staged withdrawal of the nearly 100,000 settlers who live beyond the major settlement blocs. Most Israelis want to disengage completely from the 95 percent of the West Bank that will form the backbone of the Palestinian state. But unilateral moves don’t pay.

Concrete steps by Israel should be paired with tangible changes by the Arab world, most notably the normalization of diplomatic relations and long-term security guarantees. Israel inevitably will make major concessions: Sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians, respecting permanent boundaries and ensuring a real solution to the refugee problem.

Obama’s campaign visits last year to Sderot to see rocket damage and Yad Vashem to learn about the Holocaust were not just PR moves. He felt supremely comfortable at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site.

In the Times piece, Benn is fundamentally wrong about how much Obama cares about Israel’s interests. This week, a significant number of American VIPs, including George Mitchell, James Jones, and Dennis Ross are visiting Israel — as part of America’s “big hug” with the Jewish state. Moreover, in the Obama Doctrine, Israel’s long-term security and well-being are prioritized over minor damage to Israel’s feelings in the near term.

Obama, a frank and committed broker, has forced Israel from its arrogant perch. The American president will not be a pushover when it comes to cementing a tangible path towards peace. Israel must patiently wait in line for Obama’s visit to Tel Aviv. At the risk of derailing his vision for peace, Obama would be well-served to visit soon.

– Ben Piven

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Comments

19 comments

#19

dimona reactor 300 nukes sure i believe you (yeah right)and even if i did im sure the arab world has 5 times as much

#18

Joshua: Yes it does, the Dimona reactor is the palce of making them. Mordachie Vanunu an employee of the reactor said that in 1982 to the Sunday Times and he was kidnapped and jailed in Israel for 28 years. The problem is you do not know and you blog. It is time to read Sweaty

#17

israel does not have 300 nuclear bombs where did you pull that out of you were taught to hate otherwise you would not be so MALICIOUS

#16

Joshua: I am not malicious, I know my stuff, and that what you hate and what you fear most. You love those who do not know the facts and stick with superficial simplistic Hollywood fictions. I ill give you examples; Arabs teach hate in their schools, but in reality every Israeli at 18 joins the killing machine of the army and becomes a killer. If those kids were not taught to hate, why would they join the army.
Another example Iran is going to wipe Israel out, the question is with what. Israel has more than 300 nuclear Bombs and can wipe the Middle East 50 times over and is a threat to Europe. But, the culture of being always the victim in imprinted in your minds. Another example, Arab regimes are corrupted, reality all your ministers are convicted felons, starting with Bibi who was cheating on his wife, Olmert who was forced to resign, and now the Russian Mafia Boss Lieberman. Hope you learned something Sweaty

#15

son of jerusalem admits hes palestinian that explains a lot id rather be from israel than gaza

#14

oh and david the reason your comments werent posted is because they are malicious in nature as your record tells us you are malicious

#13

half of jews believe obama is pro palestinian but that means half of jews think obama is pro israel its a glass half full or glass half empty deal this blogger didnt acknowledge this proving he is biased towards palestinians

#12

Amazin Worldfocus, you allow many comments and lies against the Arabs and the Palestinians, I hope I can say the same about Israel and the Jews. I posted several comments that have been delelted by you. Freedom of the press for one group, but not all!!!

#11

Bloggers read this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/05/opinion/05friedman.htm

#10

The comments by Israelis are right on target. Obama will make his speech and try to bring people together, but he needs to be nice to both sides.

The acerbic, irrational and repetitive falsehoods of fringe people should not distract us from the task at hand. We should bring more Jews to the land of Israel from Russia, France, South Africa, Ethiopia, Argentina, Mexico and the USA. The land is flourishing and should continue to flourish. The Arabs should go to Saudi Arabia and Iraq to face their new enemy Iran.

#9

Boris: When the UN created Israel it was a very good institution, and when it asks Lebanon to disarm the Party of God, you like its decisions, but when it says Israel is an out law and has been committing crimes against the Palestinians you muck it and you say its very bad. You are living on an occupied land and the theft of Palestine by Zionist Jews is the biggest theft in the twentieth century . You keep saying the Muslim are occupying the Arab world, I keep asking where are the original people NATIVES. As a Palestinian I can always look around and tell you that we have more than 6 million refugees waiting for you and Lieberman to go back to Russia, Shimon Perez to go back to Poland, Bibi to go back to the US, and for Barak to go back to where his parents came from RUSSIA and Silvan Shalom to go back to Tunisia and more and more. All of you came from the outside under the cover of the biggest lie and myth of the 20th century and hopefully you will go back if you do not agree to a Palestinian state on 44% of Historic Palestine in accordance with resolution 181.

#8

To “Son” of Jerusalem: UN and NATO troops in West Bank and Gaza!! Very, very scary, they could not protect them self. UN is the branch of Arab League they concentrate most “efforts” on Israel and USA just trying put some of UN efforts on the other problems all over the World. Kashmir is India land, but because Pakistan is Muslim country you will defend everything they do, even when they are burned down 50 homes & schools of Christian in Punjab, two days ago. On the other hand, I am not Russian, I and Jews from all over the world are living on the Land belong to Jews! Arabs conquer more than enough land to live!

#7

Boris, You have to consider all the political protection, without the US support the UN and NATO will station troops in the West Bank and GAZA Tomorrow and do not think Israel on its own can say no to that. It is the USA the preventing that and protecting you and that is why you must listen to the US. There is no analogy between Pakistan and Israel. Kashmir is Pakistani land, but not Indian and if the Pakistanis are building it is there country. On the other hand, you are RUSSIAN and live on Palestine LAND financed by AMERICAN money and JEWS who support building settlements on OCCUPIED LAND.

#6

To “Son” of Jerusalem: I am not in a position to change Country policy. In my opinion Israel can live without US help, but there are many in Israel who disagree with me. Israel budget on 2009 is $92.6 billion and US aid is $2.2 billion it’s only 2.4%. Israel has newest military technology and US was prevented many Israeli contracts with India and China. Pakistan is occupied Kashmir and receiving from US every year $1.0 billion, but US government DO NOT telling Pakistani what they can build in Kashmir.

#5

Boris: I think Israel should resist the US when it becomes economically independent. Israel until now gets all of it airplanes parts from the US and its missiles technology from the US. Israel has the right to tell the US NO, when the US is no longer supplying Israel with almost everything especially cover the UN. Besides, many American Jews still send their tax exempt money to build settlements in the occupied territories. So Boris, stopping taking American money and American Arms and then say NO to the US

#4

To be a honest broker between Isrealis and Palestinians,Obama’s foreign policy needs to strike the right balance.

#3

During the Cold war United States was supported Israel, because Soviet Union was supported Arab states. Middle East was one of the battle fields of two world powers.
After, collapse of Soviet Union strategic value of Israel for US decreased. Many Americans now see only the problems for US in that partnership.
There is no doubt that the pressure on Israel from the Obama administration is going to get a lot worse. Israel should provide more independed policy based on his own security interests not on interests of “big brother”.

#2

Avi, you make a good point. Perhaps the more American-leaning lefty Israelis are most insulted that Obama has not dropped in for a major policy speech. Haaretz editorialists don’t represent the whole Israeli public. But it is the Israeli left that would most benefit from a future Obama visit, since O will undoubtedly energize the doves. So much of the left is disaffected by the non-existence of the peace process.

And while the American president is not serving up silver bullets, he seems to offer pragmatism and hope. Moreover, there are Obama Doctrine skeptics throughout the Middle East who are anxiously waiting to reap the benefits of the post-Bush era.

#1

I think the israeli public needs some cajoling
they need to believe again,
and a speech would help,
but i don’t think they are slighted by the lack of a speech, i think that is inaccurate.

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