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.
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.
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