On all fronts, President Barack Obama’s policies in the Middle East are failing. So what is the president doing? Taking it out on America’s closest ally, Israel.
[IMGCAP(1)]The administration’s top priority in the region should be to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. That’s clearly not happening.
Obama’s second-biggest priority — if not his first, given the president’s campaign pledges — is to get U.S. troops out of Iraq.
That plan was going along nicely until Iraq’s elections — a tribute to Bush administration policy, but claimed as a success by Obama officials — produced a political deadlock that may lead to violence and extend the U.S. troop presence.
And, third, Obama wants to be the president who finally produces a two-state peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But that’s not happening, either, largely because of mistakes made by the administration itself.
(Afghanistan is South Asia, not in the Mideast, but the administration’s courageous policy isn’t going very well there, either, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai entertaining Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, abetting rampant corruption and accusing the United States of trying to dominate his country.)
Obama gives every indication of believing the “Arab narrative” of what blocks Middle East peace — namely, Israeli (not Palestinian) intransigence.
His animus isn’t into Jimmy Carter territory yet — Carter likens Israel to apartheid South Africa — but Obama is given to outbursts of rage at Israeli “provocations,” but none to those committed on the Palestinian side.
Contrast the reaction of the administration to the March 11 dedication of a square in Ramallah, interim capital of the Palestinian Authority, honoring a terrorist with the Israeli announcement March 9 of construction of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem.
The square in Ramallah now honors Dalal Mughrabi, leader of a Palestinian terror squad that killed 38 Israelis aboard a bus in 1978, 13 of them children.
When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on March 22, she said that the dedication “insults families on both sides of the conflict who have lost loved ones.”
But she incorrectly blamed the action on “a Hamas-controlled municipality,” when it was not authorized by that terrorist group, but by Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She did not condemn him.
By contrast, on Obama’s personal orders, the administration fired every verbal gun in its arsenal at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the Jerusalem announcement — even though it knew he was blindsided and embarrassed by right-wingers in his own government.
It was, as the administration said, “an insult” to visiting Vice President Joseph Biden, who “condemned” it. That was a reasonable reaction.
But then, on Obama’s orders, Clinton upbraided Netanyahu in a 45-minute phone call publicized by the administration, and her spokesman said that Netanyahu had drawn the entire U.S.-Israeli “bilateral relationship” into question.
When Netanyahu spoke to AIPAC, he made it clear that Israel would not stop building in its capital, Jerusalem, even though it has frozen settlement activity in the West Bank.
He then went to the White House — and was treated like a pariah, denied customary photographs with the president, let alone a press availability.
Also, according to reports from the Israeli side, Netanyahu’s aides stayed past midnight in the White House and had to ask for food and water.
It’s conceivable that Obama’s approach is directed more at Netanyahu than Israel and that he hopes, as Bill Clinton did, to drive the Likud leader from office and have him replaced by a less hard-line prime minister.
But Obama’s whole approach neglects some facts. During Clinton’s final months in office in 2000, Israel agreed to a peace plan substantially turning the West Bank over to Palestinian rule. It was rejected by then-Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Right-wing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew Israeli forces from Gaza in 2004 — whereupon Hamas took over the territory and began firing rockets at Israeli towns.
Before he left office in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinians the most generous peace plan yet, and they refused to take it.
Now, they are refusing even face-to-face negotiations with Israel. Why? Because last March, Obama and Clinton demanded total cessation of Israeli settlement activity on former Palestinian territory — whereupon that became the Palestinians’ precondition for participation in peace talks, which have yet to resume.
Obama has been publicly pounding on Israel for concessions but never publicly leans on the Palestinians.
Meantime, the administration is leaning on Iran, but ineffectually. Clinton said at AIPAC that “the United States is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” and if Iran persists, “our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite.”
Obama said he anticipated that the United Nations Security Council would agree to sanctions within “weeks,” but the truth is that China and Russia are blocking them and, if finally persuaded to impose some, will see that they are weak.
Obama should be doing what Bill Clinton did to prevent Serbia from committing genocide in Muslim Kosovo: go outside the U.N., form a European “coalition of the willing” and cut off Iran’s gasoline.
Iran may have enough highly enriched uranium to test a simple Hiroshima-style bomb in 2011. It would be a huge embarrassment to Obama a year before he seeks re-election.
It would also be a dire threat to Israel, whose existence Iran has vowed to end. Israel will be sorely tempted to attack Iran to prevent its developing a bomb.
Obama surely doesn’t want that. It could create chaos in oil markets and the world economy, not to mention the Mideast.
But Obama’s persuasive power with Israel? It’s fading fast — and it’s his own fault.