Saturday, August 09, 2014

Obama (via Friedman) on Israel and the Palestinians

This morning, on Israeli television, one of the headlines was: "Obama: Netanyahu too strong politically". That sounds bad, doesn't it? Of course, the words were presented as yet another American interference in Israeli affairs, and yet another example of how little President Obama 'understands' the Middle East and cares for Israel. But when you read a full transcript of the interview (by the unparallelled Thomas Friedman, for the good old New York Times), you will see that not only does the Obama administration understand Israel and the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli conflict very well, it cares for and about Israel not less and probably even much more than most previous American governments. So far, no American President has made it so clear that time is not working in Israel's favor as Mr. Obama has, and no Secretary of State has been working as hard as Mr. Kerry to get Palestinians and Israelis talking and in return has been insulted and ignored so many times by an Israeli government that (i.e. a majority of which) refuses to understand and/or admit that the occupation (that is, Israel's settlement policy) is a big part of the conflict. Of course both the President and his Secretary of State have made mistakes, but the only way not to make any mistakes is by doing nothing. No, giving up (many/most of) the settlements and retreating behind an internationally recognized border won't bring peace instantly, and maybe (probably?) true peace is unattainable, but such a move will strengthen Israel in every possible way, and it will strengthen the more or less reasonable sides among the Palestinians (who are our only hope on a way out of this mess). Without any initiative (preferably coming from but if necessary imposed on both Palestinians and Israel) that will lead in the foreseeable future to clear/recognized/defendable borders between Israel and a Palestinian state (at least in the Westbank, if possible also in Gaza, but "Cow, cow, ..." as we say in Hebrew, one thing at a time). I am very disappointed by Barack Obama, in many ways, but you cannot say that he is not a friend of Israel. Unless you are looking for friends who will shout "Hallelujah" whatever you do, and no matter how stupid the mistakes are that you make or how blind you choose to remain.

Here are the full excerpts from the interview that deal with Israel and the Palestinians:

I asked the president whether he was worried about Israel.
“It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades,” he answered. “To have scratched out of rock this incredibly vibrant, incredibly successful, wealthy and powerful country is a testament to the ingenuity, energy and vision of the Jewish people. And because Israel is so capable militarily, I don’t worry about Israel’s survival. ... I think the question really is how does Israel survive. And how can you create a State of Israel that maintains its democratic and civic traditions. How can you preserve a Jewish state that is also reflective of the best values of those who founded Israel. And, in order to do that, it has consistently been my belief that you have to find a way to live side by side in peace with Palestinians. ... You have to recognize that they have legitimate claims, and this is their land and neighborhood as well.”
Asked whether he should be more vigorous in pressing Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, also known as Abu Mazen, to reach a land-for-peace deal, the president said, it has to start with them. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s “poll numbers are a lot higher than mine” and “were greatly boosted by the war in Gaza,” Obama said. “And so if he doesn’t feel some internal pressure, then it’s hard to see him being able to make some very difficult compromises, including taking on the settler movement. That’s a tough thing to do. With respect to Abu Mazen, it’s a slightly different problem. In some ways, Bibi is too strong [and] in some ways Abu Mazen is too weak to bring them together and make the kinds of bold decisions that Sadat or Begin or Rabin were willing to make. It’s going to require leadership among both the Palestinians and the Israelis to look beyond tomorrow. ... And that’s the hardest thing for politicians to do is to take the long view on things.”

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