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Obama and Netanyahu:



Dissecting the Love Fest

It doesn’t take an Einstein to know that Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, cure despite the strong ties between their countries, generic have never cared much for each other – to the point where Netanyahu barely attempted to hide his preference for Obama’s opponent Mitt Romney in the last U.S. election and where Obama found it difficult even to accommodate an audience with Netanyahu when the Israeli leader visited Washington.

Why then, sildenafil one might ask, did Obama choose to make Israel his first foreign trip since being re-elected last November? Obama may be a lot of things, but stupid is not one of them.  This trip was an admission that his first strategy for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a gentle attempt at even handedness rather than a blanket Israel-right-or-wrong policy – failed miserably. There’s been no progress whatsoever in achieving Mideast peace since Obama’s famous 2009 speech in Cairo in which he called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world.

The message this time around was pretty much the exact opposite: Israel, I’m with you. If reaching out to Arabs yielded no results, could reassuring Israelis of American love do any better? History has shown that Israeli leaders who feel confident of American support are more apt to compromise (see Yitzhak Rabin and Bill Clinton).

Israelis hated a particular passage in Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech in which he suggested that Israel came about as a result of the Nazi Holocaust. They indignantly pointed out that Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, died decades before World War ll, and that the Jewish attachment to Palestine dates back to the Bible, not Mein Kampf.

This time around, here’s what Obama had to say about Jewish claims to the Holy Land:

“More than 3,000 years ago, the Jewish people lived here, tended the land here, prayed to God here. And after centuries of exile and persecution, unparalleled in the history of man, the founding of the Jewish State of Israel was a rebirth, a redemption unlike any in history. Today, the sons of Abraham and the daughters of Sarah are fulfilling the dream of the ages — to be ‘masters of their own fate’ in ‘their own sovereign state.’”

In truth, the issue is highly debatable. Whether there would have been an Israel without the murder of 6 million Jews during WWll is an open question.

Still, Obama’s change of strategy started paying dividends almost immediately.  One Israeli daily wrote that Obama “had us at shalom”. Veteran Israeli columnist Nahum Barnea said Obama had made a real “breakthrough” in his relationship with Israelis. And a group of young Israelis cheered him when a heckler interrupted his main Jerusalem speech to demand the release of convicted American Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard.

With the love fest in full swing, Obama suddenly ventured into somewhat riskier territory, telling Israelis what they may not necessarily have wanted to hear: Palestinians, too, had rights.

“Put yourself in their shoes — look at the world through their eyes,” he said. “It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents, every single day.”

“Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer,” Mr. Obama said. “Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.”

At this point came what was perhaps Obama’s most candid statement during his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. While explaining his motives, he acknowledged the reality – and the constraints – of U.S. policy on Israel.

“Politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside (the Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and express unconditional support for whatever Israel decides to do,” he told the young Jerusalem audience.

Indeed, after centuries of persecution culminating in the genocide of the Holocaust, the Jewish people not only find themselves with a strong country of their own but also a powerful lobby in Washington – one that no U.S. president can ignore.

So will Obama’s visit to the Holy Land put Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking back on the table after years of inaction?

Perhaps, but don’t hold your breath.

In recent years, many Mideast watchers have argued that time is running out on a “two-state” solution to the conflict – mostly because of expanding Israeli settlements on land that is supposed to comprise a future Palestine and because of growing support for a “one-state” solution that would force Israel to choose between an apartheid-like reality or giving up its Jewish character, as the area’s Jewish and Muslim populations reach parity.

I have thought about this issue a lot, and I’m no longer certain that time is running out.

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The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem has lasted nearly half a century, and it can go on longer. It can be argued that Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip helped defuse the demographic time bomb by reducing the number of Palestinians under direct Israeli control (though others argue that the Gaza occupation never truly ended). Israel today is a high-tech powerhouse surrounded on all sides by enemies with missiles – and somehow life, normal life, always goes on. Streets recently ran a story on how Palolem in South Goa had been listed as one of the world’s top 10 “party” beaches by the news site Business Insider. Also on that list was Gordon Beach in Tel Aviv, despite its location just a few kilometres away from the strongholds of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Can the status quo last? Yes it can. But it’s also true that the price for sustaining it will keep rising. The second Palestinian intefadeh was more violent than the first, and my bet is that the third will be more violent than the second. Upheavals in Syria, Gaza, Lebanon and Egypt ultimately add a new dimension to the threats facing Israel. And if one considers the current rates of intermarriage and assimilation of U.S. Jews – and the growing divergence in American Jewish opinion on official Israeli policy –  it’s fair to ask whether Israel will be able to count on unconditional American support indefinitely.

The occupation tears away at Israel’s moral fibre, exacerbates its isolation and ultimately threatens its status as a Jewish democracy.

In the end, yes, the occupation can go on longer. But it’s no way to live.


Steven Gutkin, Streets’ Chief Advisor, worked for more than two decades as an international news correspondent in various countries around the world, including a six-year stint as the Associated Press bureau chief for Israel and the Palestinian territories.