Did Obama mean that?
It is hard to believe that he did, yet no Israeli leader is going to miss that apparent “green light.”
Obama announced continued military assistance to Israel, continued funding for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system, and other unspecified help. Naturally, Obama continued by saying any two-state solution must leave Israel secure alongside a sovereign and independent Palestinian state.
One statement probably left Israeli officials amused. Obama:
I’d note that last year was a milestone, the first year in four decades when not a single Israeli citizen lost their life because of terrorism emanating from the West Bank. It’s a reminder that Israel has a profound interest in a strong and effective Palestinian Authority.
They know how much the Palestinian Authority has done to promote violence, how weak and ineffective it is, and how much its survival is due to Israel’s protection.
Turning to regional issues, Obama said:
As the United States supports the Egyptian people in their historic transition to democracy, we continue to underscore the necessity of Egypt contributing to regional security, preventing Hamas from rearming, and upholding its peace treaty with Israel.
Obama barely mentioned getting Egypt to maintain its peace treaty with Israel, a vital issue. Pushing Egypt to prevent Hamas from getting more weapons — a commitment under the last ceasefire between Israel and Hamas — has been an achievement for Obama. But much of the success is due to the recklessness of Hamas in going too far in supporting radical Egyptian Salafist groups that are attacking the Brotherhood regime.
He also mentioned support for Israel’s concern regarding Syria’s transfer of advanced weapons to Hizballah “that might be used against Israel”, and efforts regarding Iran. Obama said the standard U.S. position:
We do not have a policy of containment when it comes to a nuclear Iran. Our policy is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon … All options are on the table. We will do what is necessary to prevent Iran from getting the world’s worst weapons.
But what does this mean? If negotiations fail and sanctions do not intimidate Iran, that leaves either an attack or accepting that Iran gets nuclear weapons — that is, containment. There are no other options, unless Tehran decides to give up, or acquires the ability to build nuclear weapons without actually doing so. That wishful thinking — it could happen but it is less likely — is the only thing that could get Obama out of his dilemma.
Obama spoke at length about how it isn’t yet clear what the Syrian regime has done regarding chemical weapons. He defended his administration as having been actively involved in trying to get rid of Assad.
He did not address the likelihood that U.S. policy is helping to produce a new Syrian regime that will be a radical Islamist government extremely hostile to Israel.
Another interesting point raised by Obama was his acknowledgement that “what was already a pretty tough neighborhood has gotten tougher”, and Israel could expect U.S. support not only because of Israel, but due to U.S. interests. Obviously, if the neighborhood has gotten tougher, it is due to U.S. policies toward Islamists coming to power.
Yet, again, Obama does not link this situation to his own behavior.
So does he really understand the implications of what he’s saying, or does he still feel it is the time for Israel to make risky concessions toward the Arabs? Perhaps Obama now does understand that — another factor making the “peace process” a mere rhetorical flourish rather than a serious policy option.
Obama then spoke at length about why the “peace process” wasn’t advancing. And Obama added accurately, and obviously reflecting internal discussions that have been going on in the U.S. government:
And I purposely did not want to come here and make some big announcement that might not match up with what the realities and possibilities on the ground are.
Obama had thus gone to a point where an American reporter could ask, very politely, whether the president might not have worked very effectively on the issue in his first term. He then rewrote history to say that he merely promised to work on a solution during his first term. He even blamed the press for exaggerating his emphasis on the issue. It was that blatant.
Yet he added:
But ultimately, this is a really hard problem. It’s been lingering for over six decades. And the parties involved have, you know, some profound interests that you can’t spin, you can’t smooth over. And it is a hard slog to work through all of these issues.
In other words, although he will never say so openly, he was wrong in thinking the problem could be solved easily and he now knows better.