Two recent public opinion surveys released in Israel and the United States demonstrate that the campaign by President Obama and members of his diplomatic team to criticize and isolate Israel over the issue of settlements in the West Bank is having an impact in both countries.
In Israel, a survey sponsored by the Jerusalem Post revealed a stunning result: just 6% of Israeli Jews now regard the U.S. president as pro-Israel. Another 86% regard Obama as either pro-Palestinian (50%) or neutral between the two parties (36%). No American president has ever been viewed in Israel this way, and it has taken but five months for the Israelis to come to understand the new reality in U.S.-Israeli relations — that the special relationship and friendship between the two countries has ended, at least at the level of the U.S. president and his administration.
A second survey conducted by the Israel Project to measure support for Israel or the Palestinians in the United States indicates that the withering criticism of Israel by the new administration has taken a toll on support for Israel in the U.S. In five months, support for Israel has dropped from 57% to 49%
The administration has made three arguments in support of its new tougher approach with Israel:
- The Israeli settlements are at the core of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
- The Israel-Palestinian conflict, and in particular, the perception that the U.S. is on Israel’s side, is a primary reason for Muslim hostility to the U.S.
- If Israel wants the United States and other nations to increase pressure on Iran to end its nuclear program, it needs to stop settlement growth and be prepared to abandon all settlements in the West Bank (as it did in Gaza) and retreat to the “green line (the pre-Six Day War border).
This last argument fully encapsulates the Saudi “peace plan,” which may be why the president bowed to the Saudi prince when they met. While it may not be good to appear to be pro-Israel, appearing to be pro-Muslim and pro-Saudi is just fine.
Unfortunately for the Obama team, the current unrest in Iran has been inconvenient for their three-part fairy tale of the conflict; making nice to the mullahs and casting aside Israel has not made the mullahs more reasonable and open to the West. So too, it would be hard to argue with a straight face that al-Qaeda would have abandoned their 9/11 attacks if only Israel had frozen settlement growth.
It is also inconvenient for Obama that the Islamic terror group Hamas, which controls Gaza, continues to reject any reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority, rejects Israel’s right to exist anywhere, and rejects any end to the use of violence to achieve its goals. For Hamas, Israeli settlements that need to be abandoned include Haifa and Tel Aviv.
Finally, it has been inconvenient that the administration’s point person on Iran, Ambassador Dennis Ross, now moved into the White House to a new job, has specifically dismissed the linkage between the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the Iranian nuclear program.