Obama's Israel Ambush Backfires
President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's attack on Israel is failing spectacularly.
Most Israelis -- especially those in the center and left -- have rallied around Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Judging by the media -- especially television talk shows -- Netanyahu's popularity has soared following the rebuke from Hillary Clinton. Even those who usually berate him have come to his defense. American Jewish leaders and Congress are also pushing back against Clinton's hysteria and Obama's stern reprimands.
After all, the issue of sovereignty in Jerusalem, and therefore who sets the rules, is hardly something that Israelis are prepared to consider. Everyone has understood this for forty years. Since Camp David, in 1978, every American president has accepted that Jerusalem is a final status issue. So why would the Obama administration bring it up now?
To then call Jewish neighborhoods -- in Jerusalem -- "settlements," to dispute the right of Israel to renovate a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, to scold Israel for wanting to enforce building codes and demolish illegal Arab buildings built in an historic, archeological park, is beyond appalling. To use Hillary's word, it's "humiliating." And to paraphrase her again, it is a deliberate attempt to humiliate the Jewish people.
Obama's ambush seems to have been a trap waiting to be enacted. The question everyone is asking: why? Let's look at the administration's strategy regarding five policy areas:
Iran: Obama's policy of using sanctions to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability has failed. Israel represents the only military option. Pushing Israel around on minor issues may prevent a surprise attack on Iran.
Afghanistan and Pakistan: Vice President Joe Biden foolishly suggested that Israel's difficulties with the Palestinians were affecting America's struggles to the east.
Jerusalem and settlements: Obama and his administration have made it clear that they do not accept an Israeli presence in areas which it acquired in the Six Day War (1967). This is not a new position, nor is it different from that of most countries in the world. But most have refrained from making this an issue, especially because Arab terrorism is still a problem.
The Palestinian Authority: In its struggle with Hamas, Fatah needs to show that it is powerful. For all the talk about a two-state solution, however, according to Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, the Palestinian street still believes that only through violence will they achieve their aims.
Siding with the Palestinians on Jerusalem, Obama's strategy seems intended to preempt Israeli sovereignty. The result quickly followed Vice President Joe Biden's departure: Arab rioters engaged in pitched battles with police as Arab Palestinian leaders called for a renewal of the uprising ("intifada") that swept the country after Arafat reject the offers at Camp David in 2000.
The potential for Arab violence is always there; it only needs a trigger. But previous attempts to ignite the kind of widespread terrorism and homicide bombings that frequented Israel have failed. Calls by Palestinian leaders for Muslims to engage in violence to protect the al-Aqsa mosque because of archeological excavations, or rebuilding a synagogue, have attracted little support.
And, unlike the situation ten years ago when a handful of policemen faced mobs of many hundreds, thousands of Israeli police were sent to Jerusalem to ensure calm. It worked.
America: Has Obama written off the Jewish vote in favor of Muslims? His outreach to the Muslim world and his direct appeal to American Muslims indicate a shift in political calculations. Facing an uphill battle in midterm elections, Obama may hope that he can salvage what seems to be a losing battle at home and abroad by knuckling Israel.
With a few Jewish advisors to protect him from charges of anti-Semitism, he may try for a brass ring in the Middle East merry-go-round. That would assume that voters are stupid. Many may be, but not enough.
A well-known columnist recently accused Israel of drunk-driving behavior. The drunk-with-power driver, however, is sitting in the White House.