The Long View

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So, Obama’s worried about Israel. What’s new?

Seriously now, it’s been a while since we’ve heard President Obama give us his angle on Israel, and foreign matters in general.  For a while now, many have claimed that there was no such angle to start with. But in an interview with the New York Times, Obama relates in detail to the Middle East and Israel, and gives us an honest as-can-be brief on the way he sees things developing. Here are some highlights (you can see the entire interview here):

“It is amazing to see what Israel has become over the last several decades. 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.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s poll numbers are a lot higher than mine and were greatly boosted by the war in Gaza. 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.”

There are some important messages in this interview that should be understood and internalized by Israelis:

  • The U.S. is willing to help us find a solution, but only to a point. Obama emphasizes that while the U.S. is willing to “bring both sides to the water”, it cannot “force them to drink”.
  • The U.S. sees the settler movement as an obstacle that must be removed for any progress to be made.
  • Netanyahu is perceived by the U.S. as being too strong to be willing to make compromises while Abu Mazen is seen as too weak to do the same.

There’s nothing new in Obama’s words besides the uncharacteristically astute political analysis of the internal political climate in Jerusalem and Ramallah. Yet, Obama’s underlying conclusion should not be discounted. He’s worried?! Well, I am too. As I have often claimed before, Israel seems to have no defined end-game, no political plan other than riding out the storm and surviving one crisis after the other.

To Netanyahu I say one thing – you correctly implied in your press conference heralding the IDF pullout from Gaza last week that there was a new political map in the Middle East. Well – what are you waiting for? Don’t wait for Hamas, go ahead and announce Israel is willing to accept the general outline of the Arab initiative and work with the moderate Arab countries to rehabilitate Gaza under the rule of Abu Mazen.

Oh…one last tip. Stop answering phone calls from Lieberman and Bennett!

 

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