President Barack Obama’s vow to reassess U.S.-Israeli relations after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign remarks about a Palestinian state showcases his badly skewed views of Israel, its conflict with the Palestinians, its Arab neighbors and the true sources of regional instability.
“We take him at his word,” Obama said of Netanyahu’s promise, which he walked back after his electoral victory, that a Palestinian state won’t come to pass on his watch, “and so that’s why we’ve got to evaluate what other options are available to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.”
Never has one sentence, which comes from Obama’s interview last week with the Huffington Post, highlighted so clearly the ugly double standard to which the president subjects Israel as compared to its neighbors. After all, Netanyahu’s demagoguery over the Palestinian issue, which was designed to fire up his conservative base, derives from a political system whose core feature is unmatched in the region: democracy. No other regional government is democratic. Neither is the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas refusing to cede power six years after his term expired in 2009.
Moreover, Obama himself is no novice in the art of demagoguery – especially on the Middle East. His efforts to paint lawmakers who want stronger sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program as warmongers have drawn sharp public rebukes from, among others, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.
If Obama takes Netanyahu “at his [election-driven] word,” one can’t help wonder why he’s so willing to ignore the far more explosive words of Iran’s leaders, none of them driven by electoral motives.
“Of course, yes, death to America,” Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech on Saturday to mark the Persian new year, echoing the crowd chants. He accused the United States of using “bullying tactics” in its negotiations to resolve the Iran nuclear issue. (Nor, in case anyone in the White House cares, should we forget that Khamenei continues to call for Israel’s annihilation.)
In pursuing a nuclear agreement with Iran, Obama has made clear that he hopes for new U.S.-Iranian cooperation to address issues of regional conflict. In essence, he sees the Islamic Republic as a potential regional partner with which the United States can share both outlooks and interests. With that in mind, one can’t help wonder why Obama wasn’t shaken by Khamenei’s comments of late February, in which he praised martyrdom and, in doing so, drew a sharp contrast with Western culture. “It is vital,” he proclaimed, “to keep the martyrs’ names and the culture of martyrdom alive. This is one of the country’s basic needs. The culture of martyrdom is a culture of self-sacrifice for the sake of long-term goals – goals shared by the entire nation and by all mankind. This culture is precisely the opposite of Western individualist culture, that measures everything according to individual and material considerations.”
As noted above, Obama says that Washington will weigh its options in light of Netanyahu’s comments “to make sure that we don’t see a chaotic situation in the region.” That reflects the president’s thinking, as shared by Secretary of State John Kerry and many others in the U.S. foreign policy establishment, that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict drives regional turmoil by angering the Arab street.
That, in light of the region’s current firestorms, such top officials still believe such nonsense is frightening.
For one thing, Israeli-Palestinian “chaos” ensues from time to time not because the two sides haven’t resolved their dispute but because the Jew-hating terrorist group, Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, ignites war by launching rockets into Israel, tunneling beneath its land and killing or kidnapping its soldiers.
For another, such Israeli-Palestinian chaos dwarfs the chaos on a host of fronts that have not the remotest tie to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – Syria’s civil war, which has left nearly 200,000 slaughtered and paved the way for the Islamic State group; Yemen’s continuing takeover by Iran-backed Houthi rebels, which has made a shambles of U.S. anti-terrorism efforts in the region; or the attacks of Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq through which Tehran is extending its influence across that country.
Obama waited two days before calling Netanyahu to congratulate him, and U.S. officials are signaling that the administration might start abandoning Israel on anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations.
Asked whether Obama is letting his feelings about Netanyahu get in the way of “important policy issues,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain said, “I am convinced of it because, either that or he is delusional.”
It could be both.
Lawrence J. Haas, former communications director for Vice President Al Gore, is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council.