Obama, Israel and where it all went wrong

Obama is a busy, busy, man. The world’s latest celebrity has become the most powerful man on the planet – and for those of you that enjoy regurgitating Hollywood inspired quotes, you may chuckle that “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Indeed, after inheriting a global financial crisis, failing US education and healthcare standards, drugs, crime, oil prices, world poverty, climate change, an un-kempt White house lawn, and oh, two unfinished wars, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be the last thing on Barak’s mind. Guess again.

With the clock ticking towards a nuclear Iran, Obama has been led to believe that finding a solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict, will ultimately lead to peace in the Middle East and an end to the War on Terror. The solution – undoubtedly conceived following hours of heckling at the recent White House pesach seder – is simple: Israel stops all “natural settlement growth” beyond the green line (i.e. West bank, i.e. Yehudah + Shomron), possibly even withdraws to ’67 borders, then Obama sprinkles a little of his magic pixie dust, and the Jews and Arabs will live happily ever after in the magical Holy land with Charlie the unicorn.

Unfortunately too many people have fallen into this same futile trap, full of preconceived notions, and “missed opportunities” regarding peace in the Middle East. Because the intricacies and inner-workings of the situation are so immense, many a decision-maker (and layman) has found himself focusing on a specific concern, whilst skirting the real issue. In this case, the issue isn’t Israeli settlements, the Gaza blockade or even Palestinian nationalism – if that were the case, this conflict would’ve sorted itself out long ago. The issue basically boils down to this: Arab/Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state anywhere in the ME the size of a postage stamp.

Without even a learner’s-licence worth of experience at the presidency, Obama rushed headlong into the ill-fated “peace process” (it’s much, much more than a “process” – it’s like watching grass grow), promising much, but (as yet) doing little. For this, Israelis have greeted the president with ambivalence. Those on the right – angered that Obama has seemingly sided against the settlement enterprise, and those on the left – angry that Obama has not pulled through with his promises to enforce his agenda upon Israel. The Palestinians are equally wary, because after 60 years of having been entrusted to the care of the United Nations, the Arab League, the PLO, Hamas, the “global community” and now Obama, they get the gist that the new US foreign policy ain’t gonna the standard Tupperware party they were hoping for.

The problem that many leftist leaders and human-rights’ groups encounter when approaching the Israeli-Arab conflict, is that they assume they are dealing with two western societies that share the same values with them, when in fact most of the belligerents belong to the middle eastern society (read: Arab world), where despotic regimes, religious persecution and gender-based discrimination among other human rights violations are the norm. In 2005, Israel learned that appeasement doesn’t work the hard way – when she unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, only to be met with a barrage of Qassam fire. In order to make progress, Obama too, must realize that pressuring Israel (or for that matter, the Palestinians) to make one sided concessions will only make the situation worse, and that when dialogue fails, ‘the way of the sword’ is favoured over ‘the way of the peace process’ in that part of the world.

Israel will face tough times ahead. As the Jew among the nations, she will continue to face microscopic scrutiny from the media and the Western world for years to come. Israel will continue to be butt of all blame in the Arab world for an undefined period of time. And we as Jews in the Diaspora will face the incremental waves of antisemitism that accompany every Israeli government policy that is determined to be ‘undesirable’ by human rights groups and opinion editors. But hope is not lost for the peace process. Palestinian leadership is challenging the rising tide of extremism to become more moderate. Israel’s Likud party under Bibi, for the first time acknowledges a need for two states between the Jordan and Mediterranean, and interfaith meetings are building bridges between Jews and Muslims in the holy land.

Many people complain that the world holds Israel up to unattainable standards. In context this is a blessing. The Jewish state must aspire to reach those standards, that no other country would be capable of reaching.
That is the Zionist challenge of the 21st century.
Obama still has 7 years in office to broker peace in the holy land, and if he can achieve all of his aspirations against all odds, then “yes, we can” too.
It might just take a few Tupperware parties with Charlie the unicorn.