Here, in a nutshell, are the principles driving the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy. Screw the Syrians. Don’t upset the Iranians. And stop those damn Israelis from wrecking Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations.
We are coming to the end of year marked by shameful climb-downs in the face of our enemies and utterly unreasonable demands made of our allies. In Syria, Obama temporarily toyed with the idea of launching air strikes against the regime of Bashar al-Assad, before being seduced by a Russian proposal to have that same regime dismantle its own weapons of mass destruction. There were lots of good reasons to attack Assad, for example his military reliance on the Iranian regime and the terrorists of Hezbollah, as well as the moral imperative of combating the sheer evil of chemical weapons, but Obama, buoyed by isolationists on right and left, placed his faith in Vladimir Putin instead.
On Iran, the Geneva talks bringing together the mullahs and the P5+1 (the five members of the U.N. Security Council along with Germany) are a massive boost to the faux moderates around President Hassan Rouhani. The whole spectacle, frankly, was pathetic: as Iranian state television aired a video that depicted an imaginary missile strike against Israeli cities like Tel Aviv and Dimona, western negotiators were busily figuring out how to ease the sanctions on the Iranian regime.
But it’s on the front of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that this Administration’s lack of backbone really shines through. Step forward Secretary of State John Kerry, who had the temerity to visit Israel this week in order to lecture Israeli voters about their government’s supposed lack of commitment to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
It’s worth revisiting what Kerry said. “If we do not find a way to find peace, there will be an increasing isolation of Israel and an increasing campaign of delegitimization of Israel,” Kerry declared in a joint interview with Israeli and Palestinian broadcasters. “If we don’t end the presence of Israeli soldiers perpetually within the West Bank, then there will be an increasing feeling that if we cannot get peace with a leadership that is committed to non-violence, you may wind up with leadership that is committed to violence.”
This is such arrant nonsense that it’s hard to know where to begin. For one thing, it’s news to me that the Palestinian leadership is committed to non-violence. Hamas, which rules Gaza and is absolutely a part of the fractured Palestinian leadership, is not only committed to violence, but to violence with the sole purpose of destroying Israel. As for Mahmoud Abbas and the PA, they continue to glorify violence in their statements, refuse to abandon the so-called “right of return,” and are actively fanning conspiracy theories around the death of Yasser Arafat, perhaps in order to trigger a third intifada that Kerry says Israelis should be worried about.
Even more absurdly offensive is the idea that Israeli policies are to blame for the delegitimization campaign against Israel. Yes, Mr. Secretary, if only the Israelis would dismantle West Bank settlements, everything would be fine and dandy. Never mind the century-old Arab war against the Zionist movement. Never mind that these same Arab countries gave refuge to Nazi war criminals while promoting Holocaust denial and ethnically cleansing their own Jewish populations. Never mind that the efforts of your predecessors to deliver a solution were routinely frustrated by the Palestinian refusal to concede that Israel has a legal and moral right to live in peace.
Kerry’s statements remind me of a famous poem by Bertholt Brecht, entitled “Die Lösung” (“The Solution”). In it, Brecht sarcastically asked the communist leaders of East Germany, given their disappointment that the people “had forfeited the confidence of the government,” whether they should “dissolve the people and elect another?” In Kerry’s view, the Israelis are stubbornly refusing to accept his version of reality, and therefore they must either change accordingly or accept what’s coming to them.
There’s another, more persuasive version of reality out there. A recent poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute reveals that 73 percent of Israelis do not believe Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiations will lead to peace. Another poll, conducted among Palestinians by Arab World for Research and Development, shows that 40 percent of residents in both the West Bank and Gaza don’t feel their leadership has given them sufficient information about the current round of negotiations.
If the Obama Administration had any courage, it would use these sobering statistics as the starting point of its approach. But as we know only too well, it doesn’t, and that’s why its increasingly bitter entreaties are doomed to fail.
Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for JNS.org. His writings on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics have been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the New York Post, Ha’aretz, Mosaic, and many other publications.