Thursday, May 26, 2011

Is Obama a friend to Israel

I'm continuing to try to read everything I can, from all over the political spectrum, trying to understand what's been going on in Israel over the past week or so. There are still those who claim that Obama has completely betrayed Israel, and has put its very existence in jeopardy. Then, there are those who claim that Obama has done nothing out of the ordinary - simply restated long-held US , and Israeli, views. As per usual, there seems to be some truth to both sides.

On the one hand, it's beyond clear that a return to a modified version of the '67 borders, and a creation of a Palestinian state within those borders, has been accepted as the basis of peace by all major players. In fact, I heard overwhelming unanimity on this point while I was in Israel. In a country where people can't seem to agree on whether it's day or night, nearly everyone, outside of some fringe groups, seems to acknowledge that peace will only come through the creation of a Palestinian State, created in what is now considered Occupied Territory, with land-swaps for settlements, security and the like.

At the same time, there are some who complain about some nuances of Obama's speech (I've recently been introduces to Barry Rubin's blog. He seems to me to be a very thoughtful, level-headed critic of Obama and his policies towards Israel. Take this article, as a good example) - he changed the language of land-swaps a bit, leaving some to think that he's not going to push for as much settlement-inclusion for Israel. More importantly, some say that he made the negotiating mistake (and, some claim it wasn't a mistake, but a purposeful, anti-Israel move) of putting Israel's final position on the table at the beginning, thus guaranteeing that Israel will get less than that. 

I agree that those are real concerns. But, I've still been a bit flustered by those who take those concerns, and assert that, based on them, and more like them, we now see that Obama is an enemy to Israel. That he has, in the most popular phrase of the moment, thrown Israel under the bus, and betrayed her, completely.

Then, I was reading a posting from a friend and colleague of mine, Rabbi Fred Greene. Rabbi Greene was also on my trip to Israel, and his posting reminded me of something we heard which surprised many of us

There is something else to share that exists beyond the headlines: The diplomats that I met with last week in Israel’s Foreign Ministry made it very clear — Israel has not has such a strong partner in an American President in decades. One diplomat after another shared how there is more cooperation on security and diplomatic levels between the United States and Israel now than ever before. Every week, there is a high-ranking representative from the Foreign Ministry or our State Department visiting the other country since the Obama Administration started. 

We really did hear that from several different people - the current administration has been an unbelievable friend to Israel. The impression one gets from the press and other reports here in America is that Bush, and the Republican Party in general, have always been the strongest supporters of Israel. Democrats, and Obama in particular, are shakier. I've bought into that myself, somewhat - I often said that his weaker support of Israel (although I never thought he was anti-Israel) was what worried me most about Obama. But, that's not the picture we got from those we spoke to.

Could you argue that they were toeing the party line, and trying to put on a happy face, to keep relations positive and so on? Of course. But, we noticed (unsurprisingly) that, in general, the higher-titled the person presenting to us was, the more we got a stock, sanitized-feeling talk. The lower level people, the bureaucrats and the experts were much more open, and much more revealing. And, it was from those people that we heard this pro-Obama position.

Does that end the conversation? Does that answer every question or complaint? Of course not. There are still important discussions to have about what Obama said, and whether it was good and fair for Israel. But, when pundits and politicians claim that he is an enemy of the Jewish State, take that with a big grain of salt. 

And, by the way, when they claim that Obama has done something terribly new, something which Bush, in all of his Israel supporting ways, would never have done, show them this:

The point of departure for permanent status negotiations to realize this vision seems clear: There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent.

I share with these two leaders the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Both of these leaders believe that the outcome is in the interest of their peoples and are determined to arrive at a negotiated solution to achieve it.

Achieving an agreement will require painful political concessions by both sides. While territory is an issue for both parties to decide, I believe that any peace agreement between them will require mutually agreed adjustments to the armistice lines of 1949 to reflect current realities and to ensure that the Palestinian state is viable and contiguous. I believe we need to look to the establishment of a Palestinian state and new international mechanisms, including compensation, to resolve the refugee issue

It is vital that each side understands that satisfying the other's fundamental objectives is key to a successful agreement. Security for Israel and viability for the Palestinian state are in the mutual interests of both parties.

Sound familiar? Well, it's a speech given by George W. Bush in 2008. You can see the video (juxtaposed with some Obama bits), or read the transcript.

I'll continue to try to keep an open mind, and to keep reading. And, I'll continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

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