THE SPINE MARCH 18, 2010
They are not unconnected. They are not unconnected at all.
Now, presumably the president didn't want to provoke the rage of the Palestinians. (Although, then again, he might just have anticipated it.) But Palestinian rage is very easy to provoke. Snap your fingers and, there, you have it. You don't even have to rent a mob. It comes free will, so to speak.
The fact is that Obama did more than snap his fingers. He sent out very top members of his administration to beat up on Israel and they did. First, Joe Biden who had the sense to protect himself and his soul by speaking his inner feelings about Israel. Then, Hillary Clinton, who may or may not have a soul, launched her shrill assault on both Bibi Netanyahu and Israel's ingratitude for her favors. Last but not least (and actually a true instance of effrontery) was the dispatching of David Axelrod, (who in 2004 was behind John Edwards, "Bill Clinton without the sex") who knows nothing about foreign policy, but maybe being a Jew thinks he is more than credentialed to chastise the Jewish state. The fact is that he is an ignoramus on these matters. An "insult," indeed.
What exactly did the Obami think? Maybe that the president would beat up on Israel and the Palestinians would fall into line and modify their demands. My guess, to be entirely frank, is that Obama does not think they have any significant demands to modify, let along give up. And, if I'm right which admittedly I may not be, my counsel to the Israelis would be to stall until the next president comes along. James Baker said, "Fuck the Jews...they don't vote for us anyway." Well, Jews do vote Democrats and did vote for Obama, more than any other voters but black voters (who may not come out to vote so massively this time.) Israel is not all that matters to voting Jews. But it does matter. (Someone at breakfast this morning suggested to me that Obama is like Col. Lindbergh. See Philip Roth's The Plot Against America. But, unlike Lindbergh, whose presidential ambitions collapsed, Obama's succeded.)
If I'm wrong about Obama's deeper instincts around Israel/Palestine it would sure be nice to know. We know what he wants from Jerusalem. What does he want from Ramallah? Has he told Abu Mazen who, if you don't know the alias, is Mahmoud Abbas, president of the P.A, the authority of which, by the way, is not recognized by Hamas?
According to a dispatch by Jay Solomon and Joshua Mitnick in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal, the president had confided already in July to more than a dozen American Jewish leaders that he planned to create some "space" between Israel and his administration. "We have to change the way the Arabs see us," Obama told the assembled Jews. And, apparently according to General Petraeus, to change how the Pakistanis and the Afghanis see us too, as if Taliban fighters even know what Jerusalem is. The notion that what happens between Israel and the Palestinians will affect the lives of American fighting men and women in Kabul is nearly a blood libel.
Let's imagine that Israel has ceded everything to the Palestinians that they wanted: Jerusalem, return of refugees in their most bloated numbers (which, by the way, are the "official" numbers,) borders, restitution, ending the status of Hatikvah as the national anthem, heart rending apologies, all of it, nothing excepted. What exactly will be the effect on Yemen and Somalia and Sudan, which are even closer to the Arab-Jewish seat of conflict than Pakistan and Afghanistan? Forgive me, but these fantasies of Israel redeeming American policy are simply nonsense.
It is increasingly clear that Obama belongs, as I have written several times here and elsewhere, to the Arabisant school of history. He is so vain or at least vain enough not to see that his coddling of the Palestinians encourages them in their maximalist tactics and strategies. As soon as Obama's real rage against Israel (not just his impatience with it or different view of its history) became known the Palestinians felt they could escalate and exacerbate their actions. They called for a "day of rage" and contingently further "days of rage" in conscious imitation of the days of rage called by the Weather Underground in America during 1969, a symbol which may or may not especially affront the president.
Riot as politics is an old business in Arab societies. And the latest riots are not against Jewish housing in northeast Jerusalem but against the restoration of the Hurva Synagogue is Jewish Quarter of the Old City. (When I was chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation we had planned a restoration with an altogether new construction designed by the great American [Jewish] architect Louis Kahn. The plans never went further than plans because of typical Jewish infighting, although I am told that there is a short documentary film depicting the structure as it might have been.)
An article by Isabel Kershner about the rebuilt synagogue appears in yesterday's Times. It had "remained in ruins after the Jordan destroyed it and expelled the Jewish community from the Old City in 1948." But why should the Palestinians care a fig about what the Jews do with an historic synagogue situated in what is indisputably and essentially a center of Jewish life?
Ms. Kershner has one explanation:
The synagogue’s new white dome blends in with the city’s ancient monuments holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews. Because of the topography, seen from certain points around the city, it rises above the Islamic shrines of the compound revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, and by Jews as the Temple Mount, including Al Aksa Mosque.
In Damascus, Khaled Meshal, the exiled leader of the Islamic militant group Hamas, said the synagogue’s dedication signified “the destruction of the Al Aksa Mosque and the building of the temple,” according to Agence France-Presse.
The State Department wagged its little finger by having P.J. Crowley, its mouthpiece announce that the United States was "deeply disturbed by statements made by several Palestinian officials mischaracterizing the event in question," which could heighten tensions." He continued, "We call upon Palestinian officials to put an end to this incitement."
I call upon President Obama to cease his incitement, as well. Alas, neither Crowley nor I will succeed in our wishes.
And, by the way, the dazzling political essayist Bret Stephens published yesterday in the Wall Street Journal an historically thick column which fleshes out some of the points I address above.
It's existential. Israelis are now broadly prepared to live with a Palestinian state along their borders. Palestinians are not yet willing to live with a Jewish state along theirs.
That should help explain why it is that in the past decade, two Israeli prime ministers—Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008—have put forward comprehensive peace offers to the Palestinians, and have twice been rebuffed. In both cases, the offers included the division of Jerusalem; in the latter case, it also included international jurisdiction over Jerusalem's holy places and concessions on the subject of Palestinian refugees. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also offered direct peace talks. The Palestinians have countered by withdrawing to "proximity talks" mediated by the U.S.
It also helps explain other aspects of Palestinian behavior. For Hamas, Tel Aviv is no less a "settlement" than the most makeshift Jewish outpost on the West Bank. The supposedly moderate Fatah party has joined that bandwagon, too: Last year, Mohammed Dahlan, one of Fatah's key leaders, said the party was "not bound" by the 1993 Oslo Accords through which the PLO recognized Israel.
Then there is the test case of Gaza. When Israel withdrew all of its settlements from the Strip in 2005, it was supposed to be an opportunity for Palestinians to demonstrate what they would do with a state if they got one. Instead, they quickly turned it into an Iranian-backed Hamas enclave that for nearly three years launched nonstop rocket and mortar barrages against Israeli civilians. Israel was ultimately able to contain that violence, but only at the price of a military campaign that was vehemently denounced by the very people who had urged Israel to withdraw in the first place.
* I’ve changed this item to fix language that I regret.