Did President Obama’s UN speech – effusive in its praise and defense of Israel and remarkable for its criticism of the Palestinians – signal a dramatic internal transformation away from his unsympathetic, unenthusiastic Israel policies towards one more attuned to the classic American friendship towards Israel and a recognition of Israel’s role as the flagship of American values in the Middle East ? Was his change a reflection more of his newfound “hatred of Haman” – the utter disregard by the Palestinians of Obama’s diplomatic requests or political needs – than of his newfound “love of Mordechai”? Or was it simply a desperate attempt to shore up his flagging support among Jewish Democrats – a base he cannot afford to lose – by embracing what has been the policy of his predecessors for generations ?
The latter two seem more likely. Bear in mind for a moment how low the bar has been set for what is construed as Obama’s “support” for Israel. Prior presidents routinely vetoed Security Council resolutions that condemned Israel’s acts of self-defense and other such treacheries. (The infamous Carter did not veto a resolution condemning “settlement” construction.) But US vetoes of anti-Israel moves at the UN have been so routine that we have taken them for granted, and so expected that the threat itself of a veto has precluded the introduction of many such resolutions. The Palestinian gambit to have the Security Council recognize their “statehood” was as much precipitated by their own shenanigans and miscalculations as it was by Obama’s diplomatic incompetence. Undoubtedly, Obama encouraged the Palestinians to expect a state on a platter as their natural right, made a halt to “settlement” construction a pre-condition to negotiations (the tree limb from which Abbas has not been able to climb down), and boxed Israel into a corner in which any negotiations
would cause Netanyahu’s government to fall. And Abbas and his cohorts probably assumed that Obama – an advocate of a Palestinian state in the
heartland of Israel – would never veto such a resolution and incur the ire of
the Arab world and street, contrived that it is. Thus, the speech and the veto – if it comes to that – are damage control.
But it will have its intended effect. Jewish Democrats, desperate for a reason to vote for the re-election of a black, leftist, Democratic president, now have it. Obama said all the right things – and if he would actually visit Israel, some of his diehard Jewish faithful would be proposing shidduchim between their own
sons and Obama’s daughters. Expect a boost in the “Jewish” polls for Obama,
although not quite to the level that he enjoyed before, when he was acting on
his natural impulses.
Certainly it was not easy for Obama to change course, and he still does not look comfortable in Netanyahu’s presence (he didn’t even before May’s White House smack down). This is a president, after all, whose economic plan to dig America out of its hole is to dig a bigger hole – by embracing this week, yet again, higher taxes and more public union jobs. And this is a president who can offer to states – just yesterday – a waiver from compliance with the accountability provisions of Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation, and claim with a straight face that this does not mean there will be no accountability for failing schools and failed teachers. Well, yes, that is exactly what it means; hence the waivers. He rarely admits error.
So the diplomatic tap dance worked out as best as can be expected, and President Obama is to be credited for his public support for Israel in an unpopular forum. Of course, the converse would have been odd, given America’s signature as a witness on the Oslo Accords that prohibited either party from taking unilateral steps to change the political status on the ground. But, as aforementioned with the Bush education legislation, Obama is not averse to erasing the policies and values of his predecessors when it suits him. Here, he held – for what is for him – firm, and that sense of realism is welcome. An America that casts its lot with Israel is itself on surer footing.
Israel also held firm, although one always fears what concessions PM Netanyahu is promising behind the scenes that he will be unlikely to keep when he returns to Israel. And his speech, pointed and passionate, still lacks the winning argument, the polemical punch that would mark Israel’s statecraft as unique and special. Netanyahu, true to his secular roots, cannot bring himself to base the Jewish people’s possession of the land of Israel on the Bible – on G-d’s promise to our forefathers. His references to where our ancestors “walked 4000 years ago,” or to coins found with his name on it next to the Kotel, leave me (me!) cold and unmoved, and thinking, so what ? Just because they walked there gives us as much claim to the land as the name Netanyahu on a coin gives him rights of ownership over that coin. Ancient man walked in a lot of places; no one claims that land on that basis. His is simply a losing argument that persuades no one.
The divine source of our right to the land of Israel is the only argument with merit and durability, even if it will attract few supporters in the short term. But it has the virtue of being true – to ourselves, to our history, to believers across the world – and true to the G-d who made it to us. Perhaps someday soon there will be a Jewish prime minister who speaks the language of the Jewish people.
Until then, we can only pray that Israel will quell the inevitable violence that will result from the Kabuki theatre at the UN, and that – here’s the real test – Obama will unequivocally support Israel’s right of self-defense despite the casualties inflicted on a suicidal population, and without demands on Israel to make itself more vulnerable. Then the negotiations to nowhere can begin, and end, and begin again.