Obama’s End Game

Only the most hard-core anti Obama-ites could fail to be impressed by President Obama’s visit to Israel this week, notwithstanding all the inconveniences to travelers and residents. He said all the right things, went to some (not all) of the right places, effectively retracted some of the anti-Israel rhetoric from his Cairo address four years ago, publicly demanded nothing of Israel, and read speeches that could have been (actually, have been) delivered by Shimon Peres and others on the Israeli left.
The only discordant note – and a familiar rhetorical trope of the last 20 years – was his plea to Israeli youth to force their government to “take risks for peace.” The university youth with whom he spoke – there was no dialogue at all on this “listening tour,” unless by that he meant listening to applause – was effectively hand-picked, and trend to the far left of Israeli society with little influence on the political system. No Hesder students, or students at the University of Ariel, need apply.
The notion of taking “risks for peace” is quite rich coming from someone who does not walk four ells without hundreds of bodyguards, who will not drive on a road with other cars or fly in a helicopter unless the traffic below is routed elsewhere. That is to say, how about you taking some risks first, to show your good faith in humanity, as you wish Israelis would do?
Of course, the Secret Service would never allow it, and the American President faces special threats that deserve – he is a symbol, after all – special protection. But every human being is precious, and knowing as he does that territory surrendered by Israel to the enemy has always become a base for new terror against Israel, how can he propose that Israelis should take risks that he would not in his own life, and risks that have blown up in the faces of Israelis when ever carried out? Even this, timed for Obama’s visit, Hamas fired rockets from Gaza that destroyed a house in Sderot.
He can suggest it because that phrase – “risks for peace” – has been uttered by Shimon Peres for decades, and is a close cousin to its still-grieving relative, “sacrifices for peace,” the label affixed to the unfortunate Israelis who were murdered by Arabs when “risks for peace” were taken in the 1990s and 2000s. It asks that hope triumph over experience and logic, and sounds compassionate, albeit short-sighted and foolish. But people of the left often glorify and extol compassion more than they do facts and logic.
Nonetheless, Israelis warmed to Obama, who was charming, gracious, eloquent and used all the code words that Israelis want and like to hear. So, what’s the catch? The Arabs were beside themselves with irritation bordering on rage; the only anti-Obama demonstrations took place in Ramallah (except for some environmentalists here protesting something about exploration in the Arctic; there are all types of Jews). They genuinely expected threats, recriminations and pressure; none of that happened. In fact, the opposite occurred. Obama essentially said to Abbas, if you want to keep talking about talking, you can, but nothing will change ever. That suits Israel well, as the current situation can easily continue until Messiah comes, whenever he comes. (The real threats to Israel are again external, and even if the local Arabs resume their terror – as has happened recently, on a low scale, the IDF and security forces are well-situated in the cities to thwart it. What is end game?
A few possibilities present: First, that we had Obama all wrong, and that he is as pro-Israel as other American presidents like Bush II or Reagan, but leans more toward Labor and they lean more to Likud. It could be that his first term speeches were written by an anti-Israel speechwriter who has now been dispatched to al-Jazeera.
Second, that Barack Obama is playing good-cop, bad-cop, and after Obama leaves to universal acclaim, Kerry and his hammer will come down hard on Israel, and make demands for new settlement freezes, more withdrawals and prisoner releases, and other empty good faith gestures. That is very possible, although Israel – if it wishes – is well-suited to deflect that pressure because the Arab leadership is so inept and always looks angry and cantankerous. They just make demands, and – like a petulant child – do not know how to respond to a “no.” (Part of the reason is for twenty years, they became accustomed to hearing “yes” to whatever they wanted.)
Third, that Obama was playing to a domestic American audience. Presidents always look good on friendly foreign soil, and he has been stung by criticism (he is remarkably thin-skinned for a public figure) that he is anti-Israel. This doesn’t seem likely at all, as he is not running for re-election, and could say or do anything and still get 70% of the Jewish vote.
So, why, why? It might be (I can certainly hope) that Obama has tired of the Mideast mess, realizes the problem is intractable, and that there is nothing to gain – politically, militarily or otherwise – in pressuring Israel or catering to the Arabs. The real obstacles to negotiations dwell in Ramallah. Why should Obama waste his time in this region? So, he came here, paid his debts, spoke his piece, did his due diligence and can now move on without being accused of “ignoring” the problem. He basically challenged both sides to work it out, employing the empty arguments of the left, but nothing that is completely outside the broad consensus of Israeli life. He realizes that with Egypt and Syrian in turmoil, the specter of Iran looming, and Jordan and Saudi Arabia trembling before the future, the odds are not great that Israel will take “risks for peace,” but the words sound good, as does the applause. At least he did something.
Of the four possibilities, the last strikes me as the most plausible. Israel could benefit from a little benign neglect of the American president, who was quite clear that Israel has the complete right to defend itself. With the demographic edge shifting to Israel (unlike the hackneyed claim of the left here and Obama himself), and the balance of power heavily in Israel’s favor, there is no reason at all for Israel to respond with concessions to a vicious, hateful enemy.
As for Obama, if this is why he came, and this is his end game, I can only say – despite the inconveniences to residents – “please come again.”

14 responses to “Obama’s End Game

  1. ***** Passover Advice of Mr. Cohen *****

    What a beautiful and powerful merit it would be,
    if all Jews would:

    not complain about cleaning for Passover; and
    not complain about the cost of Passover food; and
    not complain about the challenges of travel for Passover; and
    not complain about the length of the seder [or sedarim]; and
    not complain about the longer Passover morning prayers; and
    not complain about the taste of Passover foods; and
    not complain about using vacation days to absences from work; and
    not complain about anything related to Passover.

    You see, Passover is all about THANKING HASHEM and praising Him
    for the numerous miracles and benefits we received from Him
    at the time of the Exodus from Egypt [yetziat Mitzraim].

    When we complain, we are doing the opposite of THANKING HASHEM
    and praising Him, G_d forbid!

    By celebrating Passover, we accumulate many merits for Olam HaBa;
    but if we complain about Passover, then those complaints may
    reduce those merits, G_d forbid!

    When Jewish children hear adults complain about Passover,
    how does that influence their very impressionable personalities?

    I know that Passover is the most challenging holiday,
    and I have also (unfortunately) been guilty of complaining;
    but I am trying to correct that, because now I understand
    that complain about Passover is very destructive and traif.

    Just as it is wrong to make jokes about Brit Milah because
    Brit Milah is precious and holy and awesome, so too it is
    also wrong to complain about Passover because Passover is
    precious and holy and awesome.

    May HASHEM act though His Mercy and grant all Jews
    a very happy and very kosher Passover.

  2. You write “With the demographic edge shifting to Israel (unlike the hackneyed claim of the left here and Obama himself), and the balance of power heavily in Israel’s favor, there is no reason at all for Israel to respond with concessions to a vicious, hateful enemy.”

    Let me state three facts. If you think any of these facts are wrong, go ahead and say so and cite proof. Fact 1: There are approx. 3 million Palestinians living in the West Bank. (Let’s not get diverted by the word “Palestinians” and the issue of whether there’s a history of Palestinian people. If you don’t like that word, just replace it with “non-Jewish”.) Fact 2: Not all of the 3 million Palestinians are “vicious” or “hateful” people. Yes, some of them have resorted to terrorism and other acts of violence against Israel. But the majority of these 3 million Palestinians, which includes mostly children and women, are not “vicious” or “hateful” people. Fact 3: These 3 million Palestinians live in an area that’s under Israel’s control, yet Israel does not grant them Israeli citizenship.

    For me, it’s these 3 these facts that make the strong case for why, notwithstanding what you state above about demographics and balance of powers,
    Israel should “respond with concessions”. Because the current situation is untenable. It is not good for Israel to continue to rule over 3 million Palestinians. And we can talk until we’re blue in the face about how the Arab countries should have taken in these refugees decades ago but they didn’t and they aren’t. And the only other options that I can think of, other than creating a Palestinian state — granting the Palestinians full Israeli citizenship or Israel rounding up 3 million Palestinians against their will and transferring them to another country — are not very good options.

    If you disagree, please tell me what solution you propose. And if your solution is for Israel to do nothing, am I wrong to be looking at the issue from the perspective not only of the Israelis but also of the 3 million Palestinians and saying that this isn’t a good or tenable situation?

    • The demographic ogre is based on old information. In Judea and Samaria, apparently, Arabs never move out or die. In fact, they do both, and Arabs leaving the region exceed in number Arabs coming. Many Arabs have left Judea and Samaria, and moved to the US, Europe and even the Caribbean (I’ve met them) for reasons we can well understand: they do not want their children to grow up and become Islamic fanatics without any hope for the future and they despise their leadership. Many are Christians, some are Muslims. But their names are not deleted from the population roster when they leave. Their birth rate has also dropped precipitously among those who stay. And their population has declined recently, certainly in comparison to the spurt in Jewsh births.
      They are not citizens and do not wish to be citizens. Like in the US, in theory, they could become legal aliens, but that discussion – written about here in the past – is for a different time.

      See http://www.theettingerreport.com/Demographic-Scare.aspx for more details, and in depth.

      Things are good, thank G-d!


  3. Max Scherling

    Ryan makes a compelling argument. Your response comes off as childish. Ryan pointed out the simple fact that there are a significant number of Palestinians in the West Bank and he raised the question of whether we, as Jews who love and support Israel, should also be taking their perspective into account. Your response is simply that a lot of Palestinian are leaving the West Bank??? Seriously…that’s your response????

    First of all, the World Factbook (maintained by the CIA — see https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/we.html) estimates that there are 2.35 million in the West Bank as of 2013, which is not an insignificant number. More importantly, Ryan never once argued that Israel should make concessions because otherwise it will be a state with a majority of Arabs. I believe he’s saying, and it’s certainly my view as well, that even if the number of Palestinians in the West Bank remains at, let’s say 2.5 million, or even if that number somehow were to shrink to 2 million, it’s not a good or tenable situation for Israel to control 2 million people to whom they do not grant citizenship.

    You end with an arrogant “Things are good, thank G-d!” Well, yes, they may be good for you. Are they good also for the 8 year old girl in Ramallah who dreams of one day attending medical school and becoming a doctor but who, in all likelihood, will never have that chance in a world where there is no peace deal signed and no State of Palestine ever comes into existence? Or is just that you don’t give two wits about that 8 year old Palestinian girl? I don’t pretend to have a larger and more magnanimous heart than you do. But I care about the dreams and aspirations of my 8 year old granddather in Petach Tikvah. So it’s not that difficult for me to also think about the Palestinian girl living not all that far way in Ramallah.

    • I usually don’t reply, or even read, anything that contains insults, but your arguments reveal a complete ignorance about events on the ground in a country that you apparently know little about that I feel some response is necessary. Forget the official statistics, which are based on suppositions and all politicized, and lose the sentimentality about the “8 year old Ramallah girl who wants to go to medical school.” Are you so uninformed that you do not know that there are “Palestinian doctors” trained in medical schools in Israel and abroad who practice medicine in Arab and Jewish communities – including female doctors? Why can’t that 8 year old girl become a doctor? Actually, you should be more worried about whether her own brother or father will murder her if she goes out with a boyfriend unattended.

      Additionally, not everyone in this world lives in a state with a sovereign that they applaud. That’s called life – life for millions of people who live in America and are not citizens and every country across the world. They usually have the right to leave if it bothers them. Few Arabs leave here because Israel bothers them; most who leave do so because their fellow Arabs bother them. About 90% of the Arabs of Judea and Samaria (and 100% of those in Gaza) live in territory governed by fellow Arabs, for whom they could actually vote if the despots who governed them ever decided to have an election. They have a flag and an anthem. They have a police force and an educational system. They have businesses and schools that they run, not Israel. What they do not have is a free press, freedom of speech or – for Christians – freedom of religion, but that is because of the despots who rule them.

      They also do not have an army (they do have something close to it) nor are they allowed to do anything that will threaten Israel. They are not freely allowed across the border with Israel, but must pass through checkpoints, and even then they can be barred. Guess what? As an American citizen, I have had to wait hours to cross the Canadian border, both ways, and the US and Canada have never fought a war and are copletely at peace. Do you know why? Because it is a different country. For all practical purposes, the Arabs here have a separate country, but it is a dictatorship like the rest of the Arab world and one that is hostile to Israel.

      They should not have any more rights that they do, and even now they have too many rights – all of which they use to kill Jews. So, let’s get real. Their health system is poor because their government spends the welfare money that props them up on their own villas and perks, and on weapons with which to kill Jews. Their focus is on killing Jews and destroying Israel. They have no interest in a state that will co-exist with Israel – if they did, they would have established one between 1948-1967, before there were any settlements. Their myths and fantasies are delightful music to all haters of Israel, and apparently attractive to people uninterested in facts or too indifferent to learn them.

      Here’s the reality. Right now, things are good, for Jews and for Arabs here. Everyone could live well, if the Arabs renounce their hateful desire to destroy Israel and just govern their own municipal affairs. Not everyone on the globe is a citizen of the state in which they live; in fact, that is the norm across the Arab world, and certainly familiar to Americans. The current situation only disturbs people who are frustrated that Israel is not disappearing.
      Breaking news! There is no occupation. You cannot occupy your own country. The borders of the land of Israel were delineated in the Bible, and the Jews have come home to live here. Others who live here are welcome if they behave. That sounds reasonable to me.


      • Rabbi,

        Please publish this comment. Of course, feel free to respond but, as someone who served in the IDF and defended Israel, I would appreciate the opportunity to be heard on this issue. Thank you.

        I was born in the US but I have lived in Israel since my parents moved to Bat Yam when I was six. I finished my IDF service five years ago. I am now studying medicine in Sackler. You write: “The current situation only disturbs people who are frustrated that Israel is not disappearing.” Well the current situation disappoints me, and I certainly do not wish for Israel’s disappearance, god forbid. So I believe that even just my lone example demonstrates that you are wrong on that count. And I would be very surprised if I am alone. Many many people in Israel, the US, and elsewhere express disturbance with the current situation. Is it truly your belief that all of them wish for Israel’s disappearance?

        I love Israel with all my heart, I am proud that I served in the IDF to defend Eretz Yisroel, and I will proudly send my children one day to defend Israel. But that does not mean that the occupation does not trouble me. It does. Let me be clear. I am not criticizing Israel for any of its policies. I am simply saying that I am hopeful that a solution can be found that will allow for the formation of a state for the Palestinians so that there can be peace one day.

        What you write about the daily life of a Palestinian being not so bad, and in particular comparing the West Bank checkpoints to sitting at a border crossing between the US and Canada, is just entirely removed from reality. Have you spent time in Ramallah? Have you ever been a Palestinian waiting at a checkpoint? Of course not. So how can you be so certain about what that experience is. During my IDF service, I spent a few weeks at the Kalandia crossing. Let me tell you. It’s not the equivalent of the US-Canada border crossing. Not even close. (And yes, I’ve been to the border crossing between Buffalo and Ontario.). Again, I fully understand why the checkpoints are necessary. But when you write that they are not so bad, I am left scratching my head over whether you are even being serious.

      • Thank you for sharing. Much of what you wrote has been responded to already, but two points should be made:

        You speak of the occupation, as if not recognizing that you cannot occupy your own country. You can only occupy someone else’s country. If you don’t believe that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people – Yerushalayim and Hevron, Bat Yam and Bet El – then that is symptomatic of the greatest problem facing Israel today. That other people live there – no different today than throughout history – does not at all limit the rights of the Jewish people to that land. That you even use the language of occupation is troubling, because if Jews do not have the right to Hevron, they surely (and quickly) will lose (or, more likely, waive) their rights to Bat Yam.
        Furthermore, you should not “scratch your head” at my description of the checkpoints. I have seen many of them, as recently as today. I didn’t say it was pleasant for the Palestinians to cross, but something else that you seem to discount, except for the cursory “understand…why checkpoints are necessary.” They are the ENEMY. They want to kill you and me. They want to end Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. All of them? Probably not, but that is not relevant – their leadership (elected by them) and most of the population, judging by the polls.
        So, here was my comparison to the US-Canada border, which several times has necessitated for me a wait of 90-120 minutes. I am not an enemy of the Canadians, and the US and Canada have never fought a war (except to the extent that the War of 1812 carried over to parts of Canada, then not yet independent).
        If, I, a friendly, nice person have to wait extensively to cross a border, why should an enemy be treated better? Indeed, why should an enemy be allowed to cross a border at all? These Arabs seem to want statehood, but not to embrace the very essence of statehood – being part of one nation and not another.
        Your service is honorable. Your awareness of the stakes seems to be, with all due respect, slightly lacking.
        Peace will never come through the creation of another Palestinian state. It is what it always was – the formula for destroying the one Jewish state.
        Chag Sameach to you and family!


  4. Rabbi Pruzansky,
    As a long time follower here in Ramat Bet Shemesh, the only question I have is why we don’t hear this more often. This one comment is the most forceful (and true) explanation of our current situation I have heard yet, and should be broadcast from the rooftops over and over again!
    Chag Kasher VeSameach,

    • Rabbi,

      You won’t print this but, just so you know, anyone intelligent who reads your blog (which, unfortunately, likely excludes most of your followers) knows that “Simi” is you. I know this to a 99% degree of certainty. But, nice try, Rabbi.

      Truly truly sad.


      • Sorry that I am only seeing this now, but just wanted to confirm that I do exist and I am not Rabbi Pruzansky. I’m 100% sure of it!

  5. It’s reasonable to believe that it’s untenable to rule over 2.5 million people without giving them an opportunity for citizenship. Before and since Israel’s founding, many of Israel’s leading figures — including some of its most right-wing leaders (e.g., Sharon) — agreed that this is not tenable. While I don’t think the moral imperative is as strong as Max and Ryan make it out to be (as the Rabbi pointed out, the dim prospects of an 8-year old Palestinian girl are almost entirely the fault of her Arab and Palestinian brethren — just ask yourself the question: would her prospects be better in Syria or Egypt???), the fact is that we owe the existence of Israel to a concept called “self-determination.”.

    Broadly, that concept recognizes the right of various peoples to rule over themselves, in their territory of origin. Now, we can debate whether the Palestinians are a “nation.” But the vast international consensus is that they indeed are. And if that’s the case, an equal extension of the concept that gave us OUR state would support giving the Palestinians a state of their own.

    Rabbi, you claim the Palestinians are “sovereign” in their areas of autonomy in the West Bank. But that’s not really true, is it? They don’t have freedom of movement, like most other people (whether citizens or not) in modern, Western states. And Israel reserves the right to raid their villages whenever they want (even, theoretically, if the PA says that they’ll handle a security issue). Contrary to your argument, this is unlike the situation in almost any other modern country. Sure, you have to wait at the Canadian border, but how would you feel if Canadian special forces raided your house in Teaneck and arrested your son (even if your son was involved in some illicit activity, ymy guess is that you’d still dispute the right of Canadians to take him). And it’s true that many people reside in countries without having citizenship in those countries, but in almost every such country, there is at least some prospective opportunity for future citizenship (as we see in the U.S. today, we’re even willing to give those who entered illegally a path to citizenship.) With Israel, though, your solution would be to have 2.5 million Palestinians as perpetual non-citizens, without any prospects of citizenship. This also strikes me as unique.

    I happen to agree with you that God gave us the entire land. Unfortunately, many do not agree with us. So, while I would ideally prefer not to give up an inch, I think we have to at least recognize that Ryan and Max’s position is reasonable, and not ridiculous, as you seem to imply.

  6. Your argument rests on two foundational premises whose philosophical underpinnings are diametrically opposed.

    Your first premise is that the Palestinians are the enemy, they want to kill the Jews (or, least, their elected leaders want to do so) and this will never change. There’s plenty that’s open for debate in that premise (e.g., aren’t you conflating the Palestinians in Gaza who elected Hamas with those in the West Bank, many of whom oppose Hamas?) but I won’t go there. For present purposes, I’ll accept your premise. It’s a realist approach. That is, I’m sure you’d say that you wish that the Palestinians could be peaceful and live in harmony near the Jewish people but you just don’t see that as a reality. Instead, the reality that you see is that most Palestinians want Jews dead, they cannot be peaceful neighbors, and so those people who speak of a peace process and hope for two States side-by-side live in a fantasy land, and simply are not realistic. Whereas your position, you would say, stems from reality.

    Now let’s go to the second premise of your argument. And that is that the Torah tells us that all of Eretz Yisroel was given to the Jewish people as their homeland. Now, please do not misinterpret what I say next. As a fellow religious Jew, I too am familiar with the first Rashi in B’raishit, and I too pray that one day the entire world will recognize the entitlement of the Jewish people to all of Eretz Yisroel. But that’s simply not the case today. It’s simply not the case – not in 1948, not in 1967, and not today – that the entire area that the Torah describes as Eretz Yisroel was or is recognized by the world as all being part of Israel. To that you appear to be saying “so what”. You argue, in essence, that all that matters in how we should proceed on this issue politically is that the Torah says that all of this land (and, for that matter, much more, including Jordan) is Eretz Yisroel. And, therefore, who cares about the realities of what the US says, the EU says, the UN says, or the inconvenient fact that there are 2.5 million Palestinians who find themselves in Israel. In essence, then, your second argument rests on a philosophical premise that says we should just ignore the reality on the ground and accept only the aspirational view of how the world should operate. Again, so that you don’t misquote me, I am not saying that the Torah is aspirational only. I am a religious and committed Jew who lives a Torah way of life. I share your hope that one day all of the current land of Israel and much more will be fully recognized by the entire world as the land that G-d gave to the Jewish people. But the reality is that the world today does not accept the Torah’s definition of the borders of Eretz Yisroel. So, on this issue, your position is completely divorced from reality.

    Rabbi, how do you reconcile the fact that the two premises in your argument stem from philosophical premises that are diametrically opposed? Or, will you simply ignore this comment and not respond? You can always just post more sycophantic applause from Mr. Cohen. Or from “Simi”. (If you surprise my friends and me and do actually post this comment, feel free to leave in or take out these last few lines. Either way is completely fine. Go ahead. Surprise us.)

    • I’m not sure I follow your point. Everytime – but everytime – we came to the land of Israel it was populated by other people, from the time of the Bible until today. That is why the land of Israel is acquired through suffering (Masechet Brachot 5a). If it was handed to us, we would not appreciate it, and certainly squander it.

      If all Jews believed that, and the Arab world were convinced that Israel was not a transient phenomenon, the situation on the ground would be transformed. Actually, it is really not that hard to put the theory to the test. Additionally, the Arabs today largely control their own affairs. Thus, despite the occasional eruption of violence, Israel is in a good position domestically – one reason why there is no real peace movement anymore here, to the utter chagrin of Barack Obama. They have all been discredited.

      Your point about the difference between Gaza Arabs and (what you call) West Bank Arabs is specious. If the latter were anti-Hamas, surely Abbas would not continue to fear new elections. (His term expired right before that of George W. Bush, if you can believe it. So much for democracy.)

      On another note: Memo to Simi Sherman of Ramat Bet Shemesh: This character is the second person to suggest that you don’t exist, and that you are really me, or I am really you! As I remember you from Boca and run into you occasionally in RBS, I hope you have as good a laugh about this as I have had!