Monday, May 25, 2009

Despite Manufactured Expectations Israeli and U.S. Governments Still Getting Along Well

By Barry Rubin
The reporter asked if I could talk or was in the middle of something. Trying to sound like a wise Oriental philosopher I said, “One is always in the middle of something but can easily make a beginning or an end.”

Unfortunately, this story—like many about this part of the world—never ends even when there’s no evidence. The article is to be on how Israelis fear Obama. This is the current narrative much of the media promotes. You know, Obama hates Israel; Israel fears Obama; a collision is inevitable, etc.

Much of the story is based on the wishful thinking of those who dislike Israel combined with the dislike for Obama of many people…who usually happen to be Americans not Israelis.

I also suspect that since Obama is widely popular and can do no wrong for much of the media/opinionmaking/intellectual elite (sic) set they assume that he, like them, wants to bash Israel.

And I see lots of criticisms of Obama on the Internet by people who are pro-Israel. But these almost always turn out to be Americans, not Israelis.

Of course, whether Obama does or doesn’t like Israel (Richard Nixon sure didn’t) and what he did before being president doesn’t necessarily determine policy.

At any rate, my response was this: Show me articles in the Israeli media or statements made by leaders showing they fear or dislike Obama.

On the contrary, people in Israel are calm about Obama for several reasons. For example:

--He, and his administration, really hasn’t done anything much against Israel directly or made anti-Israeli statements. One can come up with some off-record alleged remarks but nothing concrete.

--Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit went quite well and Obama said some things quite favorable to Israel's positions.

--Israelis have long experience with the learning pattern of new American presidents. They come into office eager to change everything and then within a year learn the facts of life about: hostile radicals in the region who want to destroy U.S. interests, supposed friends among Arab regimes who don’t do much to help, and alleged moderates in the Palestinian leadership who keep making demands without giving anything back.

--Equally, Israelis recall that there have been ups and downs with every administration. The last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency were no picnic, for example, and there was tremendous friction with President Ronald Reagan in 1982-1983.

But, the interview continued, how about Obama’s opposition to settlements and support for a two-state solution (now referred to on this blog as the TSS).

So what? I respond. The last half-dozen presidents said the former and the last three said the latter.
Won’t this lead to friction?

Well, not exactly. Netanyahu and his cabinet say—as did their last six (count ‘em, six!) predecessors that they won’t establish new settlements. It also repeats—as did its last six predecessors—that putting up a new building or a new story in existing settlement land are not included in this deal.

Moreover, in my opinion, the Netanyahu government does accept TSS in principle. But TSS will only come at the end of real negotiations in which the Palestinian Authority meets Israel’s own needs. A state is not a free gift for showing up but something that must be earned by accepting a compromise peace agreement.

Of course, at times in the next four or eight years there will doubtlessly betimes of friction and mini-crises. Why should Obama be different from other presidents in this regard. And there are real problems with the administration’s policy toward Iran, though that could change in a few months. Already, any disagreements about strategy toward Syria seem to be melting.

Attempts to manufacture a U.S.-Israel crisis should be rejected. If one does come along, we’ll know it when we see it.

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