Friday, July 3, 2009

A First for an American President

Obama's policy is failing in Israel. He's strengthening the resolve of the wrong part of the nation.

I can't prove this, of course, and anyway, it's far too early days. But there is mounting anecdotal evidence, and now here's an inconclusive poll, to say that Obama's decision to single out Israel for high-profile public pressure in the Mideast is achieving the opposite goal. Israel's political center is hardening its positions.
The survey by Dialog, conducted Thursday under the auspices of Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, found Netanyahu's approval ratings were 18 percent higher than Tzipi Livni's - a much larger margin than when they were competing for prime minister. Asked who was better suited to be prime minister, 52 percent said Netanyahu, while only 34 said Livni.
Netanyahu's approval ratings may have jumped 5 points since the last Dialog survey, on June 15. In the most recent survey, 49 percent of the 500 respondents said they were satisfied with Netanyahu's performance. The survey results have a margin of error of 4.5 percent. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman jumped 9 points since a May 14 survey, with a 40-percent satisfaction rate. Defense Minister Ehud Barak improved by only one point. Forty-six percent of respondents said Israel should continue construction in the West Bank even if this causes a confrontation with the U.S., and 44 percent said the opposite.
These are not decisive figures, but seen in historical perspective, they're rather startling. So far as I know, no Israeli prime minister, not even Ben Gurion in 1956, has ever faced down an American president with an explicit demand; because no Israeli electorate would tolerate such a thing. Moreover, the issue this time is one on which a majority of Israelis would usually agree with the American president's position anyway. There is no large political camp in Israel in favor of the settlement project anymore.

But there is a very large political camp which is exceedingly well versed in the issues including the minutiae. Non-Israelis who don't know us well cannot conceive the degree to which politics fascinate Israelis. I've never seen any Western electorate to remotely resemble us in this - probably because there's no other place where the issues are so immediately existential. Since we know the score, we can see the extent to which Obama's positions are detrimental to us. Pretending the Bush-Sharon agreements of 2004 didn't happen is dishonest but also cautionary. Insisting Upper Modiin is the same as Kiryat Arba, and perhaps also East Jerusalem, is not intelligent by any measure. Making believe pressure on Israel alone will bring peace is beyond childish.


zionist juice said...

like the joke about the 2 israelis who stranded on an island.
after 2 years they were found and by then had established 12 political parties and 14 newspapers.
people in europe or the US actually think that is just a joke...

Lydia McGrew said...

"Moreover, the issue this time is one on which a majority of Israelis would usually agree with the American president's position anyway. There is no large political camp in Israel in favor of the settlement project anymore."

I guess I don't quite understand this statement. My understanding is that the Obama admin. is trying to demand an end even to continued building in the blocks which, as you yourself have mentioned, have previously been agreed will be retained as Jewish-Israeli in any final-status agreement in any event. Now, I would think in that case that building in those blocs is _not_ part of the general "settlement project" and is _not_ something where the majority of Israelis would "usually agree with the American President's position." In fact, your own last couple of sentences about East Jerusalem, etc., make it clear that _you yourself_, a self-identified centrist, consider the American President's position to be extreme and do not consider that "the issue" can simply be reduced to "supporting the settlement project" but rather realize that "the issue" is Obama's insistence on taking such an extreme position as to what constitutes wrongful "settlement" building.

So it sounds to me like Obama's strategy isn't strengthening the "wrong" party in Israel but rather involves taking so extreme a position that he is coming up against the realization on the part of people like yourself, whom you would presumably regard as the "good" party and as "moderates" that America is demanding too much and is not simply opposed to those way-out, far-right "settlers" but is actually opposed even to what Israeli moderates regard as common sense.

As you say, what the Obama admin is saying is cautionary. The election of Barack Obama was not good for Israel.