Obama's Big Freeze Leaves Israelis Cold
Ironically, three of President Barack Obama's ideas in dealing with foreign policy, so visible in his Iran policy, have had more impact on his relationship with Israel.
The first of these is that he held back on condemning the Iranian regime's stealing an election and repressing its people for fear that this might provoke a patriotic reaction against him. In fact, he has united Israel's citizens to view him as hostile.
Secondly, he suggested that the United States should not meddle in Iran's affairs, implying that Iranians knew best what their country needed. This has not stopped the president and members of his administration, however, from telling Israel-on the basis of both ignorance regarding the facts on the ground and a poor understanding of the country's situation-what's best for its interests.
And finally, Obama's cultural relativism-everything's really the same in its differentness-which led him to equate the Iranian regime and opposition has made him equate democratic Israel and a Palestinian movement which has still not reconciled itself to a two-state solution.
While it should be stressed that so far the Obama administration has restricted itself to somewhat harsh words where Israel is concerned, the results have been remarkable. They also show that his mismanagement of relations with Israel is so most counterproductive for Obama's own policy ambitions.
A recent public opinion survey by Israel's most reliable polling company shows that only 6 percent of Jewish Israelis consider the administration to be pro-Israel. Israelis certainly gave Obama a chance. His personal popularity was sky-high at the time of his election and as late as May 17, Israelis viewed Obama's administration to be pro-Israel rather than pro-Palestinian by a 31 to 14 margin, with 40 percent saying it was neutral.
It should be stressed that for 40 percent of Israelis to say the U.S. government is neutral between the two sides is not a vote of confidence or a sign of happiness with Washington.
Today, however 50 percent view the administration as pro-Palestinian, 36 percent say its policies are neutral, and only 6 percent think it is favorable to Israel.
To show how fully Obama misplayed his hand, the same poll showed that 57 percent are in favor of removing outposts and 52 percent support a freeze on construction in settlements deep within the West Bank. Regarding the "settlement blocs," that is the close-in, higher-populated settlements that Israel wants to keep in any peace settlement, any freeze was opposed by a 69 to 27 margin.
Here's what this tells us: If Obama had established himself as more skeptical about Palestinian demands and claims, more truly even-handed in his approach, he could have won strong support within Israel.
The approach could have been to renew what Israelis believe they were promised by his two predecessors: border modifications in any peace treaty with the Palestinians would allow the incorporation into Israel of relatively small areas of high settlement and strategic importance like Maale Adumim and Gush Etzion.
In this context, in exchange for some real concessions from the Palestinian Authority regarding incitement and anti-terrorist efforts, there would have been strong support for the removal of outposts and a freeze on construction in far-flung settlements built amidst Palestinian population concentrations.
But instead the administration used brutal language toward Israel, bossing it around as if it were some American puppet regime while simultaneously pandering to literally every other country on earth.
This administration has now created a big problem for itself without moving one millimeter for peace. Meanwhile, of course, the Palestinian Authority continues to ignore its commitments but instead pleads and demands that the United States give it everything it wants in exchange for no effort on its part.
Six months into an administration which promised rapid progress on what is euphemistically called the peace process, the Obama administration has already reached a dead-end. And as far as dead-ends go, this is only the beginning.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (Routledge), The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).