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Obama and the Israel Question—Many Now Queasy

June 8th 2009

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Many supporters of Barack Obama who are also supporters of Israel— from both the Jewish and Christian communities—are now wondering whether their faith in America’s charismatic new president was misplaced on this key issue.

At the core of the queasiness is the Obama Administration’s sudden publicly strident approach against Israel. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has become the Administration’s chief megaphone for the new policy, fond of publicly scolding Israel on settlements. "The president was very clear,” she stated, “when Prime Minister Netanyahu was here. He wants to see a stop to settlements—not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions. We think it is in the best interests of the effort that we are engaged in that settlement expansion cease. That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly, not only to the Israelis but to the Palestinians and others. And we intend to press that point.”

At first, many Obama devotees simply muttered quietly about the harsh public tone taken against Israel. It began at the level of the “close listeners,” those who follow the minute-to-minute developments and promulgations of the Arab-Israel dynamic. Eventually, the national leadership began verbalizing concern as well, and then local leaders joined in. If leadership jitters continue, the rank-and-file from among Israel’s supporters could begin distancing themselves from Obama’s Mideast policy and even joining the loyal opposition on a range of issues. One seasoned Washington correspondent quipped, “It has not yet reached the Jimmy Carter level.”

The first articles reporting the jitters began appearing weeks ago in mainstream Jewish media outlets such as the JTA and the Forward. Indeed, the latest reporting by veteran JTA Washington correspondent Ron Kampeas bears the headline, “Some Israeli-U.S. Officials move to keep the volume down.” Kampeas’s current article quotes an e-mail from the White House to Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for public policy groups. "While we may have some differences of view with Israel at the moment over settlements,” the White House e-mail explains, “we are trying to work through them quietly, professionally, and without rancor or ultimatums, as befits a strong relationship with an important ally. We are confident we can do that."

The present clash functions at a number of domestic and international levels—some of them contradictory, and all of them granulated.

In many minds, the harsh new policy was presaged May 5, 2009 at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference. “You're not going to like my saying this,” declared vice president Joe Biden, “but do not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts, and allow the Palestinians freedom of movement based on their first actions, its access to economic opportunity and increased security responsibility. This is a "show me" deal—not based on faith—show me.” That was day one of the new policy.

After the much anticipated May 18, 2009 White House summit between Obama and Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the differences quickly became apparent. First, Netanyahu would not commit to a two-state solution. Second, he resisted the idea of freezing settlements. The White House made it clear that both policies were indispensible. Netanyahu did not budge.

Then came the public scolding, primarily from Secretary of State Clinton. She has regularly repeated her refrain. In a June 5, 2009 press conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu in Washington, she countered any Israeli suggestion that a verbal agreement existed that allowed some “natural growth” in settlements. “There is no memorialization of any informal and oral agreements,” Clinton said. “If they did occur, which of course people say they did, they did not become part of the official position of the United States government.”

Obama himself has emphasized, “We will say in public what we say in private to Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs.”

The entire matter places Israel supporters in a torn situation. Start with the two-state solution. Until the recently elected Netanyahu government, standard Israeli diplomatic parlance accepted the two-state solution. Heading up a right-wing coalition, Netanyahu has refused to repeat those words, especially in the face of continued Palestinian stagnation on the peace process. This follows from the Israeli realization that for decades it has debated peace proposals with itself and that the Palestinian leadership’s most predictable word is still the word “No.” In facing the facts of Palestinian authority (with a small “A”), half of it is stagnated on the West Bank with the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority at the helm while the other half, in the form of Hamas, is engaged in the worst type of regime-sponsored terrorism from Gaza. A hard-bitten realist like Netanyahu wonders when the other side can bring itself to use the “yes” word. Peace and borders could have been achieved at any time during the past half century if the Arab side would have allowed it to happen. The original “Three No” concept adapted by the Arabs after Israel’s independence—No Peace, No Recognition, No Negotiations—has been replaced by a new Orwellian “Yes to Peace with Israel” so long as Israel shrinks to a militarily indefensible border, and then demographically transforms itself from a Jewish State to a “formerly Jewish state” flooded with Arabs residents from around the globe who have a historic claim to Palestine. Hence, Israel; would no longer be a Jewish State but a future Lebanon. Parenthetically, the million Jewish citizens expelled penniless by Arab regimes in the 1950s would continue to be a forgotten footnote.

In this discussion, false history becomes fundamental. Arab Palestine was never an Arab national territory. The land was owned and controlled not by peasants from generation to generation, but by Ottoman sultans from generation to generation—sultans who became more interested in selling a sphere of interest to the German Kaiser than allowing the residents to achieve self-government. Turkey only turned over the land titles to the Palestinians in May 2005 during a personal visit by then-Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish general directorate had for decades held 500,000 original title deeds in 254 volumes in the Land Registry Presidency building in Oran, Ankara. These covered the main cities previously governed by the Ottomans including: Jaffa, Nablus, Jenin, Gaza, and Jerusalem. Turkish rights in Palestine were seized by the League of Nations following World War I.

On the other hand, Jewish land deeds obtained through legal purchase and other forms of legitimate registration were meticulously kept as a sovereign right since the early twentieth century when the London-based Zionist Organization began the move to legally settle in Palestinian pursuant to international law.

The very concept of Arab nationalism was a twentieth century invention mainly of Christian Lebanese seeking reforms against Istanbul—the so-called “Young Turks.”

The much-disputed tug of war between British and French wartime lies and seductions to both Arabs and Jews about Palestinian nationhood are well-known. But all of them, from the McMahon correspondence to the Balfour Declaration are just pieces of paper with no force in international law or common sense. The real nation building was done in the 1920 and 1930s long after the ink dried on those illusory imperialistic promises and suggestions. Indeed, the only real bi-national agreement that matters was the one signed by Faisal and Chaim Weizmann in January 1919 agreeing to trade Arab sovereignty in Syria for Jewish nationhood in Palestine. But that agreement was spoiled by the French a year later when oil interests thwarted Arab nationalism with massacres and political backstabbing to achieve Western oil imperialism in the Middle East. By the way, it was in that year, 1920 that the Jihad against the West began—decades before Israel ever existed.

The rest is just unhappy history. Netanyahu knows this history even if the Twitterized White House does not.

Friction on settlements is equally problematic. Many of Israel’s core supporters in the United States and many Israeli citizens simply abhor the settlements. But by castigating Israel so publically, the Obama Administration has created a veneer of support for settlements that would otherwise not exist in the Jewish community. Hence, the reaction is not about settlements, it is about treating Israel like a pesky client.

Israel has shown its willingness to dismantle settlements on a dime. It destroyed Yamit and many others when it gave back the Sinai to Egypt. It relinquished precious Taba across from Eilat when the last international juridical appeal accepted a disputed Turkish cartographic reference that ruled out Israeli control. The Jewish State painfully pulled its own citizens kicking and screaming out of Gaza and evacuated the territory completely only to see it become not a greenhouse of development but a hothouse of terror.

The problem with settlements comes down to one word: “borders.” There are no borders. Until the Palestinians can draw a line on a map and stick to it, Israelis will continue to push down the hill, across the hill and up the next hill both by natural increase and by deliberate political design. What in America is simply “suburban sprawl” becomes an international breach in Jerusalem—precisely because there is no border.

Moreover, if a border agreement were made with the Palestinians, who would it be with. Hamas? The Palestinian Authority? How long would it last? One side or the other would declare it null and void before the last serif dried.

Create a border and the settlements stop instantly.

Israeli supporters are also rankled by bizarre Obama moral equivalencies, many of which were repeated in the recent Cairo speech. For example: the Holocaust was bad but so are checkpoints. Checkpoints throughout the West Bank are admittedly almost as bad as what we experience at the airport every day, although caused by the same factor: terrorism. The Holocaust on the other hand victimized six million innocents. Incidentally, the oil that ran the Nazi war machine was energetically supplied by the Arab States, mainly Iraq via Lebanon. The Arab community participated in the Holocaust by almost universally siding with the Nazis. They excuse this by saying the real enemy was Britain. The axis of Berlin and the Mufti of Jerusalem is well-known. Islamic divisions fighting with the Third Reich were under the direct protection of Himmler. The White House buys into the traditional false history that the Holocaust was an exclusively European event. A few days ago, Jews of Iraqi descent observed the anniversary of “the Farhud.” The White House may not even know what the word “Farhud” means until after they read this article.

Indeed, the Obama administration has not yet discovered that a plurality of Israeli citizens is actually of Arab descent. They are the men and women of Jewish faith who formerly dwelled for many centuries before Islam as citizens of what became Arab lands. Libya, Iraq, Egypt and many others in the Arab League expelled their Jewish citizens penniless for no other reason than their religion. The idea was to create a demographic time bomb of destitution in Israel. But unlike the Arab world, Israel assimilated refugees as full citizens. These Jews of Arab descent now rule much of Israel. They are originally Arabs, but of Jewish faith.

Another bizarre equivalency is linking the curtailment of settlements and stopping Iran’s nuclear threats against Israel. It is hard to read the balance sheet between a few doublewide trailer homes or even a complex of townhouses on the West Bank and nuclear annihilation. The comparison seems self evident. One seeks to create a mushroom patch, the other seeks to create a mushroom cloud.

The growing queasiness among Obama supporters who also support Israel was only magnified by Obama’s recent speech to the Muslim World. Clearly, the speech was courageous and exquisite. No one does better than Obama in catering to a crowd and uplifting it. He acknowledged that Western oil imperialism waged a war of hegemony against Arab peoples. That is true. He praises what needed to be praised about Arab scholarship over the centuries. In that, he got it half right when he stated: “It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing.” Muslim scholars did excel at coastal navigation as raiders and traders, and at algebra to help in their magnificent architecture. The word algebra itself comes from the Arabic al-jabru and invokes the concept of balancing, hence equations. But Obama got it wrong—and this is a relevant wrong—when he added “our mastery of pens and printing.”

Surely, writing was a Babylonian invention. But the Middle East was virtually devoid of printing presses until the twentieth century. The Turks maintained a staff of some 90,000 scribes to commit to paper only what was authorized—legal rulings, regulations, and religious writings as well as the Koran. For decades after World War I, the Arab world controlled the printing press as a totalitarian tool, generally deploying it to afflict its domestic and foreign enemies and foster group hatred. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still the biggest seller in the Arab world.

Obama has achieved one thing. He has launched the rocket of “even-handedness” that the Arab World has been calling for. His Cairo speech is heralded far and wide in the Arab and Muslim worlds. If that momentum results in some lasting peace with Arab cooperation, the jitters are worth enduring. If it only encourages greater intransigence by Arab negotiators and longer stalemate, then Barack Obama will not have brought “change” but proved that some that some things never change.”

Edwin Black is the New York Times bestselling author of Nazi Nexus, Banking on Baghdad and IBM and the Holocaust. He can be reached at www.edwinblack.com.

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