On June 4, at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Barack Obama told a vast television audience that the “only resolution” for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “through two states…. That is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience that the task requires.”
On June 14, at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv, Binyamin Netanyahu said that “if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, we are ready to agree to a real peace agreement, a demilitarized Palestinian state side by side with the Jewish state.”
In 2002—consistent with his view throughout his career—then-Member of Knesset Netanyahu had said: “On the day that we sign an agreement for a state with limited authorities, what will happen if the Palestinians do what the Germans did after World War I, when they nullified the demilitarized zone? The world did nothing then, and the world will do nothing now as well…. the bottom line is that saying ‘Yes’ to a Palestinian state means ‘No’ to a Jewish state, and vice versa.”
There is no reason to think Netanyahu has changed that realistic outlook. Brazen Palestinian violations of their obligations—whether systematic incitement against Israel to the point of instilling a terrorist culture, the bringing in of proscribed weapons, the refusal to amend the Palestinian National Charter, and so on—have to date done nothing to weaken worldwide and, particularly, U.S. administrations’ advocacy of their cause and pursuit of statehood for them.
What has changed is the vehemence with which the Obama administration has embraced that cause, regarding, particularly, the “two-states” and “settlements” issues. On Sunday night, Netanyahu conceded to Obama on the former while holding firm on the latter, saying he would not put an end to construction in existing settlements. That he couched his concession in a stirring speech that affirmed Jewish rights to the land of Israel, and rightly put the onus for the lack of peace on the Palestinian and Arab side, did not mitigate how dramatic, historic, and potentially dangerous a concession it was.
Why, then, the relatively subdued response in Netanyahu’s coalition, including its more right-wing elements? The affirmative nature of the speech had something to do with it, including Netanyahu’s support for the settlement population whom he called “a pioneering, Zionist, principled sector… our brothers and sisters.” But more important, the coalition—like Israel in general—is aware of the severity of Obama’s pressure on Jerusalem and the need to seek harmony with him at a time when Israel faces a growing, unprecedented threat from Tehran.
Obama has shown the world, then, that he can be tough and get results—when it comes to a democratic ally, Israel. Many, though, including Charles Krauthammer, Ralph Peters, Barry Rubin, and others, have noted that when it comes to nondemocratic rivals and outright enemies, Obama is much softer—and gets no results at all.
That holds true whether it’s Moscow’s rebuff of the U.S. offer to drop missile defense plans for Eastern Europe in return for cooperation on Iran, Pyongyang’s ongoing contemptuous saber-rattling and defiance of the latest Security Council resolution condemning it, or Tehran’s apparent rigging of an election in favor of the most radical candidate and brutal crackdown on protest—while continuing to dismiss Obama’s earnest entreaties for “dialogue.”
Obama’s harshness toward an ally and gentleness toward foes is, indeed, disturbingly reminiscent of an earlier U.S. president known for that malady, Jimmy Carter, who happens this week to be making the rounds in Israel. In a visit on Sunday to the Gush Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem, Carter seemed to strike a surprisingly conciliatory note when he said that “This particular settlement area is not one I ever envision being abandoned or changed over into Palestinian territory…. I think [these settlements] will be here forever.”
But the author of Palestine Peace Not Apartheid and relentless champion of all anti-Israeli terror organizations was back in form on Tuesday. In a visit to Gaza—including talks with Hamas, which are banned by the U.S. government, and a reported assassination attempt—he said he had to “hold back my tears at seeing the destruction that was inflicted on your people” in Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.
As Yigal Walt of ynetnews noted,
It is indeed an irony of fate that [Carter’s] comments coincide with the post-election unrest in Iran, as brave civilians in Tehran and elsewhere are being shot on the streets…. Is Carter crying for them too?
After all, the Iranian revolution that brought the Ayatollahs to power occurred on Carter’s watch. Moreover, the Islamic revolt in Tehran, attributed at least in part to the former president’s actions and misdeeds, epitomizes the grave implications that policies adopted by leaders of Carter’s ilk may bring to the region.
Leaders of—judging by the record so far—Obama’s ilk, too? Except that now the stakes are even higher and the damage could be much greater.