The U.S. vote against raising the status of Palestine at the United Nations was a deeply cynical move. It was cynical because there is not a chance that President Obama believes that he did the right thing. It is also cynical because, in the name of friendship for Israel, Obama led Israel closer to the cliff.
The last thing a true friend of Israel would have done would be to stand by as Israel demonstrated its almost complete international isolation. Just eight countries backed the Israeli position – the US, Panama, Palau, Canada, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Czech Republic and Micronesia – while 138 voted with the Palestinians. Was this display helpful to Israel?
But Obama was not trying to be helpful. The administration enabled this “disaster” (from Israel’s point of view) because Obama seems to truly not care about Israelis or Palestinians.
Take the two most recent examples. The first was his absolute refusal to express a word of sympathy for the Palestinians killed in the Gaza war. Under previous administrations, certainly under every Democratic administration, sympathy was expressed for the dead and injured on both sides along with a call for an end to the fighting. But Obama would not do that. Even when asked directly his spokesperson at the State Department would only speak of Israel’s pain. (To her credit, Secretary of State Clinton did say that she felt for both sides.)
But not Obama. He is determined not only to demonstrate that there is “no daylight” separating the two countries but that no amount of darkness separates us either.
The argument that he has to behave this way because of the power of the lobby doesn’t hold up. I would be the last person in the world to deny that the lobby is a powerful force in the making of U.S. Middle East policy. But, unless there is some mysterious element to the lobby’s power that I am missing, its ability to intimidate ends when a president is re-elected.
Believing that Obama is worried about Congressional Democrats being punished in 2014 is just as inaccurate. One: that is two years away. Two: Obama has rarely demonstrated (like almost all presidents before him) much concern for the Congressional wing of his party. And, three: the November 6th election demonstrated yet again that Jewish voters do not cast their ballots (or make campaign contributions) based on Israel. Nor do Israel’s fundamentalist Christian backers. Jews are overwhelmingly liberal Democrats and Christian Zionists are conservative Republicans. Those facts seem never to change.
Besides, does Obama really believe that he would lose votes or campaign contributions from Jews and other pro-Israel Americans if he expressed sympathy for dead Palestinian children? Or called on both sides to stop the violence. I hold no brief for the lobby but Obama could have said what he no doubt felt without losing anyone’s support. Even the lobby does not demand that politicians withhold human sympathy.
As for the United Nations vote, Obama could have prevented the huge embarrassment inflicted on both Israel and the United States by telling Israel to “chill.” I am glad he didn’t because I think the vote will be seen by history as a significant step toward Palestinian statehood. But it also delegitimized Israel in the eyes of the world which is a terrible defeat for those of us who care about Israel ultimately achieving peace and security alongside the Palestinians.
And it could easily have been averted if Obama had told Israel that the United States would vote for the resolution and that Israel should, too. In that case, the vote for Palestine’s elevated status would have been unanimous which would have rendered the Palestinian victory meaningless. Unanimous backing for any measure almost always demonstrates the measure’s insignificance. Instead, Israel’s hysteria and America’s arm-twisting against the resolution gave the Palestinians a big victory, a victory that the United States and Israel both elevated to historic proportions.
So why did Obama behave the way he did? I am afraid it is because he does not think Israelis or Palestinians are worth the hassle. If he can avoid dealing with Netanyahu and his vocal backers here, he will. He has more important fish to fry – like the domestic economy and preserving the social safety net.
I understand that but nonetheless ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian issue – by simply parroting the Israeli line – has done terrible damage to America’s standing in the world. Look at the UN vote which was neatly summed up by the front-page New York Times headline: “UN Assembly, In Blow To U.S., Elevates Status of Palestine.” Perhaps it is of no concern of Obama’s that Israel appears utterly isolated, but so does the United States. To put it in crude terms: we look like Israel’s tool.
I will not conclude by expressing the hope that Obama will now do the right thing for Israel, Palestine and, most importantly, the United States by convening negotiations and acting as an “honest broker.” I doubt he can do that anymore both because he has entirely lost the trust of the Arab world and because events have demonstrated, in large part due to this administration, that history can move on without us. But primarily because I do not think President Obama cares enough to invest any time or energy in Middle East peacemaking. He seems not to care that resolving conflict in a vital region of the world is not just some favor we do for people 6000 miles away; it is something we do to defend America’s interests. It’s sad. But above all, it is just cynical.
Postscript: Prime Minister Netanyahu reciprocated President Obama’s misplaced kindness today when he announced that he will build 3000 new settler housing units in the E-1 corridor of the West Bank. This housing, designed to permanently separate the southern West Bank from the northern part and to separate both from Jerusalem would destroy any chance of achieving the two-state solution. It also breaks a specific promise Netanyahu made to Obama.
Additionally, AIPAC is rushing to get Congress to “punish” Palestinians for going to the UN by blocking aid. Netanyahu and his lobby now believe (probably correctly) that Obama will permit them to do whatever they want. This is what the United States gets for its “no daylight” policy and what we taxpayers get for $3.5 billion a year in aid.