Obama’s visit to Israel
Mar 22 2013
Obama’s visit to Israel was painted in a very low key; not much was expected other than the usual photo ops and a chance to get to know the players better. But Obama’s speech to young Israelis and his brokering of Netanyahu’s outreach to Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey are undoubtedly very significant.
David Horowitz thought Obama sounded like a typical Israeli left winger; Rabbi Michael Lerner (Tikkun) thought he was not strong enough on the topic of planning for Palestinian State. I’m not sure I read anything by Barry Rubin yet, but I suspect he would continue to consider Obama to be naïve. My own feeling is that Obama did what he had to do in the speech—Obama is good at that! Obama stressed Israel’s achievement and security, which will be welcomed by Israelis, and his remarks about the Palestinian State heartily agreed to as a matter of policy and theory by almost everyone (large majorities believe there ought to be a Palestinian State in theory). The Arab side may be correct in saying that the Israelis are not open enough to what is needed to be done, and that the Israeli attempt to meet “without preconditions” means that they are reneging on agreements reached since 2000 or even since Oslo. Whether or not they read this correctly, as long as they also try to go back even earlier–to rectify 1967 and 1948—I think Obama’s rhetoric will not have the desired effect.
Yet, it was an important opening. At the very least, perhaps Obama’s speech will lessen the way antagonisms play out in the region, and reduce insensitive and bullying behavours. To quote a wise friend, “Gratuitous arrogance is an unnecessary provocation.”
Obama will likely get more points in my book for making sholem “nice,” “peace,” between Netanyahu and Erdogan. I am not sure I trust Erdogan to be a “great friend” of Israel, but these days, both countries have much to gain from restoring better relations! We should watch though to see how it is perceived by the Turks and by the Arabs. Netanyahu seems to have been reasonably careful to reflect on Israeli oversight of the operations that justified his call. Moreover, Erdogan clarified a recent statement he made about Zionism that toned down what appeared to be anti-Semitism. Yet Erdogan can easily compromise the historic value of this gesture if he stresses this as a great moral victory over the Israelis, rather than emphasizing, in proper diplomatic terms, something along the lines of the common interests of Turkey and Israel, Israel’s friendship for the Turkish people, and Israeli readiness to do its share. Israel should not have to remind Turkey too loudly that ultimately the deaths on the Mavi Marmara resulted from a potentially dangerous provocation supported by Turkey.
Nevertheless, Obama would do well to remind the world that he also consulted with Jordan, and pledged support to them for the needs of Syrian refugees. And to remind everyone that making Israel-Palestine the central problem of the region—or of the world—may be disingenuous in the extreme, compromising much needed examination of the causes and remedies of violence and uprisings, illiteracy, unemployment, gender inequality, and the many other problems plaguing the region. All these have no direct connection to Israel except to the extent that diverting resources from them to Israel makes them worse. We shall all be wary of anyone who–misguidedly in my opinion—believes that solving Israel/Palestine will be a magic solution to all the other issues.
Associate Lecturer in Islam and Judaism
Dept. of Religious Studies, University of Wyoming