Obama Still Searching for Mideast Balance

Effectiveness in global affairs requires more than big guns; it requires the ability to balance rhetoric and action. Few leaders do this well; as his Mideast policy shows, Obama is not yet among them.

Judging from the AP summary in Haaretz on March 12, Clinton found some backbone during her phone call to Netanyahu. That is encouraging, coming from someone whose “Israel first, America second” bias has been deeply disturbing not just to Palestinians desiring justice but to Americans hoping finally to be able to be proud of their country again.
Nevertheless, Clinton’s newly tough rhetoric still falls far short of matching Israel’s steady shifting of the realities on the ground. For the past year, as Obama talked about peace, Netanyahu has been taking slow, constant steps to implement the Zionist program of Israeli expansion and the clearance of Palestinians. The announcement of new housing for Israeli colonists during Biden’s trip was noteworthy only for its timing – both in that it served to humiliate the U.S. and in that it carefully pulled the rug out from under the imminent new round of Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Why the Israeli right wants to derail the talks is a mystery, since talks have always served to delay rather than prepare for Palestinian independence. Perhaps the right has over the past decade and in particular over the past six months since the high point of Obama’s rhetorical support for a new U.S. attitude toward the Muslim world become so confident that it views the fig leaf of talks with impatience.
In any case, for Washington to regain the initiative it must not just alter its rhetoric but match Israeli changes to the ground truth (settler terrorism against Palestinians, new houses, new settlements). A “deeply negative signal” that “undermines trust,” as Clinton put it, seems more than sufficient to justify Washington simply turning its back on Tel Aviv and focusing on negotiating with Fatah and Hamas to create a Palestinian united front. But the fact that Clinton spoke for 43 minutes with Netanyahu suggests quite the opposite – that she pleaded and argued and let Netanyahu talk her ears off while his ministers prepare the next slap in the face. It does not take 43 minutes to tell someone that you no longer have confidence in them.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the Israeli police were arresting and shooting not just Palestinian protesters but Israelis as well. Yes, there are still some Israelis—called “leftists”–willing to risk violence at the hands of the police in order to support human rights.
The Netanyahu regime knows exactly where it wants to go and is moving straight toward its target. The Obama regime unfortunately continues to stumble, having yet to find the balance between words and action.
Evidently realizing that the United States of (north) America needs help, the inimitable leader of the United States of Brazil gave an interview for reporters from Haaretz and an Islamic organization in which he made some of the points Obama seems unable to articulate. According to the Palestine News Agency on March 12, Lula noted that “the world is lacking global governance” due to the unrepresentative nature of the UN and other multilateral institutions, that the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Iranian nuclear issue are two parts of the overall Mideast problem which must be resolved through negotiations:
the time has come to bring into the arena players who will be able to put forward new ideas. Those players must have access to all levels of the conflict: in Israel, in Palestine, in Iran, in Syria, in Jordan and in many other countries that are associated with this conflict. This is the only way we will be able to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace, and at the same time be able to say clearly to Iran that we are against the manufacture of nuclear weapons….
I do not want Israel to attack Iran, just as I do not want Iran to attack Israel. In an orderly world, people have to learn to talk to one another….
[the November 2007 Annapolis conference] gives me serious doubts: Who really wants peace in the Middle East? Who has an interest in achieving a solution and who would like the conflict to continue? The impression is that someone is constantly working here as though he has hidden enemies, people who simply do not want an agreement to be reached….
Anyone who compares Ahmadinejad and modern-day Iran to Hitler and the Nazis is having the same kind of radicalism of which Iran is being accused. Anyone who takes that line is not contributing in the least to the peace process which we want to create for the sake of the future. You cannot do politics with hate and resentment. Anyone who wants to do politics with hate and resentment should get out of politics. Nobody can rule a country through the liver. You have to rule a country with your head and your heart. Other than that, it’s best to stay somewhere else other than in politics….
we must not allow what happened in Iraq to happen in Iran. Accordingly, before sanctions of any kind are imposed, we must make every effort to rebuild the peace in the Middle East. That is what is behind my visit to Israel, Palestine and Jordan – and that is what will also take me on a visit to Iran later. After all, the Middle East conflict is not bilateral and does not pertain only to Israel and Palestine. There are other interests in the Middle East, interests which must be represented so that we can find a solution. Iran is part of all this, and therefore someone must talk to them….
Lula suggested an interesting idea–that being a peaceful country is the qualification for being a mediator. Brazil has renounced nuclear arms, and it is hard to remember the last time that country invaded anyone. Perhaps Brazilian intervention is just what the Mideast needs.
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