During the past few days, I’ve been in the odd position of defending aspects of President Obama’s Cairo speech against criticism lodged by people I admire. But though I consider some of the criticism over-heated, I share the critics’ dismay with Obama’s position on Israel. Specifically, I am dismayed that (1) Obama is not pro-Israel, (2) his sympathies lie with the Palestinians, not the Israelis, and (3) his policy has not been even-handed.
Obama’s policy does not purport to be pro-Israel, but rather “even-handed.” Obama would no doubt contend that to be “even-handed” is to be, ultimately, pro-Israel because the real interests of the Israelis and the Palestinians converge. This assumes that the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians is one of the world’s longest running “false choices.” It also assumes that Obama understands Israel’s interests better than the Israelis. The arrogance of these assumptions, though breath-taking, is not surprising given the source.
In any event, Obama certainly is not pro-Israel in the ordinary sense. But he should be. As George Will says, “it is unworthy of the United States to aspire to be even-handed between those who would destroy and those who would preserve the only democracy in that region.” And it is unhealthy for the United States to aspire to be even-handed between a longstanding ally and a people who wish us ill to the point of demonstrating spontaneous joy on 9/11.
Second, though Obama purports to be even-handed, his sympathies are with the Palestinians. At one level, this is the natural consequence of the narrative he has embraced: two peoples have suffered injustices and, as result, have strong claims for a state of their own. One of them, the Jewish people, has a state. The other remains stateless. Naturally, it is the latter group that Obama believes is deserving of his sympathy.
At a less rational level, Obama sympathizes with the Palestinians rather than the Israelis by virtue of the same reflex that most leftists – including close associates and former associates like Jeremiah Wright and Samatha Power – do. I’m referring to the anti-Western, pro “people of color” reflex (I don’t assume that Obama is anti-Jewish, as Wright is).
Because Obama’s sympathies are with the Palestinians, it is not surprising that his approach to their dispute with Israel has not been even-handed. That approach consists of lots of hot air coupled with one concrete demand – that Israel engage in no new construction in and around its settlements. Obama thus insists that Israelis living in settlements not build homes for their children in the name of a “peace process” that cannot proceed because a unified Palestinian government does not exist, and in the hope that, if such a government emerges, it will deign to recognize the right of Israel to exist.
This is not the demand of an even-handed facilitator. This is the demand of a man determined to flex his muscles on behalf of the party with whom he sympathizes and to pick a fight with the party he considers the villain of the piece.