Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama's first 100 days & Israel

Thursday - Two new leaders

As Israelis celebrated Yom Ha'atzmaut yesterday, President Barack Obama completed the first 100 days of his presidency - with some pundits and lobbyists baying for him to "stand up to Israel" by imposing an American diktat to "solve" the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

These calls often come from those who - without a trace of irony - say they are friends of Israel. Zbigniew Brzezinski, for example, wants Obama to declare: "This is the settlement. This is what we're for."

J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami is more tactful, saying his goal is to provide Obama with political support within the Jewish community for what amounts to an imposed solution.

Thus has Binyamin Netanyahu's new government been greeted just 30 days after taking office.

From the day he took office, Obama has been under vicious attack by incorrigible partisans who stoke the flames of polarization. Nevertheless, his approval ratings are higher than those of George W. Bush or Bill Clinton 100 days into their presidencies.

Netanyahu has been called an enemy of peace and an opponent of a Palestinian state.

Obama has been accused of embarking on a march toward fascism or socialism; one critic even claimed the US government was building "internment camps" for its enemies. Regrettably, even mainstream television and radio outlets have given platforms to such absurd accusations.

The truth is that any president inheriting a nosediving economy in the midst of a global financial meltdown would have embarked on something like Obama's $789 billion stimulus package. While Americans have every right to debate his economic policies, no person of good faith can claim that Obama is leading America toward "tyranny."

Obama inherited a quagmire in Iraq, which is again being riven by sectarian bloodshed and anti-American sentiment. But aside from Iran, his most formidable foreign policy dilemma is Afghanistan-Pakistan, where al-Qaida and the Taliban pose a clear and present danger to the cities of America and Europe. The president is committed to defeating the extremists on their own turf.

Netanyahu, for his part, inherited a moribund negotiating process after the Palestinians rejected an extraordinarily magnanimous peace overture from Ehud Olmert. No reasonable critic of Israeli policy would suggest that Netanyahu wants to rule over the Palestinians, or that he is not committed to a territorial arrangement with them.

SO AS Israelis consider Obama's first 100 days, and as American policy-makers mull over Netanyahu's first month, here's what really matters:

• America is Israel's closest ally because the two nations share values and interests. Still, Washington and Jerusalem have long differed over how best to trade land for peace. We anticipate that the new administration will stand with Israel no less than its predecessors did. Similarly, we fully expect there to be sharp differences - as there always have been. Simply, the interests of America and Israel are not always identical.

• The link between the peace process and confronting Iran is straightforward. We in Israel need to do a better job of explaining to the administration that the menace of an ascendant, nuclear-armed regime, funneling guns and cash to Hamas and Hizbullah, inhibits the Palestinians' taking the most elemental steps toward peace.

• The administration warns that Teheran faces "crippling sanctions" if its rapprochement with Iran fails. It must realize that the clock is ticking.

• No one, least of all the Arab states, should need to be bought off to oppose a nuclear-armed Iran. Stopping the mullahs is a shared Arab, American and Israeli interest.

• Funding a Fatah-Hamas unity government - not that there's one in sight - without an explicit Hamas commitment to recognizing Israel, ending violence and abiding by previous Palestinian commitments would achieve only the illusion of momentum. A "unity" government not wholeheartedly committed to a two-state solution is hardly worth anyone's effort.

Candidate Obama chose his words carefully when he declared that "Israel's security is sacrosanct," and that "the United States must be a strong and consistent partner - not to force concessions, but to help committed partners avoid stalemate."

Those who would try to talk Obama out of this solemn pledge are no friends of Israel - no way, no shape, no how.

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