In contemplating the 2012 Presidential Election, a friend in the U.S. recently contacted me here in Israel and produced the following correspondence:
What's your take on President Obama's policies and interaction with Israel -plus the comments he made about 1967 borders?
A.F.: I think President Obama came into the role of president with genuine desire to resolve the Arab/Israeli conflict starting with Israel and the Palestinians. I think he believed that if he showed the Arab world that he respects them, their customs and cultures and validates their hurt and pain over the *results of the Six Day War then they would meet him half-way in being prepared to make the painful concessions being asked of both Israel and them. I was not upset over his Cairo speech as I saw it as the above, and -- were the U.S. and Israel dealing with another Westernized country/people it would have been the right approach. As I see it, the problem is that the West is not respecting the culture of the non-Israel Middle East enough to treat it according to its approach to matters of conflict. The international community is trying to impose Western diplomatic tools on to a conflict for whom not all the participants react similarly to those tools. It's like respectfully bowing to someone -- but in the culture of the person receiving the bow it is seen as a sign of submission....
I think President Obama feels like most in the international community -- since Israel is the modern, Western country it is in the better position than the Palestinians to intellectually and emotionally understand the conflict and should be willing to make the decisions necessary to appease the other side and bring the problem to an end. Of course, this opinion falls into the same trap as that expressed above re not respecting/understanding the position of the Arab/Muslim population.
Regarding the president's comments on 1967 borders -- it was a mistake for him to say it.
(*part of President Obama's misunderstanding of the situation is to believe the hurt and pain of the Arabs is the result of the Six Day War – in fact, it includes the war in '48.....)
Would what he said stop you from voting for him? I remember you saying any US administration is viewed the same way by Israelis. Essentially, outside of Ron Paul, everyone has the same stance.
A.F.: The 2012 election is a tough question (I do get to vote as I am a U.S. citizen). Truthfully, I'm undecided. The only real qualm I have with President Obama is the Israel issue -- because it's been 3 years of him not changing his approach that has been unsuccessful and damaging. I'm looking for his wisdom and leadership on the matter and I'm not seeing it -- it's fine to make mistakes...I don't see where he has significantly changed or tweaked his approach to this conflict that gives me confidence that 4 more years of him in office will be good for the future health of the Arab/Israeli conflict. I do want to be clear regarding Israel and how I vote in the U.S. Elections – unless I feel sure that a candidate's approach to Israel is damaging/harmful/dangerous to Israel, then the other elements of ideology will persuade/influence my vote. I felt as you describe re Bush II/Gore, Bush II/Kerry, and Obama/McCain. In each of those elections I voted for the Dem. I'll have to see who is the Rep. candidate, and I'll have to decide if I think the current president shows enough wisdom and clarity on the Israel matter by changing approach before I cast my vote.
How was/is Obama's approach damaging? Are Israelis generally distrustful of the President now?
1) I think that Israelis do not believe President Obama is particularly favorable toward Israel. He's as favorable toward Israel as he is the Palestinians which is to say that he doesn't really recognize Israel as being much a victim to the Arab world's anger, anti-Semitism and propaganda....or that the 60+ years of U.S./Israel friendship warrants any greater fidelity to Israel.
2) Anything 'pro-active' the current administration has done to advance the peace process has been to make demands on Israel and not on the Palestinians.
3) President Obama's manner and policies has emboldened the Palestinian leadership and people to feel that the U.S. will continue to press Israel toward up-front concessions without the Palestinians having to make any themselves.
4) President Bill Clinton was in awe of Yitzchak Rabin and had a deep respect for Israel's leaders and its people for the country that Israel is despite all the reasons it should have failed. President Obama gives me the impression that Israel is a headache to him and that there is no greater moral imperative concomitant with Israel's existence – even in the light of the history of the Jewish people – than there would be for any other country.