What is the political calculation of the Obama administration with regard to Israel and the current kerfuffle over Jewish building in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem? It has been reported that the area has already been assumed to go to Israel in any final status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. So why such animosity from the US administration toward her ally Israel? Good question!
The answer may lie in this article at MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute).
On March 27th, today as I write this in the United States, the Arab League summit begins and sets the stage for a struggle between the accommodating camp and the camp of hostility and armed struggle against the West, and specifically Israel and the United States. Again, these two camps are detailed in the MEMRI article cited above.
The United States will also have a presence there by proxy and apparently hopes to both resist and isolate Iran, Syria and their allies from more moderate political forces there. The Obama administration wants the more moderate forces to be in the ascendancy.
Openly attacking Israel serves two purposes: Firstly, it gives the appearance to the Arabs and Muslims that the United States is going to tilt more toward them than it previously has. Second, it serves to broadcast the conception that the Obama administration is more willing to butt heads with Israel than previous administrations. To the first idea, it helps the moderates at the Summit push back against the radicals and block them since they can then point to a “new” US administration with a “new” commitment. To the second, it serves the Obama administration by broadcasting that any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will also be more harsh regarding expectations on Israel than in the past. In other words, the United States now is prepared to butt heads with Israel.
It is a change in US policy, maybe for the better and maybe for the worse. I believe it will most likely be for the worse.
It is a change in US policy because past administrations have mostly tried to create the conditions for negotiations, but have not so publicly and forcefully demanded the actual course of the negotiations. It was understood that Israel and the PA would have to negotiate free and fairly without pressure from exogenous forces. This is a Western value, but not the value of the Arabs. The Arabs are of the understanding that “the tail cannot wag the dog.” Israel is in the minority, and they believe that the strong must rule the weak, not obsess about their rights.
The Obama administration sees this as a case of “tough love,” that it is in Israel’s interest to force a negotiated settlement now rather than to allow the problem to fester and hurt Israel more in the future. For the record, I am not entirely convinced Obama loves Israel, but is in agreement with Rahm Emanuel, David Axelrod, Susan Rice, et al, that a forced agreement now is best for Israel’s future. So, he is heading US policy in this direction.
This a high stakes gamble for Israel and the United States. An agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was already underway in the sense that ground conditions for one were improving rapidly: the West Bank economy grew at some 10% last year, amidst a world-wide deep recession; Palestinians in the West Bank were enjoying a higher standard of living and improving conditions (Israel dismantled some 200 check points) noted by new restaurants and shopping malls and coming industrial parks; there existed a robust cooperation with Israel in policing and adjudicating their society of jihadist and criminal elements as well as planned, violent attacks on Israel; their media was more open and self-critical of Palestinian politics.
Now the Obama administration has given the Arabs hope that they can avoid seriously negotiating an overall deal with Israel. Their intransigence can create the conditions of further fissures between the United States and Israel as they make more demands on the Jewish State. For this strategy to work, the Obama administration would have to publicly butt heads with the Arabs too, but the Arabs will just point to Israel’s recalcitrance and demand further concessions. In the end, this strategy will probably weaken America’s standing in the world as she looks either weak or like a bully, or both.
The historical fact is that this intractable problem has to work itself out over time as the two societies, Palestinian and Israeli, build robust and interconnected economies and demand greater cooperation and peace between the governments. Ramming concessionary policy down only Israel’s throat will make Israelis more reluctant rather than less. This is a point I have made in discussions with the Palestinian camp since the 1990s.