Heading to Jerusalem next week to reset relationships with hobbled 63-year-old Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, President Barack Obama comes with a new attitude toward Israel. When Barack met Netanyahu the last time in Washington March 5, 2012, he was in a middle of a bitter primary fight with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama has received his Mideast advice from former President Bill Clinton’s advisors, largely expecting Israel to make concessions for a lasting peace deal much like former President Jimmy Carter got when he pressed Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sedat to make peace. Painful concessions, including returning the Sinai Peninsula, helped Egypt become the first and only Arab state to make peace with Israel. Since Clinton failed to deliver peace in Summer 2000, the process has fallen apart..
When Osama bin Laden flew hijacked U.S. jetliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon Sept. 11, former President George W. Bush established a new terrorism policy: No discussions, no backroom deals, no compromises and no exceptions. Since the late Yasser Arafat founded the Palestinian Organization May 24, 1964, the PLO was at war with Israel. Tolerated by American leaders because of sympathies toward displaced Palestinians, it was no accident that Arafat teamed up with various Arab leaders, especially Egypt’s Gen. Gamel Abdel Nasser, in 1967 to wipe Israel off the map. With U.S. military backing, Israel defeated Egypt, Jordan, Syria and what’s known today and the United Arab Emirates. Egypt lost the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, Jordan lost the West Bank and Syrian lost the Golan Heights, giving Palestinians the future land for a Palestinians state.
Obama visits Israel for first time knowing that Israel is the only seamless Mideast ally in the wake of Sept. 11. Americans watched Palestinians and other Arabs dance in the streets following Sept. 11. Today’s strain, if any, with Israel involves the Obama administration not accepting key changes in U.S. Mideast policy since Sept. 11. U.S. cannot negotiate with terrorists, regardless of the political circumstances. When Barack meets with Bibi next week, he’ll carry the message that the U.S. will not tolerate any Arab group to practice terrorism to win political concessions in any attempt at Mideast peace, including any discussions about creating an independent Palestinian state in the so-called occupied Israeli territories. Obama will also reinforce U.S. policy—supported on both sides of the aisle—to prevent Iran from making weapons grade uranium or building an A-bomb.
White House officials tamped down expectations about any kind of breakthrough for Barack’s first Mideast trip. “This is not about accomplishing anything now. This is what I call a down payment trip,” said Mideast peace expert Aaron David Miller, now with the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Miller’s comments state exactly the opposite. If Barack gets on the same page as Bibi, he will have pulled off a major coup. Obama knows that the U.S. armed services enter Israeli ports as if they were at home. No where in the world—including the U.K.—are the U.S. more welcomed. When ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) gets critical of Obama or his new Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Mideast policy, it’s because he wants the White House to give Netanyahu and Israel it’s due as a highly preferential U.S. ally.
Creating the way for a comprehensive Mideast peace doesn’t involve the old ways of pandering to Arab capitals or playing Israel and Palestinians off each other. Letting the rest of the world know that Israel is a seamless U.S. ally, puts Palestinian and other Arab states on notice that the U.S. has Israel’s back. Given Israel’s enhanced strategic importance since Sept. 11, there’s nothing one-sided about putting Mideast capitals on notice that any peace deal must satisfy U.S. and Israeli national security considerations. Given the fragile state of affairs in Syria and Iran, the U.S. can’t afford to compromise its relationship with Israel to placate any faction in the Middle East. While Netanyahu enjoys a shaky governing coalition, he enjoys strong public backing handling Israeli national security. Iran’s feverish pursuit of weapons grade uranium doesn’t sit well in Washington or Tel Aviv.
When Obama steps off Air Force One on Israeli soil he’ll feel the immediate safety of landing in friendly territory in an otherwise hostile Middle East. While visiting the Holocaust Memorial Vad Vashem, Mount Herzl, laying wreaths for Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism or assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yizak Rabin or the Church of the Nativity, Obama will be struck by the warm hospitality in a faraway land he’ll call a second home. Whatever differences the U.S. has with Israel about Iran’s nuclear program, both countries agree they must prevent Tehran from going nuclear. With the Arab Spring destabilizing Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Obama will get a new perspective on what to do about the revolution going on in Syria. No matter how unsavory the regime in Syria, U.S. and Israeli officials know—as Russia has warned—that things could get a lot worse toppling Bashar al-Assad.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.