Israel: Obama’s next moment?

ISLAM AND THE WEST By Daniel Brumberg Fresh from his victory in the U.S. Congress, President Obama is seizing the … Continued


By Daniel Brumberg

Fresh from his victory in the U.S. Congress, President Obama is seizing the initiative on foreign policy. Thus, instead of making up with Bibi Netanyahu, administration officials from the president on down have maintained a tough–and even obstinate–line with the Israelis. This cerebral president is now leading rather than responding, fighting rather than trying to simply reason with his friends and his adversaries.

But it will take much more than this crucial metamorphosis to advance the political equivalent of a bold U.S. Middle East Policy health bill. The challenge the administration faces is not only to demonstrate that the president has the will to lead. It’s more difficult task is to channel Obama’s renewed energy behind a coherent foreign policy strategy. All the feistiness in the world will mean nothing if the White House continues to improvise via tactical adjustments that, by their very nature, cannot replace an integrated vision of where it wants to go in the Middle East– and what it needs to get there.

This problem looms large in the administration’s efforts to advance Palestinian-Israeli peace while pursuing “engagement” with Muslim majority countries. In the latter case, the president went to Cairo to directly address the psychological intangibles of identity, historical resentment, and youthful disillusionment. In the former case, the White House dispatched Sen. George Mitchell to grapple with the pragmatic minutia of agreements, trade-offs and concessions. Nearly a year later, Obama has yet to confront the fears, insecurities and occasional nightmares that frame the Israeli-Jewish world-view.

This situation cannot endure. Unless he pursues a parallel policy of “Jewish World Engagement,” and unless this effort is linked to a strategic vision of how to mobilize both Muslims and Jews in the struggle for a two-state solution, the president could find both communities equally disillusioned with his leadership.

There is no doubt that Obama and his team inherited a huge Arab-Israeli mess. With the Palestinians divided politically and geographically, an Israeli government suffering its own elemental divisions (think of Lincoln prosecuting the Civil War with a third of his cabinet made up of Southern sympathizers!), and an Iranian president threatening to destroy the “Zionist regime,” what incentive did this new administration have to push for a full blown renewal of a defunct peace process?

This is precisely the question that many American friends of Israel posed following Obama’s inauguration. Given the impressive efforts of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to advance economic growth, fight corruption and train a more effective security force, some experts argued that new administration should pursue only modest goals. Raising “final status” issues, it was said, would only wreck the lifeboat that Fayyad had lowered from the Palestinian-Israeli Titanic.

While logical, the problem with this advice was this: from its very inception, the Palestinian-Israeli peace process suffered from a near catastrophic failure to clearly define the strategic purpose behind whatever partial concessions each side promised to make. Absent a transparent and expeditious procedure for moving both sides towards a sustainable two-state solution, the peace process was left vulnerable to sabotage by any party who rejected the very concept of a peace between a Palestinian and an Israeli state.

Obama’s advisers understood this problem, but were not sure how to tackle it. In a bid to link partial steps to strategic goals, Mitchell tried to push Palestinian West Bank leaders to improve security, and Israelis to freeze settlements. The assumption was that these confidence-building steps would set the stage for final status negotiations.

However, since neither the administration nor West Bank Palestinian leaders had the means to stop Hamas from lobbing shells across the Israeli-Gaza border, they couldn’t fully deliver the security that Israelis craved. And while Netanyahu promised a 9 month settlement freeze on the West Bank, the “expansion” of existing Israeli communities continued, in line with the priorities of key members of Bibi’s own fractious cabinet. As a result, the trust required linking partial steps to strategic outcomes never emerged.

I am not speaking of Palestinian-Israeli trust. As recent events amply show, the key problem is an absence of American-Israeli trust. Indeed, what Obama and his advisers have not fully grasped is the emotive landscape of the Israeli-Jewish psyche. Despite Israel’s extraordinary financial and military prowess, many Israelis perceive their homeland to be under existential threat from a powerful alliance of state and non-state forces whose chief patron (Iran) is busy enriching uranium.

Jewish angst is a powerful force, particularly when it coexists with the specter of a young administration seeking to repair U.S.-Muslim relations. While laudable and even vital for U.S. geo-strategic interests, Obama never forged a coherent strategy for helping Israelis understand how Muslim world engagement could be fully consonant with a robust U.S.-Israeli relationship. That consonance could only come from mobilizing Jews and Muslims behind a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

To join the Jewish and Muslim tracks, the administration needs a Jewish World Engagement that parallels its still-to-be-realized pursuit of Muslim World Engagement.

Obama himself must inaugurate this initiative, not by a speech in Washington, not by a phone call, but rather by flying to Israel, a country that–incredibly enough–he is yet to visit as president. There he must address the darkest fears and brightest aspirations of Israelis–and of their supporters in the wider global Jewish community. He must explain why the U.S. is determined to help Israelis and Palestinians make –and protect– the historic decisions that will ultimately provide real security for both peoples. Then and only then can he ask Arab leaders to renew their diplomatic, economic and political support for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Two engagement tracks– bound together by a clear strategic vision to which a re-energized president is dedicated in both words and most of all deeds–this is the great challenge that now awaits Obama.

Daniel Brumberg is Co-Director of Georgetown University’s Democracy and Governance Program and Acting Director of the Muslim World Initiative at the United States Institute of Peace.

By Daniel Brumberg | 
March 25, 2010; 1:36 PM ET

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  • YEAL9

    Once again:-The Jews and Palestinians are being separated by walls. Hopefully the walls will follow the 1948 UN accords. UN forces should control these walls. Unfortunately the Annapolis Peace Conference was not successful and unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “square one”. This significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of both religions!!!Jerusalem should be made into an international city under the control and protection of the UN. It is disturbing that such violence and hatred continues unabated due to radomness of birth.

  • FarnazMansouri

    Sorry, Mr. Bloomberg, to digress.Right now my primary interest is in Rev. Jeremiah Wright, of the “them Jews” Wrights, and Rev. Jakes, who believes that gayness is “brokenness.”These two bigots, moreover, have amassed fortunes in the millions.The fact that the two bigots post at OnFaith is disturbing. Even more disturbing is the fact that critics of Wright are barred from posting.Interestingly enough, Wright is not the only antisemite posting for the OnFaith powers that be. There is the infamous Arun Gandhi, still on board, whose antisemitic rant garnared hundreds of protests, cost him his job, but not his position here. We were informed by Quinn that Gandhi would post on what he had learned from the aftermath of his racist rant.In its wake he learned very little, except to spew more antisemitism in other venues, as I posted on this blog (with pastes and links).We await Arun Gandhi’s report. I await David Waters’ reply to my email asking how it is that antisemites (add Arroyo) are guests and panelists here. I asked when he planned to have a White Christian minister addressing the subject of “them blacks.” No reply thus far.In the meantime, anti-gay ministers, antisemitic clergy come and go.HIgh time, btw., that we had a representative from the anti-gay black churches, perhaps, Jakes, elaborating on their position.

  • FarnazMansouri

    Should have written Brumberg–Sorry.

  • yasseryousufi

    America’s attitude toward’s Israel is more of a reflection of our times. The days of Jewish and Evangelical pressure in American politics are over with the election of Obama. He needed neither of those two bloc’s to win the election. This can also be considered a wish of American people that they desire a more even handed approach towards the Mid-East Crisis. With regrads to Israel, they were stupid enough to elect a rabid right wing government at the most inappropriate moment. The world is fast loosing patience with the genocidal tactics, this theocratic state adopts against its minorities and the people it occupies. Israelis started loosing the war of public opinion during the Lebanon war when the world saw “the tiny state, only democratic government in the region” bombing civilians mercilessly for a month. Not content with this they dropped thousands of cluster bombs even after the ceasefire was announced to ensure Lebanese would continue to die long after the war was over. That was when the world really awoke and realised that they’ve infact created a Frankenstien in Israel. Since then every violent step Israel has taken pushes it deeper in the mire of Public opinion. Its natural that the Israelis would rebuff Obama and start calling him an anti-semite (Netanyahu’s brother being the most recent). This has been their modus operandi for the last decade. They take US administration for granted on the basis of their friends in Congress, the all powerfull AIPAC and pro-Jewish media. They will not read the writing on the wall. They are too much of ego maniacs to show common sense. Lets see if Obama can handle this situation adroitly. He has very smartly stumped the Israelis so fars. But the Israelis are past masters of strategy and deciet. Its gonna be the most interesting 3 years in Mid-East Politics!

  • YEAL9

    This significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam!!! Obama should declare this and divert all US foreign aid to Egypt and Israel to pay for the new health plan.

  • amariaa91

    Brumberg is arguing that a stronger American/Israeli trust and engagement is needed in light of the growing American/Muslim trust. I thought the goal of all three nations was to find a solution to the current Palestine/Israel problem, not to fight for the attention of America. The US has had very strong ties with Israel for years now; the Israeli agenda was pushed much harder then the need to establish peace between the two nations. So isn’t it a good thing now that Palestine is finally getting some help- finally getting someone in their corner? I think Obama is doing the right thing in speaking to the Arab world and addressing the crucial need for coexistence in the Middle East. For so many years now the crimes committed against Palestine, under the Israeli government have been set aside, and for once an American president is actually trying to do something about it. So if a stringer US/Palestinian alliance is whats in store Im all for it. Why is a not giving Israel priority in this situation considered as something wrong? The US is serving as a mediator in this conflict, and in order to form an unbiased understanding of the conflict you need to hear both sides, not just one. But then again this isn’t a fair battle is it, seeing as how pro Israeli state supporters have been holding the strings of the American government for years now. So if the Palestinian side is finally getting much needed support from the US then how is that a bad thing? You cant just push one side in a horrible conflict in which innocent lives are being taken everyday; both on the Israeli and Palestinian side. What the whole peacemaking process has lost sight of, in my opinion, is the loss of innocent lives. If we really cared about the helpless people caught up in this war every time they step out of their houses, we wouldn’t care about a stronger Israel/US or Palestinian/US trust, we’d only be concerned with ending this horrible cycle of war. Lastly, there was one remark the author made that totally shocked me. He says. “Jewish angst is a powerful force, particularly when it coexists with the specter of a young administration seeking to repair U.S.-Muslim relations.” Wow, what a loaded comment. The tone of that comment comes off as very angry and threatening. Is he trying to say any positive relations between the Muslim world and the US are seen as a threat to Israel? Why is it so wrong for the US to attempt to build a relationship with the Middle East?

  • FarnazMansouri

    The current importance of this discussion is due to Barack Huseein’s upcoming meeting in LYBIA with the ARab League.’Nuf said.Meanwhile, we continue to pour billions into Pakistan, which is pocketed by the corrupt Zardari regime and army officers.They would be the officers ILLEGALLY OCCUPING KASHMIR. That’s okay, PRofessor. Pakistan is a failed mad dog state. India is not. Kashmir will be delivered from the gun running Pakistani Army, and India will be our “friend” for as long as it serves her interests.But India will not forget. And India is not alone.

  • YEAL9

    “Pouring billions into Pakistan”. Yes, but the US taxpayers have been pouring billions into Israel and Egypt for years and for what?

  • yasseryousufi

    Notice the diversionary tactics of zionist apologists to move away from the topic of discussion. Obama has to has an ulterior motive for his percieved slights towards the Jewish nation. After all no sensible, honest person can ever find a fault with “God’s Chosen People”. Every one from Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, Arun Gandhi, Jimmy Carter would be called evil, racist anti-semites by the soldiers of Zion on this site and their Cabal in the media.Oh and what a bogus attemt at diverting the issue. Its ok for Israel to imprison the entire Population of Gaza, attack them and kill them mercilessly in thousands, throw them out of their homes and give their homes to zionist thugs from Russia, because Pakistan occupies Kashmir! Hello? What world do you live in lately?? Your newest buddies, the Indians occupy Kashmir with its seven hundred thousand troops in the Province. An overwhelming majority of Kashmiris want to live as Pakistanis. It was the Tribal Kashmiris and not Pakistani regular army that freed part of Kashmir from India. The UN Resolution for plebiscite on Kashmir is the second oldest unresolved issue after the palestinian issue. The attempts by Zionist to forge the truth to suit their occupation is simply breathtaking. But the mind doesn’t boggle, we are now familiar with all their deceitfull tactics to forge the truth.

  • YEAL9

    “President Obama’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget proposes $53.8 billion for appropriated international affairs’ programs. From that budget proposes $5.7 billion for foreign military financing, military education, and peacekeeping operations. From $5.7 billion, $2.8 billion, almost 50% is appropriated for Israel.[30] Israel also has available roughly $3 billion of conditional loan guarantees, with additional funds coming available if Israel meets conditions negotiated at the U.S.-Israel Joint Economic Development Group (JEDG).”ref: Again, with Israeli banks having almost one trillion dollars in assets, why would they ever need a loan or any kind of foreign aid?