Moshe Dann: Obama’s Israel Ambush Backfires

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Moshe Dann, a former assistant professor of history, is a writer and journalist living in Jerusalem.]

President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s attack on Israel is failing spectacularly.

Most Israelis — especially those in the center and left — have rallied around Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. Judging by the media — especially television talk shows — Netanyahu’s popularity has soared following the rebuke from Hillary Clinton. Even those who usually berate him have come to his defense. American Jewish leaders and Congress are also pushing back against Clinton’s hysteria and Obama’s stern reprimands.

After all, the issue of sovereignty in Jerusalem, and therefore who sets the rules, is hardly something that Israelis are prepared to consider. Everyone has understood this for forty years. Since Camp David, in 1978, every American president has accepted that Jerusalem is a final status issue. So why would the Obama administration bring it up now?

To then call Jewish neighborhoods — in Jerusalem — “settlements,” to dispute the right of Israel to renovate a synagogue in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, to scold Israel for wanting to enforce building codes and demolish illegal Arab buildings built in an historic, archeological park, is beyond appalling. To use Hillary’s word, it’s “humiliating.” And to paraphrase her again, it is a deliberate attempt to humiliate the Jewish people.

Obama’s ambush seems to have been a trap waiting to be enacted. The question everyone is asking: why? Let’s look at the administration’s strategy regarding five policy areas:

Iran: Obama’s policy of using sanctions to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear capability has failed. Israel represents the only military option. Pushing Israel around on minor issues may prevent a surprise attack on Iran.

Afghanistan and Pakistan: Vice President Joe Biden foolishly suggested that Israel’s difficulties with the Palestinians were affecting America’s struggles to the east.

Jerusalem and settlements: Obama and his administration have made it clear that they do not accept an Israeli presence in areas which it acquired in the Six Day War (1967). This is not a new position, nor is it different from that of most countries in the world. But most have refrained from making this an issue, especially because Arab terrorism is still a problem.

The Palestinian Authority: In its struggle with Hamas, Fatah needs to show that it is powerful. For all the talk about a two-state solution, however, according to Dr. Khalil Shikaki, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, the Palestinian street still believes that only through violence will they achieve their aims.

Siding with the Palestinians on Jerusalem, Obama’s strategy seems intended to preempt Israeli sovereignty. The result quickly followed Vice President Joe Biden’s departure: Arab rioters engaged in pitched battles with police as Arab Palestinian leaders called for a renewal of the uprising (“intifada”) that swept the country after Arafat reject the offers at Camp David in 2000.

The potential for Arab violence is always there; it only needs a trigger. But previous attempts to ignite the kind of widespread terrorism and homicide bombings that frequented Israel have failed. Calls by Palestinian leaders for Muslims to engage in violence to protect the al-Aqsa mosque because of archeological excavations, or rebuilding a synagogue, have attracted little support.

And, unlike the situation ten years ago when a handful of policemen faced mobs of many hundreds, thousands of Israeli police were sent to Jerusalem to ensure calm. It worked.

America: Has Obama written off the Jewish vote in favor of Muslims? His outreach to the Muslim world and his direct appeal to American Muslims indicate a shift in political calculations. Facing an uphill battle in midterm elections, Obama may hope that he can salvage what seems to be a losing battle at home and abroad by knuckling Israel.

With a few Jewish advisors to protect him from charges of anti-Semitism, he may try for a brass ring in the Middle East merry-go-round. That would assume that voters are stupid. Many may be, but not enough.

A well-known columnist recently accused Israel of drunk-driving behavior. The drunk-with-power driver, however, is sitting in the White House.

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Steve Tyndal - 3/25/2010

I am beginning to suspect that what Professor Dann is trying for here is a sequel to Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. It is a world turned upside down.

According to Professor Dann, Obama "ambushed" poor Bibi and Shas with the settlement row. Impressive, since that would mean then U.S. somehow got Israel to announce the East Jerusalem settlements during Biden's celebratory peace talks visit.

I had no idea Obama was able to secretly bend Shas and Llikud like pipecleaners and make Israel issue announcements at JUST the right time to destroy Israel's best interests set-up his "ambush." Wow, Obama must as powerful as Moses to do that.

Forcing a two-state solution should be a piece of cake after that. Just trick the Israeli right-wing government into issuing an announcement of a Palestinian State. Now that would be an ambush.

Israel did this herself, at the worst time, for the worst reasons with the worst results for Israel. Stop dreaming otherwise. Settlements kill peace, and maybe Israel in time. Period. The entire world knows it. And so do most Israelis.

The other fantasy here is that Bibi won and Obama lost. Professor Dann must be wishing really, really, really hard. That the tooth fairy will leave him a smart and strong Bibi under his pillow.

Bibi lost, and his popularity is DROPPING. Not rising. Obama's is rising. Even in Israel.

And that is not all, there is nobody rallying around Bibi's catastrophic mistake other than the far right in Israel. A new poll shows that almost half of all Israelis OPPOSE settlements in East Jerusalem. That is new and encouraging. People are focusing, which is what Obama wants.

The opposite of Prof. Dann's whimsical inventions.

Obama, fresh from his massive success with his health care bill, is very, very strong. And the usual turning against any President who reprimands israel is entirely absent from the Democratic Party. Obama is as strong a he has been since his inauguration.

Obama, far from being hostile to Israel, is trying to save Israel. He loves Israel. He does not love what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and to itself. And neither do a growing number of Americans, a huge change here.

30 years ago, no newspaper, media pundit or politician would dare to criticize Israel. Now hard words against Israeli policies are everywhere, the spell has been broken. Not least from the American Military's top leaders.

Professor Dann's fairy tale is just another in a long line of defensive, emotional, and counterproductive surrealities that lead Israel down this ugly path of settling occupied lands, and getting itself into a existentially dangerous new world.

The so-called friends of Israel, who protected Israel from every poor decision it made, only dug the Jewish State into the rabbit-hole, and did Israel no good at all. Like a brother who was never spoken harshly to when in mischief, we enabled Israel's dilemma, and that is not the action of friends.

Obama is a GENUINE friend, who wants to stop Iran and protect Israel and make peace in the region. He will never let Israel be harmed or abused. And that is why he speaks the hard words now, because they have to come first, before there is understanding, and the moment of truth.

And that is why Obama's popularity is rising in the US and In Israel, and Bibi's is falling. Dann is 180 degrees wrong. Bibi blew up close and dedicated work between the US and Israel in stopping Iran for a handful of illegal houses?

That is mad.

Obama is confronting not Bibi, but the Israeli people with the truth. And they need to hear it sooner rather than later. The world is done with this.

Thinking you can have settlements, peace and U.S. support is like thinking the March Hare knows the way home. Professor Dann needs a search party to bring him back to the better volume he needs to read: Truth or Consequences.

Luckily, the Israeli people, famous for insight and genius, are seeing the future can never be with Likud or Shas. Bibi can either make peace progress, or lose power. And everyone knows it.

Obama won. And That was good for Israel and in the end, even for Bibi.