President Obama has finally decided to show his tough side in foreign policy. Unfortunately, his defiant stand is not against implacable enemies of the United States, like Iran or North Korea, but against one of America’s most steadfast allies, Israel.
The ruckus began two weeks ago when some bureaucrat in the Israeli government announced the approval for construction of 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem while Vice President Biden was visiting the country. Understandably, the Obama administration was a little miffed by the timing of the announcement because Vice President Biden was in the Jewish state to jump start the peace process and the administration opposed such construction.
But Israel's announcement was not malicious. Moreover, Prime Minister Netanyahu had previously made it clear that he would not accept a settlement freeze in Jerusalem and the administration had seemingly conceded the point by calling the freeze Netanyahu said he was willing to accept “unprecedented.” Netanyahu even apologized for the unplanned timing of the announcement.
No harm, no foul, right?
The Obama administration went apoplectic. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lambasted Netanyahu in a 43-minute phone call. When Netanyahu visited the White House while he was in town for a speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference, he was hardly treated like an important ally. Far from it. As one anonymous American Congressman told a British newspaper, the leader of America’s greatest ally in the Middle East was given “the treatment reserved for the President of Equatorial Guinea.”
But over what?
So far members of the Obama administration claimed that the Israeli announcement of settlement construction in East Jerusalem has poisoned the peace process and, most scurrilously, endangered American troops in the Middle East.
"What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Vice President Biden reportedly told Netanyahu. “That endangers us and it endangers regional peace."
The latter claim is slanderous and cannot be argued with any seriousness. Those fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are not doing so because Israel decided to build homes in East Jerusalem. If the terrorists are motivated by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all, it is because they seek to eliminate the Jewish state.
Think a little longer about this claim. It was reported recently that Iranians were helping terrorists in Afghanistan plant roadside bombs to kill American and NATO troops. Does anyone actually believe that Iranians would stop helping terrorists or that the Afghan insurgency would lessen if Israel extended its settlement freeze to East Jerusalem?
The notion is ludicrous, but sadly such claims provide aid and comfort to Israel's haters in the United States and common enemies of America and Israel abroad.
As to poisoning the peace process, isn’t it about time someone asked what peace process is trying to be saved? Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas won’t even meet with Israeli officials in person. And how far can Israel and the Palestinians proceed along a so-called peace process when the Palestinian interlocutor has no control over Gaza?
At the American-Israel Public Affairs annual policy conference last Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton received a warm reception while assuring the 7,500 American supporters of Israel that the Obama administration’s commitment to Israel was “rock solid, unwavering, enduring and forever,” even though she affirmed the administration’s position in the recent spat. Unfortunately, Clinton’s rhetoric isn’t all that reassuring. After all, it was none other than, Obama who, as a presidential candidate, told AIPAC in 2008 that "Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.” Now, Obama has created a major row between the U.S. and Israel over Israeli policy in Jerusalem by having Clinton say at AIPAC's conference that Jerusalem is an “issue to be settled at the negotiation table.”
The problem is not necessarily the Obama administration’s reaction to building houses in East Jerusalem, but what the president’s reaction suggests about the U.S.-Israel alliance in the future. In the next several years, it is not unlikely that Israel will tragically be forced to once again defend itself against one of its adversaries that has pledged its annihilation, whether it be Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, or Hamas in Gaza.
The question is how will Obama react if Israel engages in another war to defend itself? Will he stand with Israel as past American presidents have done and as Hillary Clinton assured AIPAC? Or will Obama condemn Israel, apply pressure to end its operations prematurely before Israel has achieved its security objectives, and distance the United States from the Jewish state?
The recent controversy created by the Obama administration over an issue of little importance raises serious doubts about whether or not the Obama administration would stand with Israel in such an hour of great need. Hopefully, Israel won't be forced to find out.
Jamie Weinstein holds a master’s degree in the history of international relations from the London School of Economics and is a columnist for The North Star National. He can be reached at Jamie.S.Weinstein@gmail.com or via his blog, JamieWeinstein.com.