Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unambiguous rejection of Barack Obama’s latest fantasy about the Middle East has potentially created a significant new political dynamic in the United States. By graciously but comprehensively rebutting Obama’s entire view of Arab-Israeli reality, first in the Oval Office, then before a joint meeting of Congress, Netanyahu has also exposed broader flaws in Obama’s worldview.
No Israeli leader could simply cave in immediately to Obama’s ill-disguised pressure in his uncongenial, unsympathetic State Department speech just prior to Netanyahu’s arrival in America. While Obama may have understood this limitation, he nonetheless intended to create political “facts on the ground” for Israel, pushing it into a corner difficult if not impossible to escape. While Obama did not, as some in his administration urged, lay out precise terms and conditions of, effectively, an American ultimatum, he came perilously close.
Little he said was actually new for him, including referring to Israel’s “1967 borders” (subsequently “clarified”). Nor was his tone more hostile than his past comments or those of other Administration officials. Several observers noted correctly that Obama’s speech “could have been worse,” which is unquestionably true.
Many speculated former Senator George Mitchell, Obama’s Middle East envoy, resigned precisely because his preferred approach to muscling Israel was rejected.
The critical difference this time was Netanyahu’s reaction. He ignored the advice of Obama’s fellow liberals in the Jewish community never to cross a sitting president, especially not this one.
Israel’s American supporters, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, defend its national-security interests because of how interwoven they are with America’s own vital interests, in the Middle East and globally. Non-Jewish American support for Israel is not, therefore, to mix metaphors, a case of appearing to be more Catholic than the pope.
Accordingly, they took heart from the Oval Office exchange, and visibly demonstrated their opposition to Obama’s views by the warm greeting for Netanyahu in Congress. Since these supporters are a decisive majority of the American public, stretching far beyond the confines of one faith, they can reshape the domestic American debate on Israel and the region. This is critical, since, thanks to Obama, U.S.-Israeli relations are more politically strained than ever before, a public division inevitably providing our adversaries with dangerous opportunities for trouble-making.
Nonetheless, since Obama remains president for two more years, what should opponents of his misguided policies do to capitalize on the new dynamic Netanyahu has created?
First, members of Congress must build on Netanyahu's Joint Meeting appearance through hearings, speeches, and House and Senate resolutions that Israel’s U.S. support remains broad and deep on Capitol Hill, even as it recedes almost to invisibility in the White House.
Congress cannot, of course, determine U.S. policy, but it can send a clear political message to the White House, and more importantly to Obama’s re-election campaign. That means in particular a vigorous U.S. diplomatic campaign against any efforts at the United Nations this fall to establish a Palestinian “state.” This vigorous public approach may trouble the president’s political supporters, but their reluctance to speak up is a major factor underlying Obama’s evident belief he can muscle Israel without suffering domestic political damage.
That needs changing quickly. Visible demonstrations of political power and support for Israel may be the only thing that constrains Obama as the 2012 presidential election grows increasingly near.
Second, there must be greater U.S. and Israeli focus and determination to reckon with Iran’s high and rising global threat, both because of Tehran’s nuclear weapons program and its support for terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere. Obama rarely addresses Iran’s menace, even last week when he unmercifully bullied Israel.
No wonder Iran’s leaders view their quest for nuclear weapons as essentially unchallenged. Even while divisions within Tehran’s leadership occupy the media’s attention, its belligerent attitudes and threatening capabilities are increasing.
Third, turmoil in the Middle East is also increasingly problematic. The “Arab Spring” is not self-evidently leading to Western-style pluralistic democracy, and may well turn into something darker than what it supplanted, at least in some countries.
The peace agreement between the Hamas terrorists and Fatah, brokered by the post-Mubarak government in Egypt, marks the effective end of any realistic peace process between Israel and the Palestinians for the foreseeable future.
Obama has not yet grasped this reality, nor does he seem to understand that the Syrian dictatorship and Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorists remain Iranian pawns, threats both to Israel and to the United States.Accordingly, now is hardly the time to force Israel into unnatural efforts at “peace processing” with the usual suspects.
Now that Netanyahu has spoken, it is time for Americans and Europeans concerned with true peace and security in the Middle East to carry the debate forward.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, is a Fox News contributor and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Simon & Schuster, 2007).