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MJ Rosenberg

MJ Rosenberg

Posted: February 26, 2011 03:03 PM

It has been a week since the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution opposing Israeli settlements. You can't help but wonder if the Obama administration is now having second thoughts.

Forget the policy ramifications of the veto: that it badly damaged America's chances of facilitating negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and that it further alienated the United States from the Arab and Muslim world at a critical moment in history. Lay aside that the veto cut the Israeli peace camp off at the knees while vindicating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policy of never giving an inch to the Palestinians (or to the Americans). And, obviously, don't even think about the hypocrisy of the United States voting against its own long-standing policy on settlements.

No. Focus instead on the domestic politics because, after all, the U.S. opposed the resolution in order to guard President Obama from attacks by the right wing of the pro-Israel community, that small minority of the community whose mantra is "Bibi, right or wrong."

For some reason the administration believed that vetoing the resolution would appease that crowd. That belief is responsible for over two years of vacillation on the issue of Israeli settlements (the key issue thwarting negotiations).

But here is what the Obama administration does not understand about the politics.

The "Bibi, right or wrongers" are not Obama supporters and will not be voting for him in the next election. They certainly will not be sending him campaign contributions.

Why would they? They did not support Obama in 2008, largely because they did not believe that anyone named Barack Obama could ever share their skewed view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And, as the 2009 Cairo speech demonstrated, he doesn't. He supports Israel but believes -- and he has said this often -- that supporting Israel requires ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state in the occupied territories.

Nothing Obama does will convince the "right or wrongers" that he is on their side because he isn't. He is, however, on Israel's side -- and the Palestinians' side as well.

Unfortunately, the lobby and a few of his advisers seem to have convinced him that being true to his beliefs will cost him in the 2012 election. Hence the veto.

Obama has the politics wrong. According to the 2010 American Jewish Committee poll (the largest and most respected poll of the Jewish community's political attitudes) 64 percent of Jewish voters favor the dismantling of all or some of Israeli settlements. Obviously, that 64 percent will not be lost to Obama for condemning settlement expansion.

Another AJC poll, this one in 2008, showed that only 3 percent of American Jews considered Israel their primary issue in the 2008 elections. (By way of contrast, 65 percent chose either the economy or health care as their top concern.)

So who might be impressed by the veto? People who will be supporting Romney, Huckabee, Palin or whoever the GOP nominates in 2012.

Here is one (there are many) example of how unimpressed the "Bibi, right or wrongers" were by the president's veto.

This appeared in Commentary -- the bible of the neoconservatives -- and was written by its editor, Jonathan S. Tobin. Tobin, although not well known, is a leading voice in the "Israel can do no wrong" chorus.

In theory, he should be praising Obama for vetoing the resolution. He isn't.

And that is because although Obama vetoed the resolution, he only did so after first attempting to head it off with a statement that still would have criticized settlements. Tobin believes that the president should have simply endorsed Israel's position as if Obama were, say, the editor of Commentary and not President of the United States.

Things could be worse. Had the U.S. not vetoed the resolution it would have been the final signal that this administration really was determined to cut loose the Israelis. But by showing that the veto was cast reluctantly and with ill will, the effect is not much different. So while relations could still deteriorate further, there is no doubt that Obama's negative feelings toward Israel are becoming a serious factor in Middle East diplomacy...

So, to please Tobin and his crowd, the president must not only do whatever the right-wing leader of the Israeli government wants him to do, he must so with enthusiasm.

Israel, for its part, need not do anything the United States wants. For instance, Tobin does not even mention that the United States (which provides Israel with $3.5 billion in aid every year and exempts it from the budget cuts applied to virtually all other programs) asked Israel for a mere 90-day settlement freeze to facilitate negotiations. Netanyahu couldn't even be bothered to respond, even when Obama offered him an extra $3.5 billion to sweeten the pot.

But Tobin doesn't care about that. For him, the U.S.-Israel relationship is a one-way street. The U.S. gives and Israel gets.

And this is who the administration tries to placate.

The White House needs to learn that there is simply no point in trying to win over this bunch. They cannot be appeased except by the complete subordination of U.S. interests to those of Netanyahu.

Tobin himself admits it. At one point in the Commentary piece, he writes that he does not credit Obama's veto as proof that he is a "friend of Israel." After all, he contends, Obama was only pushed to veto by the Palestinians' "intransigence" rather than by "Obama's loyalty to his Israeli ally."

Loyalty? Is it part of a president's job description to be loyal to a foreign country? Obama isn't "loyal" even to Canada or the United Kingdom. His loyalty is to the United States, which he, like every president, attempts to fulfill through policies he believes advance those interests (including pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace).

But loyalty to Israel? No, I don't think President Obama's loyalty quite runs in that direction. (Nor would any American president's.)

That is what the "Netanyahu right-or-wrong" crowd will never accept. That is why appeasing them is as pointless as it is destructive to U.S. interests.

And there is another more cynical reason why they can be safely ignored. They represent pretty much no one, which is why President Obama received close to 80 percent of the Jewish vote in the last election and will do just as well next time.

There is no chance that the president will lose that support just because he promotes policies that advance U.S. interests by promoting peace. To think otherwise is to suggest that American Jews are something less than Americans. And that is a damnable lie.

 
 
 

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