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As the Economy Crumbles, Obama Makes Middle East Peace

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Recently, on my radio show, Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia, the Republican Whip, argued that President Obama seems largely unmoved by domestic concerns, particularly when it comes to jobs and the economy. The president is a foreign-policy addict, even as the finances of the average American family crumble all around him. The example Cantor cited was telling. In delivering an Oval Office speech about the end of combat operations in Iraq, the president tacked on an unrelated mini-speech about the need to now focus on unemployment and America's crumbling finances. So far so good. Yet the very next morning there he was on television conducting a summit of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The president's inability to sustain a consistent focus on jobs and the economy -- which, frankly, seems to bore him -- explains why the Republicans are set to trounce the Democrats in the mid-term elections. That will make Cantor, the only Jewish Republican in the House, the youngest majority leader since 1947. It also forces us to ask the question of whether the interests of the United States are served by this latest American foray into the snarled world of Israeli-Arab relations.

I arrived in Israel on Sunday evening and was suitably impressed, as usual, with its never-ending, rapid progress. Israel's highways, for instance, now rival anything the United States has to offer. Its economy suffered no effects from the global recession, unlike the United States, which remains mired in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. While Israel is booming like never before, the United States is suffering like few times in its history, with a recent CBS news poll showing that a staggering 65percent of all Americans believe the United States is in 'serious decline.' Yet our president, encumbered as he is already with the war in Afghanistan and increasing Iraqi violence, feels the need to add to his burden the gargantuan task of Middle-East peace.

But whose interest is served in this effort? Certainly not the United States, who will gain no brownie points with either the Taliban or al Qaeda even if it were to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Likewise, Israel's interests seem hardly served by this latest effort given that any peace treaty with Mahmoud Abbas will not placate Israel's far more serious enemies of Hamas, Hezbollah, and their patron Iran. In other words, this peace will not bring peace. And yes, I understand that Prime Minister Netanyahu is probably thinking that if he submits to Obama's pressure to make concessions to Abbas the United States will do more to pre-empt a nuclear Iran.

But how realistic is that? Come November Obama is probably going to be a lame-duck president, with both Republican and Democratic pollsters predicting a Democrat thrashing of epic scale. If a strong Obama, whose party controls both the House and the Senate, has made next to no progress on Iran, are we to believe that a miniaturized Obama will suddenly loom large in Iran's eyes?

Two weeks ago Time magazine ran a cover story on why Israel is not interested in peace. Many Jewish Americans were aghast and accused Time of an anti-Israel bias it has sometimes demonstrated in the past. Now granted, the wording of the cover made it sound as if Israel is the obstacle to peace. But the truth of the matter is that I made the same argument in the pages of the Jerusalem Post more than a year ago when Dan Senor and Saul Singer's excellent book on Israel, Start Up Nation, was published. In essence I argued that Israel needed a new narrative. Not the tragic nation that was engaged in a protracted struggle with Arab enemies whom Israel was always begging for peace, but rather a nation who is known primarily for its booming economy and one of the most prosperous high-tech sectors in the world.

South Korea is in a perpetual state of conflict with its northern neighbor and has had, for more than a half century, tens of thousands of American troops stationed on its border to protect it from North Korean aggression. But President Obama has not endeavored to end the stalemate and create a lasting peace. Why? Because everyone recognizes Kim Jong Il as a ruthless, nuke-obsessed Stalinist dictator with whom it is impossible to make any progress. So South Korea moves forward with one of the world's most robust economies, preferring unity with the North but being realistic about its possibility.

Has anyone tried to broker a peace between Cuba and the United States or do we simply accept that so long as Castro and/or his brother continue a dictatorship the possibility of peace is impossible and American sanctions will continue?

I recognize that President Obama would reject these analogies because he believes in linkage, that solving the Israeli-Arab conflict is the key to broader Middle-Eastern peace and that Islamic militants use Israeli check points as rallying cries for recruitment.

Really? Netanyahu and Abbas shake hands and the Taliban soldiers slowly return to their homes? Or will they just find another pretext, perhaps something as simple as a clown of a pastor threatening to burn a Koran, or New Yorkers opposed to a mosque at Ground Zero, to recruit all over again?


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the international best-selling author of 23 books and was the London Times Preacher of the Year at the Millennium. As host of 'Shalom in the Home' on TLC he won the National Fatherhood Award and his syndicated column was awarded the American Jewish Press Association's Highest Award for Excellence in Commentary. Newsweek calls him 'the most famous Rabbi in America.' He has just published 'Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.' Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.