This blog has been very tough on Hillary, but it is time to start raising some questions about Obama. In yesterday's Times, Larry Rohter reported on Obama's efforts to assure American Jews that he is Israel's unwavering friend ("Confronting Questions, Obama Assures Jews of His Support.") Of course, it is probably very difficult for anyone to be elected president of the United States without going through this particular ritual (for a detailed account of how this ritual is conducted, see Glenn Greenwald's post on the subject yesterday.) Yet those of us who have harshly criticized Clinton for opportunism and pandering would be hypocritical if we don't call Obama on the carpet for the same tactics, even if we might understand the reasons all too well.
One key litmus test for Jewish support, it would seem, is to refuse to talk to Hamas. And according to Rohter's article, Obama is carefully toeing the line:
"Mr. Obama has sought to distance himself from the diplomacy of Mr. Carter. The former president, who has called Mr. Obama’s candidacy 'extraordinary' but has stopped short of endorsing him, has also angered Jewish leaders by using the word “apartheid” to refer to some of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.
“'I have a fundamental difference with President Carter and his decision to meet with Hamas,' Mr. Obama said last month in a speech to Jewish leaders in Philadelphia. 'We must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on Israel’s destruction.'”Rohter also reports that Robert Malley, who was an advisor on Mideast affairs to Bill Clinton and has come under intense criticism for coauthoring a cogent analysis in the New York Review of Books of the failure of the Camp David talks to achieve a peace deal (as well as other more recent sins of less than 100% support for Israeli positions), "severed his ties to the Obama campaign after he learned that The Times of London was preparing to publish an article disclosing direct contacts he had with Hamas."
(This episode is reminiscent of the Samantha Power episode, in which Obama jettisoned one of the most eloquent and qualified advocates of a principled human rights stand because she called Hillary Clinton a "monster"--not a very smart thing to do, perhaps, but certainly understandable given Clinton's increasingly divisive behavior.)
The truth is that there can be no peace between Israelis and Palestinians unless everyone is talking to everyone else. Indeed, Jimmy Carter's visits with Hamas leaders and other enemies of Israel is precisely what anyone who is serious about peace in the Middle East should be doing. And hypocrisy abounds in this particular debate, because in fact both Israel and the United States have always had back channels communications with all actors in the conflict, and always will.
I said that talking to Hamas is what anyone who is serious about making peace would do, no matter how fiery the group's rhetoric about destroying Israel (something it would never be capable of doing, given unwavering American support for that country's security.) But in my view, Israel is not serious about making peace--not at all. And it never has been. Essential reading in this regard is the book Israel/Palestine : How to end the War of 1948 by the late Tanya Reinhart, in which--among other things--she deconstructs the Camp David deal and undermines the myth that this represented anything approaching a generous offer on the part of Israel (Reinhart also demonstrates how Israel's version of what happened was adopted unchallenged by news media around the world, even while many Israeli news outlets provided a much more nuanced and honest view.)
My purpose here, however, is not to write a treatise on Mideast politics. It is to say that if Obama wants to be the president who finally helps resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict (thus, by the way, making Americans much safer from terrorist attacks, since this festering sore is the number one recruiting tool for the Osama bin Ladens of this world), sooner or later he will have to stop toeing the line of Jewish leaders in the United States and Israel and strike out on an independent course. That means he will have to depart from the failures of both the Clinton and Bush administrations to tell Israel bluntly that it has to give up the settlements in the West Bank--settlements that are the smoking gun evidence that Israel hopes to take over most of Palestine and leave the Palestinians with little or nothing.
I think that most American Jews now realize that peace will only come with a just settlement of this conflict, one that recognizes Palestinian aspirations for freedom and independence. But for decades, Israeli leaders have played American Jews for suckers, taking advantage of the ignorance of most of them about what is really going on in the region and enticing them into complicity with cynical, oppressive policies towards the Palestinians (more on this in a future post.)
Obama has a chance to be the third two-term president in a row. The last two presidents, one a Democrat and the other a Republican, have utterly failed to resolve the Mideast conflict despite the 16 years between them they had to do it. Obama could succeed where they failed--but only if he tells American Jews what they need to hear, not what (some of them) want to hear.
PS--You can find more comment on the subject of Israel and the Palestinians in my earlier post on this subject, "Passing over Passover."
Update: John Kerry has a lengthy defense of Obama against Republican misrepresentations of his position on Israel and Palestine in today's Huffington Post. Although I think Obama is tilting way too much in Israel's direction, I agree that it is odious of Republicans to exploit the issue and lie about his position--as Kerry demonstrates they have.
Photo: Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times