Richard Cohen has an important column in the Washington Post this week (“Obama, don’t forget Jerusalem.”)
There are some nuggets in the piece that should reassure the Jewish community vis-a-vis the recent dust-up between the U.S. and Israel.
For starters, Obama did not snub Netanyahu by interrupting a meeting with the prime minister so he could have dinner with his family. “There was no snub, say the most informed of informed sources,” Cohen writes.
Moreover, in some important arenas, U.S.-Israeli cooperation is actually greater than it’s ever been.
In fact, Israelis and others say that when it comes to military aid and intelligence operations, the two countries have never been closer. As an example, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz tell us that three American-made Hercules transport aircraft are in the pipeline to Israel. …
… Most Israelis still like Obama and approve his approach; they, too, want a two-state solution.
The problem, Cohen argues, is one primarily of perception.
[Obama] gives every appearance of not “getting” Israel; not appreciating its fears or its history. Israel is not half of the equation, as if both sides are right. It is a democracy with American values that has tried, over and over again, to make peace with a recalcitrant and unforgiving enemy.
Israelis would give up the West Bank and East Jerusalem for peace — but they fear, and with good reason, that more concessions won’t work, and will leave Israel more exposed. Many believe Hamas would quickly over-run a weak Palestinian Authority, and Israel would be suddenly faced with not one but two terrorist mini-states breathing down its neck. (Hamas was elected, after all, in Gaza; what’s to prevent that from happening in East Jerusalem?)
Obama “needs to address Israelis’ fears,” the Israeli philosopher Carlo Strenger wrote recently in Haaretz. So far, Obama has done just the opposite, even going to Cairo to assure the Palestinians and the greater Arab world that he appreciates their plight without assuring Israelis that he appreciates theirs. His coolness toward Netanyahu, earned or not, has chilled the Israeli public and encouraged Palestinian defiance. He is on the cusp of an enormous diplomatic blunder.
Cohen concludes by saying that Obama has the “right policy,” but needs to go to Jerusalem to address Israeli fears. (I’ve repeatedly advocated the same thing with this blog, as early as this post, from July 9, 2009: “The Time is Right for Obama to Visit Israel.“)
There’s another way Obama can start changing perceptions. When his administration pressures Israel, he asks for concrete concessions (freeze settlements, open checkpoints, declare support for a two-state solution, etc.) When pressure is exerted on the Palestinian Authority, it’s much less concrete. Just this week, for example, Hillary Clinton called on the PA to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians.”
We’ve heard that trifecta before.
But what does a crackdown on corruption look like? How should the Jewish community measure PA efforts to ingrain a culture of tolerance? Can you show us any hard steps the PA has taken to end incitement? From our vantage point — when we see, for instance, Fatah naming a square in el-Bireh after a Palestinian terrorist — it seems like just the opposite is occurring.
With the Israelis, so far, this administration is asking for concrete. With the Palestinians, it seems to be asking for sand.
Until Obama demands painful concessions from the Palestinian side — let’s see the Palestinian police arrest Hamas leaders, or others inciting violence against Israel, for example — trust is going to be in short supply.