Will Barack Obama Ignite the Third Intifada?

As I was departing the United States following a brief visit last week, the news being broadcast in the airport was preoccupied with Prime Minister Binyamin’s Netanyahu’s recent and apparently inadvertent snub of Vice President Joe Biden. Some 11 hours later, when I’d landed in Tel Aviv and was listening to the radio in the taxi on the way to Jerusalem, the news was of rioting in Jerusalem, the numbers of police officers injured, and the number of protesters detained during Hamas’ “Day of Rage.” On the American news, Hillary Clinton was calling for more than an apology, demanding “concrete steps” towards peace on Israel’s part. And in Israel, the fluent-Hebrew-speaking Arab protester interviewed on the radio was calling for armed resistance to Israel’s “assault on Jerusalem,” insisting that the time for a third intifada had now arrived.

The radical difference between the broadcasts is an apt metaphor for the wholly different ways in which the current crisis in Israeli-American relations is perceived on the two sides of the ocean. The Americans are quite right to be incensed at the way Biden was treated. Whether Netanyahu was sandbagged by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, or whether this was simply another example of Israeli bureaucratic incompetence is not yet entirely clear. But it should never have happened.

Having said that, however, it is also clear that in the context of a generally positive relationship, Israel’s insult to Biden would have been unfortunate, but it would have blown over almost immediately. The snub has had such massive repercussions because the relationship between the American and Israeli administrations is frayed, and wholly devoid of trust. The important question is why that is the case.

WHILE ISRAEL has obviously made some serious gaffes since Obama entered office, the real cause for this nadir in Washington-Jerusalem relations is the fact that Barack Obama seems to have little comprehension of the region on which he seeks to impose peace. The president’s ignorance of the world in which he is operating is apparent on at least three levels. He seems unaware of how profoundly troubled Israelis are by his indiscriminate use of the word “settlement,” he appears to have little comprehension of the history of Palestinian recalcitrance, and he has apparently learned little from decades of American involvement in the Middle East peace process.

First, there is the issue of the word “settlements.” To the Israeli ear, anyone who would use the same noun for both a small city with tens of thousands of inhabitants and for a tiny hilltop outpost consisting of a trailer and a portable generator simply does not understand the terrain. Gilo, to Israelis, is not a settlement. It is a huge neighborhood of Jerusalem, a part of the capital city. When Obama called Gilo a settlement after Israel announced new housing units there in November, Israelis drew the conclusion that the president of the United States is wholly out of his element.

Similarly, Obama’s demands for an absolute freeze on settlement construction strike Israelis as either foolish or unfair. Why, they ask, did all construction have to cease? Israelis who had planned to add a bedroom to their home for recently married children, who had already poured a foundation and ripped out the back wall of their home, were now told that nothing could proceed. When the president, who does not seem to know a city from an outpost, insists that houses remain open to the elements during the cold Israeli winter because of his desire to appease the very Palestinians who have never been serious about peace efforts, he does not win friends.

Nor, Israelis have noted, did Obama demand any similarly concrete concessions from the Palestinians or their puppet-president. That, too, has served Obama poorly in this country. And despite all this, Israelis believe the world has forgotten, Netanyahu acceded to Obama�s demands for a freeze, at no small political cost.

Thus, when the Americans decided to make the undeniably ill-timed announcement of the Ramat Shlomo housing plans into a cause calibre, Israelis were hard-pressed to feel contrite about anything beyond the personal hurt caused to Biden. Ramat Shlomo is an enormous neighborhood that is already home to some 20,000 people, and which is situated between the even larger neighborhoods of Ramot and Sanhedria. Ramat Shlomo is Jerusalem, period. Building there may be wise or unwise for a whole array of reasons, but for the Americans to seize on this as a “settlement construction” issue only further confirmed Israeli suspicions that Obama couldn’t locate the neighborhood on a map.

THE SECOND major element that Obama appears not to understand is that the Palestinians current refusal to conduct face-to-face negotiations has a long history; their recalcitrance has nothing at all to do with the settlements. The settlements, like the refugee problem (on which Israel will never compromise), and the division of Jerusalem (where some accommodation will almost certainly be forced on Israel), will be addressed when the Israelis and Palestinians sit down for face-to-face negotiations.

But Abbas has agreed only to mediated talks because he is unwilling to countenance the concessions that direct talks might ultimately require of him. The Palestinians have balked at every attempt to sign a substantive agreement with Israel. There remains virtually no Israeli political Left, not because of the Israeli Right, but because Yasser Arafat unleashed the Second Intifada when Ehud Barak called his bluff and offered him just about everything he could have expected, proving beyond any doubt that the Palestinian leadership had no interest in “land for peace.”

For the Obama administration to suggest that the Palestinians cannot negotiate now because of settlement construction strikes Israelis as either hopelessly naive, or worse, fundamentally hostile to the Jewish state.

And finally, despite his appreciable intellectual capacities, Barack Obama seems to have no appreciation of what America can and cannot do in the Middle East. He believes so deeply in the power of his own rhetoric that he imagines that he can evoke the passions of Grant Park on Election Day, or the Washington Mall on Inauguration Day, in a Muslim world that has disdain for the very democratic values that brought him to power. This is hubris at its most dangerous. Obama�s Cairo speech was rhetorically brilliant, but the president has been snubbed. Iran has yet to grasp Obama’s outstretched hand, and instead, proceeds apace in its quest for a nuclear weapon. The Palestinians have not budged. Yet Obama continues to believe that his eloquence will win the day.

Does Obama really not understand that this conflict has a long and consistent history? The Arabs rejected the UN Partition Plan in 1947, and refused a treaty at the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1949. After their defeat in June 1967, they gathered in Khartoum and declared “no peace, no recognition and no negotiations.” Arafat said “no” at Camp David in 2000, and Abbas continues in that tradition. Why the American administration cannot or will not acknowledge that is one of the great wonders of this most recent train wreck.

WITH HIS laser focus on the settlements, Obama is ignoring the fact that Abbas wouldn’t negotiate even if not a single settlement existed. In so doing, Obama has not only not moved the process forward, but he has afforded Abbas a refuge from responsibility, and he has given those who would like to ignite a third intifada an empty but symbolically powerful excuse for doing just that. A third intifada remains unlikely at present (though, it’s worth noting, the IAF attacked Gaza targets this week and the IDF killed a Palestinian teenager during a scuffle precisely the sort of innocuous events that could one day be seen as the first events of the third intifada), but should it happen, it will be, first and foremost, the product of Washington’s naivete.

Obama would be well-served to recognize that the history of this region is clear. Peace emerges when the two primary sides do the work themselves, with the United States entering late in the process to iron out stubborn details. Sadat went to Jerusalem without American urging, and though Jimmy Carter ultimately brought the two sides together to conclude the deal, the bulk of the work had been done by Sadat and Begin long before Carter entered the picture. The Nobel Committee, which once exercised much more subtle judgment, essentially acknowledged that fact by having Sadat and Begin split the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize, without including Carter.

The same was true with Rabin and Hussein, who worked on the Israeli-Jordanian peace deal. Clinton orchestrated the ceremony; but the principals had done most of the work without him.

And history suggests that only Israeli right-wingers can forge a deal. Israelis do not trust the Left to be security-conscious, and a left-wing government always has a right-wing flank blocking it. Obama may bristle at Netanyahu’s hawkish rhetoric, but the more Obama weakens this prime minister, the less likely a deal will become. The US cannot wish democracy on Iraq, or peace on the Middle East. There will be a settlement of this conflict when the Palestinians are ready, not when Barack Obama decides to impose one.

SO, WHERE do we go from here? To begin to pull out of the present nose-dive, each of the parties will need to shift gears.

The Palestinians have to decide if they will take risks for peace, and if they can elect a president who is more than a figurehead. Last week’s “Day of Rage,” it should be noted, was called by Hamas yet it unfolded not in Hamas’ Gaza, but in Fatah’s Jerusalem. Fatah needs a genuine leader, perhaps someone like Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is now saying that the Palestinians should first build the trappings of statehood, and only then declare independence down the road. It is no surprise that Shimon Peres recently compared Fayyad to David Ben-Gurion, the creator of the modern State of Israel.

The Israelis need to learn to play in the major leagues. When the American vice president visits, you need to have your act together. If Israeli leaders continue to act as if they run a banana republic, they will deservedly be so treated. But much more significantly, Netanyahu needs to apprise Israelis of his vision. Does he favor a two-state solution? What are his plans for Jerusalem? For the settlements? Let him tell us, and then we can decide. If we approve, he’ll stay in office. And if we don’t, he’ll be gone. But we deserve to know what our prime minister has in mind.

In some respects, though, Barack Obama has the hardest job, at least in the short term. When he took office, there was no love lost between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and Gaza was still smoldering from the recently concluded Operation Cast Lead. But there was reasonable quiet on the West Bank and in Jerusalem, and a renewed Intifada was nowhere on our radar screen. Obama’s blunderings have now restored the region’s previous tinderbox qualities.

The president needs to back down from his relentless and fruitless focus on settlements, and concentrate more on what he doesn’t yet know than on the power of his rhetoric. Should another intifada erupt, it will have had its seeds in a Washington more interested in the magic of its words than in the painful lessons of a century of history.

About Daniel Gordis

Dr. Daniel Gordis is Senior Vice President and the Koret Distinguished Fellow at Shalem College in Jerusalem. The author of numerous books on Jewish thought and currents in Israel, and a recent winner of the National Jewish Book Award, Dr. Gordis was the founding dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism.

49 Comments on "Will Barack Obama Ignite the Third Intifada?"

  • Pesach B. Tov says

    Todah rabah, Rabbi Gordis.
    So will all the Jews that campaigned and voted for Mr. Obama contact him now and help him see the destructiveness of his Israeli policy?

  • Seraph says

    “Peace emerges when the two primary sides do the work themselves, with the United States entering late in the process to iron out stubborn details.”

    No one wants to say this, but unfortunately, there can be no peace without victory. This was true with Egypt as it was with Jordan. Something like 80% of Palestinians are under the age of 25. Their entire lives they have witnessed Israel in retreat. From their perspective they have no reason to compromise.

    Until Israel makes peace more attractive than war, the Palestinians will continue their antics.

  • The very fact that Obama, having visited Egypt and not (yet?) having visited Israel tells the story. If he would visit, tour and learn, then he might understand. Talk about hubris! He is caught in the web of his own mind and is word-bound. Why didn’t we see this coming?

  • Marc says

    Dear Mr Gordis, i appreciate your equanimious tone as always because it is unique in this conversation. But i fear the cat is completely out of the bag now after the so called Biden ‘insult’. I think you give them too many points this insult; a friend would not have made this insult public. This public stouch is certainly culpable for recent violence. G-d willing this will not spread. When Hilary gave her well received speech at AIPAC, i thought the most instructive aspect was this: she considers anouncements of Jewish housing in Jewish Jerusalem as fuel for the so called ‘rejectionist’s’ fire and the anti-israel forces around the world and especially in the region. It seems to me the opposite as you suggest: land for peace does not work and at end of day no matter what concessions are mustered out of Israel, we will still have a dangereous ‘recalcitrant’ Palestinian neighbor. They must understand this. Clinton, Biden, Obama and his many close Jewish advisors are too smart for a simple mistake or simple ignorance re Israel, no? They are surely making a gambit for what they consider their interests: some success in the middle east–some deal; any deal. They can’t negotiate with the arabs so only with Israel can they make any movement–only can we tell our own family what shmucks they are and hope to get away with it. Or are we no longer family? We saw 1st with Cairo how the rhetoric was setting us up for a new alignment: when he announced something to the effect that “Jewish connection to Palestine went back 62 years to the Shoah.” Im sorry, but i dont consider this ‘brilliant’ rhetoric–this was shocking and should have served to pull our heads out of the mud. Those of us willing to give Obama a chance, who maybe even VOTED FOR HIM, surely wondered at that point whether we made a grand mistake putting these guys in office, as regards to Israel. of course, and as ive said many times, American jews have interests outside their interests in Israel. Most American jews have not even visited Jerusalem, let alone mean ‘next year in Jerusalem’ at seder next week. From the Diaspora (American in Australia), I feel sick in my stomach at the pressure America is putting on Israel at this moment, and can only hope that Israel will find a way to turn this into something positive. Often in life when we seem like we are heading farthest away from our goal, just around the bend we are home free. Let’s hope we are heading home and just dont know it yet! In the meantime, i have lost trust in the current American white house as a friend of israel, and can only hope they do the right thing with regard to important security arrangements. And further, that anti-Israel and anti-jewish sentiment do not foment out of control worldwide.

  • Herb Rude says

    Daniel,
    I voted for Obama because I thought the alternative would be terrible, and I don’t think that I was wrong however yesterday I heard something on CNN which your latest editorial just touched on,namely in the paragraph on the second major element, you said “the division of Jerusalem” is something that Israel will be pressed on.
    I’m just wondering whether these meetings that took place between Obama and Bibi were really about that, and to his credit, Bibi stood firm as every Israeli government since ’67 has done and said “no.”

  • Evelyn Rosenbaum says

    A litle bird told me that the “insult” was leaked from the left and specifically from Kadima or did you not read that one?

  • Arthur Opolion says

    Daniel Gordis:
    I want to cite a quote from Obama’s book
    “Audacity of Hope”

    Direct Quote:

    “I will stand with the Muslims should the
    political winds shift in an ugly direction.”

  • Barbara Friedman says

    I remember distinctly e-mailing you over a year ago…warning about Obama while everyone was “dancing in the streets” at his election…..too late now!

  • juanita driggs says

    Since the U. S. can’t seem to please anyone anymore even if it had incorrectly presumed it could, perhaps the time has come to remember Washington’s still wise admonition during his 1796 farewell address to avoid foreign entanglements. Granted we live in a world far more integrated and complex than in Washington’s day but many of our countrymen are becoming a bit weary about being beat up on all sides, especially when we have a full plate of problems at home. If Mr. Obama’s efforts aren’t appreciated by any of the conflicting parties and if it’s true that he’s in over his head (way above his pay grade) then perhaps the time has come for him(and us) to stand back and see how it plays out on its own.

  • Evelyn Shaw says

    This is what my brother-in-law, an astute attorney who lives in Israel said to me yesterday: “Obama’s plan for Israel would bring our total destruction, and he would probably speak most eloquently at the funeral. He has found the excuse why the U.S. can’t stop the Iranian bomb: Israel won’t go back to the 1948 borders.” Unfortunately, I now agree with him 100%.

    Thank you so much for changing the font! I appreciated that you took my comments seriously. Your articles are now much easier to read. Any chance of making the font a little larger?? A lot of seniors (I among them) will find the font too small for comfortable reading. This font a little larger would be perfect! I promise not to bother you about this again! :)

  • Romo says

    My American Jewish brother-in-law cheered at Obama’s inaugeration. He is still enthralled to him. I wonder when the penny will drop. When Iran literally has the bomb and it falls on the rest of my family in Tel Aviv? Then, as the other commenter above says, Obama will preach eloquently at the demise of Israel. How anyone was taken in by this snake-oil salesman is anyone’s guess. Americans have been brainwashed. Years of post-racism guilt and slavery blues. They voted for a black man who speaks like a white man and all is forgiven, notwithstanding that no one bothered to find out what he really stood for – apart from a few but the MSM was more interested in glamour and being perceived as cool and modern and now what have we? A disaster.

  • Paul Antell says

    Dear Daniel
    I follow your articles and have read the last paragraph of this one and can’t help but wondering if the intafada that might result from the current policies in Washington are really a result of Obama’s blunderings. I consider Obama to be a narcissist and as such would not be suprised if the current policies ar nothing less than a diabolicle scheme to get Israel to cave into his every demand.

    A zissen pesach to you, Elisheva and your children.

  • Miriam Edelstein says

    Your analysis was brilliant!
    Obama was raised as a Muslim, and early upbringing can’t be changed. Look who his advisers are!
    We already knew he wasn’t pro Israel–now, it is just out in the open.
    We must prevail–on our own. My mother used to say that you put out fires with someone else’s hands, everything else, if you want it done right, you must do yourself. So it shall be with Iran.

  • Very distressing situation. In times of political and economic unrest who does the world blame?

    Obama was very “green” when he came to office and could neither view, nor comprehend the world scene from any experiential base. He should have been briefed before he was let loose. It behooves Jewish leaders NOW to sit-down with him and give him a crash course on the Middle East, because, as we all know, if the Middle East is ignited we all burn.

  • Sandra L Cohen says

    Dear Rabbi Gordis…..thank you for your cogent description of the situation as you see it. I have enormous respect for your evaluation and your unique perspective as one who walks the walk (your family making aliyot from the U.S.). I am one of those American Jews who HAS been to Israel (twice) and would not EVER attempt to pass judgment on what is or is not going on politically between the Israelis and Palestinians (Iran is more clear cut). In addition, I have blood relatives there so a very personal stake. It’s way too nuanced a situation for the casual observer. All that said though, I am reduced to praying for a miracle with the knowledge that we never thought we’d see resolution (not perfect) to the South African situation, the Irish situation or the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps it’s naive, but as frustrated humans, I think we forget who is REALLY in charge. We are merely “players” in the game. Unfortunately the game has very ambiguous rules and involves the death of real people. I have no idea what the answer is other than to be pro-Israel but pro-peace and keep praying for divine intervention.

    Sincerely,
    Sandra L. Cohen
    Santa Cruz, CA

  • Lloyd Trufelman says

    The Likud/right’s clumsy, ill-timed, tone-deaf and needlessly provocative manner in how new policies have been announced and communicated are pouring fuel on the fire and creating an excuse to re-ignite the intifada.

  • Jack A Serber says

    I think that we who live in the United States still live in a democracy.
    I trust that if our voices are heard in numbers and volume that our representativs will hear and understand, we may be able to change the “Administration’s”self-defeating stance.

    I will contact my Senators and Representative. I will contact the White House to tell them that Obama’s positions on Israel and the Middle East are counter to our American interests and unashamedly and proudly, our Jewish interests,

    Join me!@

  • Morton I. Teicher says

    Dr Gordis –
    Almost invariably, I agree with your analyses.
    Not this time – I fear that you misread the American scene. AIPAC no longer represents the American Jewish community.
    More important, while this flap will pass, it sadly demonstrates that the situation between the Israelis and the Arabs is a problem without a solution.

  • Shlomo Ben Yehuda says

    Obama is becoming an enigma. I voted for him, (can anyone imagine Sarah Palin a heart beat away from the Presidency?)/ back his Health Plan and am proud of the fact that he has more Jews on his staff than any previous President in history. But he obviously doesn’t understand the Middle East or Judaic history. His mollifying of the Arab world, similar to his not standing up to the Right Wing is a terrible and worrisome error in judgment. What do Emmanuel, Axelrod and the others advise him? His actions only give ammunition to those in Israel who mistrust him. He must visit Israel and perhaps he can turn it around like he has been recently been doing with the Right wing.

  • Jack Chomsky says

    Daniel, I think you’ve gone past the basic point to make, at great and painful length, your own verbal intifada against President Obama–and I see from the responses that the haters are out with their pebbles at “Obama the Muslim” just as faithfully as the Palestinian youths from intifada to intifada with their stones.

    The announcement about the building in East Jerusalem was poorly and inappropriately timed. Period. It was unbecoming of a respectful relationship. Period. Israel needs to take some lumps for that. Period.

    Turning this affair into a referendum on Obama’s understanding of Israel is falling victim to the initial perpetrators.

    Our biggest concern with EVERY American President is their desire to try to forge peace during their administration.

    Even if Abbas were willing to seek peace, how is it really possible at a time that he is still weakened by the rise of Hamas?

    It’s a difficult situation. It will probably not be solved in our lifetime.

    But the relationship between the U.S. government and Israel should be as strong as ever — in fact, stronger. This government has deeper, more complex relationships with Israel and its neighbors.

    The President is a complex and thoughtful man, unlike his predecessor, who crafted policies which created (contrary to his desire) a strong Iran, and mired the U.S. in two wars rather than one. The situation is dire, and I’m not sure what the way out is.

    I DO know that the President prevailed in his own country against an unbelievably recalcitrant Republican party which decided not to be a party to passing health reform. Even in the act of doing this, he reserved some dignity for his opponents. Can you expect less in terms of how he deals with Israel’s enemies?

    Consider the examples that you gave of when peace was reached between Israel and Egypt and Israel and Jordan. It was the dignity of those encounters that remains with us, that fills our hearts, even though the peace is still a relatively cool one.

    My sense is that Obama and Netanyahu understand each other quite well. They don’t agree on things, but they respect each other.

    Having people on either side of the ocean decrying the evil behavior of the other won’t do anyone any good.

    Or maybe I’m wrong about that. It DOES give Israelis the opportunity to blame the Americans for the fact that the Israeli factions treat each other so poorly.

    I do think that claiming that the President doesn’t know the difference between a hilltop outpost and a neighborhood through the common use of the word settlement is sort of a low blow. It’s the term that’s used. Perhaps it would be good to improve the terms — but I don’t think the President gets blamed for where the conversation has been for decades.

    Best wishes to all at Pesach. L’shanah Haba’ah Birushalayim

  • s z underwood says

    Perhaps Dr. Gordis is the one being too “ingenious” in his analysis. Why not consider the possibility that the Obama administration and its operatives are deliberately trying to instigate a third intifada? According to the conventional Arab wisdom, shared by a significant faction of the political Left in Europe and, increasingly, in academic circles in the USA, Israel will only “come to its senses” and make meaningful political and territorial concessions to the Palestinian side after suffering a high enough cost from warfare, ongoing insurrection and the ensuing (and inevitable) black eye to its world image from a cacophony of condemnations (“war crimes”, “racist apartheid state”, “brutal occupier” etc.). Boycotts, divestment and sanctions are also another goad to the same end.

    According to this narrative, what “primed” Israel to accept the Camp David Accords and to relinquish its conquered territory back to Egypt was the trauma of its near defeat in the Yom Kippur War. What effectively drove the Israeli right out of power and led to the 1993 Oslo Accords in this view? The First Intifada. What ultimately induced Sharon to unilaterally abandon Gaza? The profound trauma of the Second Intifada. What ultimately drove Israel out of Lebanon without any political accord? The “heroic resistance” of Hezbollah. In fact, the Clinton Administration actively intervened in Israeli politics and elections to help secure the defeat of Netanyahu I. By creating a public wedge between the USA and Israel, the Clintons helped to shoo Netanyahu out of office. No doubt, there were many other factors at the time which led to his reelection defeat, but American meddling was an important factor.

    Dr. Gordis’ analysis essentially ascribes benign, if misguided, intentions to Obama & Co. He seems to assume that they are unaware that their remarkable attacks on Israel are like tossing a match into an oil slick. I would suggest precisely the opposite. Obama came to power largely on the premise that the Bush, neo-con foreign policy agenda was too confrontational and bellicose in its approach. The Obama State Department has ratcheted down the tension with almost every adversary and has taken an appeasement oriented approach to conflict resolution. About the only nation which the Obama team has really lashed out at harshly is Israel! Is this really just “tough love” for a wayward stepchild or is it rather a sign that Obama is testing the political backlash for openly throwing Israel under the bus?

    Obama’s popularity has been waning and one of the important causes for this was his seeming shift to the political center which has largely frustrated and disillusioned the leftwing base whose fanatic enthusiasm put him into office. With midterm elections looming this Fall, he needs to throw more bones to his political base. Even a limited version of Health Care Reform will provide some solace for this camp. Another main cause for this same group is to “force” Israel to make enough concessions to create a viable Palestinian state. This ambition is like the Holy Grail for the leftwing. Once a viable Palestine arises, peace on earth will follow and America will once again become the beloved land of Coca Cola and equal opportunity.

  • Scott Smythe says

    Names
    1st intifata-intifada of stones
    2nd intifada-Al Aqsa intifada
    3rd intifada-Obama intifada

  • Moishe (Thomas) Goldstein says

    Obama has heard, “there will be peace but not before our grandchildren’s time”, once too often.

    This loathsome phrase needs to be rejected by everyone.

    Obama campaigned for hope and change.

    That, is the definition of vision.

    Now, at least one major leader has it.

    We only need two more.

    KeHeref ayin, as the prophets said, remains correct even today.

    Enjoy a wonderful day, a Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach, a relaxing and pleasant weekend and a Chag Pesach Sameach.

    Moishe (Thomas) Goldstein
    Toronto

  • Michael Waterman says

    Brilliant analysis. President Obama’s messianic desires notwithstanding, he does not understand that his demands upon Israel are just used as an excuse for the Palestinians not to engage in peace talks. Fayyed is so weak that he is unable to acknowledge that there should be a JEWISH State of Israel. Until the Palestinians have a true leader with integrity (which may be an oxymoron), there will, sadly, not be peace.

  • Rhonda Laikin says

    Although not a hater, I am a realist and I do see Obama’s stance on Israel not being caused by lack of knowledge but by a genuine anti- Israel agenda. It was obvious by the people he had surrounded himself with while in Chicago, and the Jews who are close to him share these feelings. And Fayyad still sees the destruction of Israel as a goal as do the other Arab “moderates”.

  • Jennifer Read says

    I still believe in Barack Obama’s principles and intelligence. He has been preoccupied with national issues–healthcare (one of the few things Israel does well) and the economy. When he focuses on the Middle East, I will be eager to hear what he has to say.

    However, his style of mediating, ever since the Harvard Law Review, is to get people into a room, let them talk, and then find a way to thread a path through everyone’s viewpoint. If neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians will get into that room, you can’t blame him for not finding the middle ground.

    I also object to the person who said he was raised Moslem. He was not; his father was absent, and his mother was vaguely spiritual.

  • Mel Aranoff says

    I just returned from the AIPAC Policy Conference, where even liberal Democrats (including the new president of AIPAC who has long been an Obama confidant) were unanimous in standing with Bibi on this latest flap. Let us pray that this will not become (to coin a phrase) the Obamafada.

  • Victor Kava says

    First, I think that discussions of “insult” are irrelevant. Whether the timing was deliberate or inadvertent does not matter. What matters is that it had the effect of putting the entire settlement project, since 1967, on the middle of the table with lights shining on it.

    The definition of “settlement” in this context, has nothing at all to do with the difference between a city and a spare room. It is about the idea that a two-state solution is possible, and that an agreed-upon border can be found. Found by negotiation. Anyone who does not agree with this idea is welcome to say so, but it is disingenuous to ignore. The issue is not about where your grandmother can store her chainik, but about where the Palestinians will live. Anyone seriously interested in peace simply cannot ignore this question.

    As far as the “third” intifada goes, I only wish that a US President had so much control over the Palestinians. If this were true, we’d have peace by now. There will be a “third” intifada if, and only if, the Palestinians decide to have one. If they need a pretext, they will find one.

    I don’t think that Pres. Obama is quite so ready to ignore Israeli building outside the green line as previous presidents have been. Is this what is getting some Israelis so upset?

    Victor Kava

    PS: Yes, I too, would delight in a larger font, and in black-on-white letters, not grey-on-white.

  • Ze'ev says

    I quote:
    “The real cause for this nadir in Washington-Jerusalem relations is the fact that Barack Obama seems to have little comprehension of the region on which he seeks to impose peace.”

    Not a good way to start an article about the Washington-Jerusalem relations. Smacks of hubris, something that you accuse Obama of in this article. How about the possibility that you feel this way about Obama because you do not agree with HIS comprehension. That does not make his comprehension lacking.

    “Gilo, to Israelis, is not a settlement. It is a huge neighborhood of Jerusalem, a part of the capital city.”

    What right wing Israelis need to understand is that just because they keep repeating over and over that Gilo is not a settlement it does not mean that the rest of the western world agrees. Talking about a provincial myopic point of view. Wake up folks, the rest of the world is not made out of right wing Israelis or for that matter of right wing American Jews.

    “Israelis who had planned to add a bedroom to their home for recently married children, who had already poured a foundation and ripped out the back wall of their home, were now told that nothing could proceed.”

    Who cares. Just because Israel chose to ignore the world’s long standing assessment that any encroachment beyond the green line is illegal and than went about aggressively promoting housing opportunities in places such as Gilo to its citizens, does not mean that anyone, outside of the right wing conclave of Israelis and their international sympathizers, has any sympathy for Israelis who planned to add a bedroom….

    “Obama appears not to understand is that the Palestinians’ current refusal to conduct face-to-face negotiations has a long history; their recalcitrance has nothing at all to do with the settlements.”

    Correct! And that is why, if Netanyahu and his cohorts had half a brain they would follow Thomas Friedman’s advice and agree to halt all settlement activities. If you are correct, and I think that you are, and the Palestinians do not come forward and negotiate in good faith Netanyahu and Israel win. And if they do come out to negotiate in good faith Netanyahu still wins, because his ultimate goal is peace, isn’t it???

    “And finally, despite his appreciable intellectual capacities, Barack Obama seems to have no appreciation of what America can and cannot do in the Middle East.”

    And finally, despite your appreciable intellectual capacities, you seem to have no appreciation of what America can do to Israel. For a start, how about no more loan guarantees and how about pulling back on $3 billion in military aid. But of course, Israel, the global power that it is, will just shrug these actions off. Grow up!

    “Obama is ignoring the fact that Abbas wouldn’t negotiate even if not a single settlement existed.”

    You are correct. But in poker, a clever poker player, something that you and Netanyahu are not, would call his bluff.

  • Miriam R. Eisenstein says

    As always, your analysis of the situation is clear, cogent, and really helpful to those of us who are struggling from day to day to understand what is happening in US policy. Obama is no Muslim, and he doesn’t hate Israel, and he’s a very smart guy, but like most Americans, he hasn’t a clue about the history of the middle east. The trouble, though, is that the Bush-types also haven’t a clue. And many of my friends on the American left are so busy being embarrassed that THEY don’t have a clue. The difference is that I truly trust Obama’s motivations and believe that if you can just find a way to educate him, he will do the right thing. So, how do we do that?

  • A well written and balanced center-right article. Mr. Gordis, however, ignores the fact that it was the Zionist right that “educated” the world that there was no Zionist difference between Alon Moreh and Gilo, or between Ariel and Tel Aviv. They were hoping to make Alon Moreh and Ariel Kosher — what they have done (increasingly) in world opinion is to make Gilo and Tel Aviv Treif.
    It is the Israeli Right that does not differentiate between a hilltop settlement and neighborhoods of Jerusalem. These are neighborhoods that were built by Teddy Kolleck and for the most part had been accepted by world opinion and certainly by pragmatic western policy makers (even of the leftwing variety) until the Israeli Right used them in order to justify the hilltop settlements.
    As for the Palestinians not really being interested in a Two-State solution I have come to the conclusion that after Camp David, Taba and the Olmert offer that you are correct. They have refused to take yes for an answer three times in the last decade. If it was not for our own moronic behavior the spotlight would be on the Palestinians.
    The Israeli Right are the Palestinian’s greatest ally not the Israeli Left.

  • Dan says

    Until intelligent men like Gordis look out over the total shambles they so exactly describe and stop calling it “the peace process, no security, let alone peace, for Israel is possible.

  • Arnie Feldman says

    Not only did I vote for Obama, I donated money to his campaign, and worked for it. I have rationalized his errors up to now.
    However, after this clearly anti-Israel attack, I have unsubscribed from his posts and made my reason clear. I cannot support someone who gives ammunition to those who wish to destroy Israel. I hope he is just naive. But he comes to his anti-Israel rhetoric too comfortably for me to believoe it’s naivity alone that motivates him.
    Now I also fear the ultra-right in Israel. Their power frightens me. These zealots are paving the way for another Masada. So, if the zealots in Israel is our answer to the zealots in the Arab countries, Israel is in grave danger.

  • David Shultz, M.D. says

    I believe no one has the courage to say out loud what the real problem with the “peace process” is that is all a sham. If the other Arab nations really wanted to see the Palistinians successful and free they certainly could have provided economic aid over the years. The US has given billions to the Egyptians. Why haven’t the Saudis or other given to their “suffering” brothers?

    The answer is that none of them really want to see a successful free Palistinian State. If that were to happy every one of the dictators in the region would be threatened. That is why each failed attempt at peace only gets so far. When success seems to be developing someone always finds a reasons to resume hostilities or call off the talks.

    The plight of the Palistinians is sad, but it is not because of Isreal. It is because their brothers don’t truly want to see them successful.

  • Marc says

    Dear Jack Chomsky, i could not resist… the announcing of jewish apartments in jewish jerusalem, G-d forbid, was certainly bad timing politically, but was not illegal or against commitments Israel made to America or the Palestinians, and there is no way that a so called friend of Israel would publicly attack Israel in this manner. “period”. or shall i say with perhaps better etiquette, “full stop”. we dont really know whether Mr Obama understands israel or not, but now we can be fairly sure that he is not acting like a friend. Thank G-d these relationships as you suggest are often much more complex and also much deeper than any single President or adminstration. But this wan is doing damage. the uncomfortable, inconvenient, and undeniable truth is that we saw in the Cairo speech a spectacularly audacious and thinly disguised yet clear attempt to position Israel as the unwelcome western imperialist nation that was planted in Israel by the league of nations as recompense for the Holocaust, albeit at the unsaid grave misfortune of the arabs. there was no mention of the indigenous jewish presence and connection to this ancestral homeland, both physically and spiritually, for over 3,000 years in Obamas speech and we see clearly now his intentions, for those of us with any doubts. Obama is a Christian and surely knows of the biblical, Talmudic and historical connections involved. There is no doubt that this public attack on Israel encouraged recent violence in Jerusalem and i have not heard any acknowledgment of this in your letter or from the Obama administration. We got health care; but we may be losing Israel. For American Jews, it might have been easier and more satisfying to simply make Aliyah and enjoy top health cover in Hebrew.

  • Christine Silk says

    I thought Dr. Gordis’s essay was intelligent and well-informed. My main disagreement is that Dr. Gordis explains away Obama’s terrible behavior as a case of ignorance.

    What excuse does Obama have? He can pick up the phone and talk with any expert he wants to, any time of the day. He has his pick of the best advisors in the world. Since November 2008, he knew he would be president. Are you telling me he didn’t have time to learn some Israeli history?

    It is not about ignorance. It’s about bad values. Obama is far more interested in buttering up Israel’s enemies than he is in supporting Israel.

  • Ken Blankstein-Ure says

    Until all sides are willing to sit down & be open , honest & debate truthfully, there will be no Peace.
    Shana Tova.

    Ken Blankstein-Ure
    WINNIPEG, Canada,

  • Brynn Sugarman says

    Obama came into office after following a hardcore anti-semitic religious leader for 20 years, dropping him only when it was politically expedient to do so, while playing dumb about the Reverend Wright’s beliefs. Obama’s personal history at that time was rife with questionable associations, and his upbringing took place in a Moslem setting (as reflected by his middle name.) One would like to hope that he is guilty of mere naivete in regard to the region, since naivete is more easily corrected than anti-semitism and malicious intent, but given Obama’s personal history and cultural background, coupled with his contemptuous attitude toward Israel since his presidency, one can only suspect the worst. One can only hope that his presidency passes swiftly and with as little damage as possible (considering his incompetence and offensive posture) and that he is speedily replaced by a real leader with a backbone: one who is a true “student of history,” friend of the Jews and Israel, and lover of Western culture and democracy.

  • Murray H. Kiok says

    “Netanyahu needs to apprise Israelis of his vision. Does he favor a two-state solution? What are his plans for Jerusalem? For the settlements? Let him tell us, and then we can decide. If we approve, he’ll stay in office. And if we don’t, he’ll be gone. But we deserve to know what our prime minister has in mind.”
    So do the rest of us. When ever I discuss the situation in Israel, I’m told I don’t know the history and the “settlements are not the issue.” My friends say everything would be peaceful if the Arabs (there are no “Palestineans”) would recognize that Israel has a right to exist and end all violence. They must also give up the “right to return”.
    My question is what is Israel’s desire? We need to hear from the Israeli government. At one time there was a desire for a two state solution. Now who knows? What would be the Israeli borders? Would the majority of Parliment agree to set borders or would the Israeli Right demand a one state solution with no homes for Arabs. Would they allow East Jerusalem to be a home for Arabs and perhaps their Capital?
    While the Arabs do not have anyone who can speak for all of them, does Israel have someone who can speak for the citizens of Israel?
    The Prime Minister is trying to please everyone. He should be encouraged to speak clearly and the Knesset will respond.
    Thank You. Murray Kiok

  • Seraph says

    Even before Obama became President, he publicly announced that he was not pro-Likud, so I find it hard to believe that anyone is surprised by his behavior.

    Except for the issue of the “timing,” I agree with Marc when he says that:

    “the announcing of jewish apartments in jewish jerusalem, G-d forbid, was certainly bad timing politically, but was not illegal or against commitments Israel made to America or the Palestinians, and there is no way that a so called friend of Israel would publicly attack Israel in this manner.”

    With regard to the “timing,” it reminds me of the Russian joke about life under Stalin, which goes something like this:

    What did the Communists do to someone who showed up one minute late for work?
    They sent him to Siberia for being an anti-Communist enemy of the proletariat who had no respect for his fellow comrades and the workers “paradise.”

    What did the Communists do to someone who showed up for work one minute early?
    They sent him to Siberia. After all, why would someone show up early for work? Anyone who comes to work early is undoubtedly a saboteur and enemy of the people.

    What did the Communists do to someone who showed up for work exactly on time?
    They sent him to Siberia. Because only someone who owned a watch could be exactly on time, and anyone who owned a watch was obvioulsy a burgeoise enemy of the people.

    The same holds true with Obama/Biden and Israel. If approval for stage four (of seven stages) of the planning process for the Ramat Shlomo housing units had been announced 10 days before Biden’s trip, they would have said that the Israelis were undermining the upcoming trip.

    If they were to announce something after Biden left, then they would say that the Israelis are trying to undermine the proximity talks.

    This has nothing to do with the timing. [FULL STOP] It has everything to do with the policy. [FULL STOP] The Obami want to prevent Jews from building in Jerusalem. [FULL STOP]

    What next? Will it be illegal to build in the city’s Jewish Quarter? After all, it has only been a Jewish “settlement” for 3,000 years.

    If we don’t counter the dissembling of the Chomsky’s of this world, then you can be sure that will be next.

    In the meantime, the murmurings of “racism” and “dual loyalty” have started in America. It will undoubtedly only get worse.

    Next Year in Jerusalem (East, West, North, South and in the Jewish Quarter)

  • Chicago says

    I find your article very insulting and offensive. It is unproductive and false to point fingers at Obama for what is happening. Just like everyone at AIPAC and yourself says that it’s not good to disagree in public, why not do it privately. What are you gaining by this divisiveness – by blaming Obama for a crisis that’s been going on for decades/centuries and being fueled by Israel’s own government. Shame on you.

  • Arnie Feldman says

    Dear Chicago,
    This is not pointing fingers. This is recognizing a very painful truth, especially to those of us who have supported Obama.
    The evidence to date is that he has a strong pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel bias. I write as a former supporter of Obama, and a strong critic of Netenyahu. So, the question is what can we do here in the US to counter this bias.
    Obama literally asks nothing of the Palestinians as a precondition to negotiations, not even requiring them to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist!!

  • Meir ben Avraham says

    You had me, more or less, up to the moment you called the death of a teenager an “innocuous event.” I believe the Gemara equates it to the destruction of an entire world. Good thing it’s not your teenager or mine.

    A second point: As an American, I was insulted by the dramatic slight to the Vice President; and as a Jew, I was embarrassed by the extraordinary efforts of the vast majority of American Jewish organizations to excuse it.

    Third, if it is true, as I am led to believe by rather authoritative sources, that Netanyahu had no previous knowledge of the action by his own Interior Ministry, then he has lost control of his government and Israel is currently ungoverned. That is a much more important fact, and a greater threat to Israel’s security, than any insensitivity of the American president over the settlement question.

    And finally, in response to Arthur Opolion’s spurious “quote” from Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope, it is a lie, lashon hara, and an incitement to sinuch hinam.

  • Meir ben Avraham says

    @Seraph: “Dual loyalty” would in some cases be an improvement!

  • Stanley Finkelstein says

    It’s important that the President share in what has been written. It does little good to discuss it outside the confines of Washington where the information may do some good whether is is seen as propaganda, truth or whatever.

  • Jewish Obama voter says

    Obama was NOT raised as a Muslim.

  • David Willig says

    I just read your marvelous article.I just have one problem with your conclusion. Netanyahu cannot announce his bottom line, because if he did, that would then be the Arabs starting point. Bibi has made it clear that he will go quite far for peace. Exactly how far will be determined in negotiations, when they finally decide to negotiate. That is what negotiations are for.
    Rabbi David Willig
    By the way, the late Wolfe Kelman was my cousin.

  • Your assessment of Obama’s policy as being one of misunderstanding the Middle East and its history is too generous at worst, or naive at best.

    The elephant in the room that no one has the courage to admit is there, is that Obama had surrounded himself for years before elected president with radical Islamists, American haters and Israel bashers who are rabid anti-Semites.
    That is who he himself was, and still is: birds of a feather flock together.

    You give him too much credit. He does not deserve it.

  • Yousef Owaynat says

    I must admit that this article is by far one of the most entertaining pieces I’ve read in a long time. The fashion in which you turn an educated President into a hollow uninformed citizen of this world is beyond mind boggling! Had Mr. Obama been more Pro-Israel this article would have never existed. Obama is more focused on restoring America’s image & economical deficit rather than worry about the fate of a fraudulent “state” of Israel. Israeli support has caused nothing but tension in the U.S. and threats to American civilians across the globe. Israel made her bed….she must lay on it…ALONE. Deal with it people….the land will return to its rightful owners. Long live Palestine!

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