From the outset of his presidency, Mr. Obama stated in so many words that he believed it was in the American national interest to reset U.S. relations with the Arab world. In his June 2009 Cairo speech he spoke of a “new beginning between the U.S. and Muslims around the world.”
To be fair, he also spoke in Cairo of “America’s strong bonds with Israel,” which he called “unbreakable,” and he strongly denounced Holocaust denial in a part of the world that was – and is – rife with it. But the general tenor of the speech was that America had a lot to make up for in terms of its past treatment of Arab nations.
He also signaled early on in his presidency that he was determined to resolve the ongoing confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians, which he viewed as key to his overall objective.
We still remember Mr. Obama’s chilling riposte to Presidents Conference Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein in July 2009, when Mr. Hoenlein told the president, “If you want Israel to take risks, then its leaders must know that the United States is right next to them.” Mr. Obama responded:
Look at the past eight years [i.e., the George W. Bush administration]. During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.
As will be recalled, Mr. Obama set about trying to implement his “outreach” policy but encountered fierce opposition over the course of his first term in office. Not only from Israelis but also from the overwhelming majority of everyday Americans and members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. As a practical matter he backed off, although members of his administration continued to push the central importance of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, which always seemed to imply heavy Israeli concessions.
Now, however, there are signs that after this week’s midterm elections, when there will no longer be any reason to fear an electoral backlash for Democratic candidates, we can expect a full court press by the Obama administration to secure an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that will involve severe pressure on Israel to make more concessions than it seems prepared to.
Although much attention has been paid to the vulgar language an unnamed “senior administration official” used to describe Prime Minister Netanyahu to The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, what has been largely overlooked is the context of that epithet and other recent remarks about Mr. Netanyahu made by administration insiders.
And Mr. Goldberg, hardly an antagonist of Mr. Obama, speculated that such is the mood at he White House right now that further settlement activity or other actions by Israel seen by the administration as impediments to peace would make it harder for the U.S. to defend Israel at the UN when the Palestinians mount their expected new statehood campaign there.
In fact, though it passed under the radar, in March the president had already said,
If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited. There comes a point where you can’t manage this anymore, and then you start having to make very difficult choices. The condemnation of the international community can translate into a lack of cooperation when it comes to key security issues.
And toward the end of Operation Protective Edge this past summer, the president was unusually vocal about Israel’s so-called disproportionate use of force and alleged lack of compliance with international humanitarian law.