Today is Erev Shavuot, the eve of the Jewish holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah to Moses and the Hebrews at Sinai–the Torah that says three times, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It is also when the book of Ruth is chanted from the pulpit, that wonderful story of how a daughter of the Moabites–the neighboring tribe that was the Hebrews’ greatest enemy–embraced, and was embraced by, the Jewish people.
Today too, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas meets with President Obama. Hillary Clinton spoke in advance for Obama when she said this morning that all West Bank settlement activity must stop, including “natural growth” of existing settlements. Israel quickly countered (through government spokesman Mark Regev) that “normal life” in the settlements (read “natural growth”) would continue.
However, reading this as pure defiance is naïve. Netanyahu has pressed his cabinet to move toward loosening restrictions on Palestinian movement. He has dismantled two settlement outposts and is planning to remove more. And “natural growth” will be limited to homebuilding within the current boundaries of settlements.
On the other side, the Palestinian Authority has stepped up activity against Hamas militants in the West Bank, and may have cooperated in an Israeli operation that resulted in the death of a key Hamas operative earlier today. And the chief Palestinian peace negotiator said that Jewish settlers can become dual citizens of Israel and the future Palestinian state.
So behind the scenes, things are moving along. Meanwhile, half the pundits in two countries and more than a few in dozens more have blathered about Bibi’s first face time with Barack ten days ago. I’m not clever enough to outthink them all, but I will tell you about two of the dumbest things I’ve read about it—both in The New York Times.
The first, which was by Mark Landler and Helene Cooper, appeared on Thursday and was called, “Keeping Score on Obama vs. Netanyahu.” These reporters, whose findings were buried on page 11, had the bright idea to ask a bunch of knowledgeable people whether Barack or Bibi won.
If you discount the anonymous White House officials who (as always) were “talking their book,” the consensus seems to be that Obama got the short end of the stick. Bibi asked for a timetable on patience with Iran and got it. Barack asked for a halt in settlement activity and got an explanation of how hard it would be for Bibi politically.
So here comes the dumb part: Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who is known to have long since lost patience with the Jewish state, said: “I’m asking the question, did our president get suckered?” To answer yes (as Indyk implies), you have to think two things: one, Obama wanted and expected more from Bibi; two, he thought he got more than he really did.
I doubt that either is true. I think Barack (the savviest politician our democracy has seen in many years) is quite aware of how Israel’s democracy works, and of just how far he can push a prime minister with a dubious coalition. I think he is much smarter than the left wing of his party—Indyk and worse—and in foreign policy that means a dose of realpolitik that will lead him to talk left and act center-right again and again.
Speaking of which, Indyk is far from the left-est that leftists get. That prize goes to one Flynt Leverett and his co-author Hillary Mann Leverett, who also get the gold for what we can call un-realpolitik. Their article, titled, “Have We Already Lost Iran?” takes Obama sorely to task—for not sucking up to the Iranians enough.
I kid you not. They think he is being too tough on Iran, and that he must make a lot more sycophantic overtures and concessions in order for us to please the ayatollahs (and Ahmadinejad) enough for them to actually want to talk to us. Their great fear is that Obama may be listening to Dennis Ross, who is pessimistic about Iran ever coming around and who reportedly thinks that we must make some serious overtures (the ones Obama has already made) so that when the time comes to really put the screws to the would-be New Persian Empire, we can at least say we tried. Then, maybe, the European gentlemen who pass for diplomats can squeal a bit less loudly when America and Israel do what needs to be done.
I can’t read Ross’s mind or Obama’s, but you don’t have to read Ahmadinejad’s mind—just his speeches. Whether he wins re-election or not, the Iranian polity solidly backs his government’s nuclear program, their long-range missile program, their take-over-Lebanon-and-the-West-Bank-just-like-they-took-over-Gaza program, their Holocaust denial program, their Jews-are-pigs-and-monkeys program, and their eradicate-Israel program. Ross too has been clear on one thing, as described in his new book with David Makovsky), Myths, Illusions, and Peace. “Linkage”—the old claim, now accepted publicly by Obama, that a solution to the Palestinian problem is the key to solving all other Middle East issues, including the Iranian threat—is an utterly stupid idea.
No doubt the Leveretts would like to see Obama have face time with the two-bit Iranian dictator and bow even lower than he did to the Saudi prince. I predict that Obama will do no such thing. I think he is on board with Dennis Ross’s idea of our future difficulties with Iran, and how we can best deal with them. And I think he will say whatever is necessary to mollify the suicidal left—like the Leveretts and the wet-behind-the-ears twenty-somethings who manned his campaign—but will consult with those who know what needs to be done, and do it–or at least protest minimally when Israel does it.
Evil exists in this world, and it is embodied in the current rulers of Iran among others. Obama’s grasp of that fact will determine how successful his foreign policy is for the next few years, and will help determine his chances for reelection. Those who think he can veer left on foreign policy and security even as he does the same in domestic policy don’t understand America.
We’re a centrist country with a bipolar tendency, and when we sense extremist dangers in either direction, we swing back. It’s what got Obama elected, and it’s what will get him defeated if he pays too much heed to the foolishness of the foreign-policy left. In contrast, if he stays the course with Israel and the Road Map, patiently helping the Palestinian Authority to defeat Hamas and develop a good life for its people–while at the same time defying and blocking instead of toadying to Iran–he may be re-elected in a landslide, and deserve it.
A happy and healthy Shavuot, Chag Sameach to all.