Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Obama As Honest Broker

I'd didn't sense much confidence in Obama, coming from Israelis. In fact, the word suspicious seems entirely applicable. Biden's comments on the Israeli settlements, neighborhoods, whatever your view, really did seem to raise the ire of Israelis, to the point of dumbfounded. In light of that emerging sense, I found this poll noteworthy. When asked what is Obama's view towards Israelis and Palestinians, you can see evidence that his role as "honest broker" is questioned:

When he first took power, Obama made a deliberate overture to the Arab world (his Egypt speech the high profile example), which I took as a necessary step in distancing himself from the Bush legacy. I found it fascinating how this outreach was perceived in Israel- while I saw it as a positive moving forward, some Israelis viewed it as the start of a fractured relationship. I've never bought in to the direct co-relation, namely that any move towards one side, necessarily means a slight to the other, or evidence of developing distance. In fact, if Obama can improve relations with the Arab world, then one could argue this will benefit Israeli security in the long run. That's how I see the philosophy, but there seems some resistance from Israelis.

The above findings do support the view that Israelis see Obama as more friendly towards the Palestinian side. Not terribly surprising, because Biden's recent comments were on the tip of almost every Israeli tongue that we met. The perception, the Americans had put areas on the table that were previously seen as accepted Jewish terrority- reference to past maps and agreements that never put these areas highlighted by Biden within any future state of Palestine. That said, these areas are beyond the 1967 "green line", so it isn't quite as cut and dry as presented from the Israeli perspective. But, when you see the size and entrenched nature of these neighborhoods, one can see that it really isn't reasonable to think Israel would simply walk away, present day reality much different from 1967. A land swap does seem the only tenable solution.

One evening of discussion with speakers, led to some heated exchange, as I took the Obama defence stance. I think it is ultimately dangerous if Israelis start to write off Obama, and I got the sense that this view was hardening. One has to develop trust from all sides, and while this may be a tortous road, it's the only way to bear ultimate fruit. While Israelis may view Bush in a more positive light, I would argue many of his policies actually put Israel in a more longterm, precarious position. Such a one sided support, while heartening, also tends to alienate more and more, fuels radicalism.

It's not a tertiary issue, that a full 20% more Israelis see Obama as favoring the Palestinian side. Not a question of fair philosophy, but it's crucial that both sides feel represented, if the peace process has any chance at all. I remain confident, that in the end, Israelis will find they have a friend in Obama, his approach looks to the horizon, rather than immediate comforts. A forced peace can't work, but it's imperative that Obama establish trust from both sides, simply parroting the Israeli perspective, ultimately serves no one and the obvious failures of the Bush administration speak loudly to this inherent fact.

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