Painting Obama as an enemy will hurt Israel badly
In the new Israeli debate, America is perceived as an enemy - and the dispute is going personal.
In light of the public brawling between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama, we can expect to start seeing graffiti saying things like "America, get out," "Obama is an Arab" and "Neither a broker nor honest."
In the new Israeli debate, America is slowly beginning to be perceived as an enemy - and the dispute is going personal: Our prime minister versus their president. Yesterday, he simply demanded that Israel adopt the two-state solution, then called for a freeze on construction in the settlements (without agreeing to settle for "only" the completion of projects already underway), and now he wants to divide Jerusalem. Not Netanyahu - Obama.
The tension already prodded U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into making a hasty declaration that the United States is placing similar pressure on the Arabs. Washington, too, it would seem, has been infected by the terror of the Israeli right, which seeks to portray it as a pro-Arab, Muslim-loving, aggressive intruder jeopardizing the Zionist enterprise in the territories. And how can we continue to believe the American promise to guarantee Israel's security when every day new headlines trumpet yet another dispute between the White House and Jerusalem?
To back up its claims, the right points to a long list of U.S. foreign-policy failures: the desire to open a channel of dialogue with Iran; the lifting of the boycott on Syria; the willingness to permit Hamas to take part in the peace process, albeit with restrictions; and, of course, the pressure on Israel regarding the settlements and Jerusalem. The right is using this distorted balance sheet, in which Israel is purportedly being asked to give "everything" and the Arabs "nothing," to present the Israeli public with a paradigm in which being "for Obama" means being anti-Zionist, and being against the settlements means being for Obama. A vicious circle in which images replace facts and slogans stand in for policy.
The equation should be familiar to Israelis. Before January it was the sole province of the Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular. They were the ones who viewed America as the enemy, and former president George W. Bush as a representative of right-wing Zionism. They were the ones who claimed the United States demanded "everything" from them and "nothing" from Israel. As such, being a Palestinian nationalist meant being first of all anti-American.
Since the roles are now reversed and the Palestinians see Obama as their savior, the Israeli right is rushing in to adopt the Palestinian equation. The right doesn't have to persuade the public to support the settlements or the eternal unity of Jerusalem; in fact it no longer has to sell any ideology at all. It's enough to paint Obama as an enemy, or at least as a suspicious object, to create the holy hostile unity. The task is a relatively easy one, especially vis-a-vis the U.S. administration, which is no longer willing to use vague expressions to achieve foreign policy goals.
But the implications of this anti-Americanism are much more dire than the dismantling of a settlement, or even than serious damage to the peace process. It could put Israel in the same pit as the tiny number of states that have sought to oppose the United States.
The remedy lies in reviewing the facts. Obama did not invent a new American policy. The United States has long held that the settlements are illegal; the same is true for the status of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights. The Americans are sticking to the same road map drawn up seven years ago, it's just that Israel apparently didn't notice that the Palestinians have fulfilled the first article in the document almost completely. Military action against Israel has stopped, even from the Gaza Strip, and an increasingly effective Palestinian force in the West Bank is taking action against terror organizations. Israel, in contrast, has not met its road map obligations and continues to argue over the terms of the agreement - as if it never adopted it. Nor can Israel rely on its demand that the Arab states normalize relations with Jerusalem: The obligation of normalization is conditioned on Israel's withdrawal from all occupied territory.
There is one thing, however, that the United States has changed: its diplomatic behavior, and its tone. But it is truly difficult to complain about someone no longer willing to stand for the verbal contortions and the lies that Israel has been feeding Washington.