Saturday, 21 May 2011

RubinReports: Obama Speech: Not Intended To Bash Israel But Did So Anyway

Obama Speech: Not Intended To Bash Israel But Did So Anyway

A version of this article was published in the Jerusalem Post. I own the article and all links should be to this address. This version also has important additions so I ask that you read it here and if you forward or link please do so to this version.

By Barry Rubin

Only twenty percent of Obama’s Middle East speech dealt with Israel-Palestinian issues and that only at the end. Clearly, this was not the main theme. Obama had to say something on this subject and never intended for that to make all the headlines.

I believe the speech was not intended to bash Israel at all. The fact that the speech came off that way tells us a lot about Obama and his policy. Indeed, there are several items no doubt perceived by the White House as gestures that would make Israel happy:

--First, his tough line opposing the Palestinian Authority’s effort to get unilateral recognition of a state from the UN General Assembly:

“For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won't create an independent state.”

--Second, downplaying the linkage idea:

“For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region…. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.”

A “shadow” that “impedes,” but not the central issue or cause of all the region’s problems.

--Third, his acknowledging that the United States cannot make peace and isn’t going to try to impose a settlement or propose a detailed plan. He’s simply urging the two parties to act.

“What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows -- a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”

Get it? This isn’t a blueprint for producing a deal within a year, or preparation for pressuring Israel. All the United States can do is…say stuff.

--Fourth, he takes a tougher line on the Fatah-Hamas agreement as raising, “Profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.”

--Fifth, he says a Palestinian state must be “non-militarized” which has been an Israeli demand.

Why then did he so upset Israel and its supporters? Look at this remarkable sentence:

“Yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks.”

I believe this is the first time he’s ever acknowledged that the Palestinians refused to talk, though this has been obvious for two years. But by not mentioning that at his request Israel made an unprecedented freeze and then at his demand added Jerusalem to that freeze, Obama shows that he will not appreciate or reward Israeli concessions.

So while trying to be even-handed he’s signaling to Israel that it will gain nothing by doing what he asks.

Then there’s Obama’s patronizing attitude that he knows better what Israel needs than do Israelis or Israeli leaders. He says “permanent occupation” does not benefit Israel. Well, it’s not the best outcome but there are worse ones, something Obama and his colleagues (and the mass media) never understand.

It’s not enough to keep repeating the status quo is untenable. One must provide a convincing vision of a better status quo. And in that Obama, the Europeans and certainly the Palestinians fail totally.

They ignore the problems Israel would face in a real-world two-state solution under current conditions: cross-border raids, incitement, new demands, a possible Hamas takeover, or a Palestinian state reneging on commitments.

At the very moment Egyptians want to abrogate their peace treaty, Obama urges Israel to sign another one. Israel made a deal with Lebanon’s government, that country’s president was assassinated, and the deal broken. Israel withdrew from south Lebanon, and was attacked by Hizballah. Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip and Hamas attacked. Israel turned over land to the PA then faced terrorist attacks from it.

Yet Obama proposes doing the same thing again! He suggests Israel turns over the rest of the West Bank to the PA (a big and irreversible Israeli material concession) in exchange for security guarantees (an easily withdrawn Palestinian concession on paper). He has no interest in how this sounds in a context of Israeli experience. Still, it is only an idea, not a demand. Nothing is going to happen and the Obama Administration isn't going push for this plan.

But where Obama is doing real harm is not in some theoretical plan that won't be implemented but in his acceptance, in practice, of a Fatah-Hamas government. That the United States would accept the entry into government of an openly antisemitic, genocidal group that openly calls for Israel's destruction without even cutting off all U.S. aid immediately is a betrayal of Israel and all the concessions it has made as part of the "peace process" since 1993.

The whole idea was that the West would help a Palestinian regime that recognized Israel and rejected the use of terrorism. Whatever one can say about Fatah, there is no question that Hamas has failed to meet this test and will not change its approach.

Since President Obama won't even try to use his influence to keep Hamas out of government, he cannot be relied on for anything.

Now we come to the big controversy which, in light of all the above, is a relatively minor problem. Obama said:

"I believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.”

All this says is that Israel must agree to any proposed borders or they won't be drawn. Obama does not imply how big the changes might be and this doesn't rule out Israel incorporating settlement blocs, as the Obama administration promised to do in October 2009. Far from demanding that Israel return to the 1967 borders, that sentence really leaves the issue open.

The Associated Press report on the speech said:

"President Barack Obama on Thursday endorsed a key Palestinian demand for the borders of its future state. Obama's urging that a Palestinian state be based on the 1967 lines was a significant shift in the U.S. approach."

But that's flatly untrue! The Palestinian demand is precisely the 1967 borders with no changes. Obama endorsed changes. And said Israel must agree to the borders. And it is not a shift, much less a significant shift, in U.S. policy! It is pretty shocking that both sides in the debate can't even comprehend accurately a single sentence spoken by Obama.

Want proof? Here's, for example, the November 2009 State Department statement that pleased Israel:

"We believe that through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

So Obama said nothing new in his one sentence on borders.

I don’t believe that Obama “hates” Israel. I think he has zero comprehension of Israel and isn’t interested in learning more. In addition, he has zero warm feelings toward the country. Thus, he is callously indifferent to its problems, needs, and interests. Obama has given Israel ample reason to mistrust him, and that is why the "borders" sentence has become such a big deal.

But the big problem is his failure to recognize the threat of revolutionary Islamism to Israel and others; his deliberate blindness toward the radicalism that still dominates Palestinian politics, ignorance about what Turkey’s Islamist regime is doing, and weakness toward America’s enemies. These all injure Israel indirectly, as well as America’s Arab allies and also the Iranian and Turkish people.

So, yes, Obama’s policy is disastrous but not because he is attacking Israel directly or abandoning the traditional relationship. It’s a catastrophe because his policy hurts all of America’s allies, strengthens revolutionary Islamists, and throws away basic U.S. interests in the region.

RubinReports: Obama Speech: Not Intended To Bash Israel But Did So Anyway

RubinReports: Obama Middle East Speech: A Big and Revealing Mistake That Nobody Has Noticed

Obama Middle East Speech: A Big and Revealing Mistake That Nobody Has Noticed

By Barry Rubin

There is a small detail at the end of Obama’s big Middle East speech that everyone has overlooked up until now but which shows how inept this administration is at understanding the Israel-Palestinian issue and why it continually makes Israel mistrustful.

In doing his balancing act on Israeli and Palestinian fears and hostility, he says this:

“I'm convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past….We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. `I have the right to feel angry,’ he said. `So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate. Let us hope,’ he said, `for tomorrow.’"

That’s genuinely touching. But in the specific case Obama cites—that of Izzedin Abuelaish on January 16, 2009-- there is strong reason to believe that the three girls were killed because of Hamas, that is Palestinian, actions.

According to an official Israeli inquiry, Hamas snipers on the roof of their five-story building were shooting at Israeli soldiers. The tank returned fire. In addition, though, the investigation could not rule out the possibility that the girls were killed by an explosion of explosives and ammunition being stored in the building by Hamas or even by fire from Hamas forces.

In other words, the president took an incident where the cause was unclear and blamed Israel for it. And of course the tragic deaths of these girls took place because the United States did nothing to help prevent Hamas from taking over the Gaza Strip and then Hamas broke a ceasefire and attacked Israel.

Since then, the Obama Administration has pressured Israel to reduce sanctions on Hamas to an absolute minimum and provided $400 million to pay salaries in the Gaza Strip, which benefits Hamas's rule.

In addition, since the Palestinian Authority has just announced it will pay money to those who are prisoners of Israel, U.S. taxpayer money will now go to reward those who have committed terrorist attacks.

And that tells us what we need to know: President Obama and his colleagues don’t get the facts straight and tend to blame Israel. In other words, Obama counterposed the reaction of an Israeli father whose son was murdered by Palestinian terrorists to that of a Palestinian father whose daughters were murdered by or because of the actions of...Palestinian terrorists.

And that's the trouble with an "even-handed" approach to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

But, as with the Abu al-Aish case, it is the radicals who lead the Palestinian movement, several states, and the revolutionary Islamist oppositions--not Israel--are killing the peace process.

Terrorists attack Israel; Israel defends itself.

The revolutionary Islamists--not Israel or Husni Mubarak or the Saudi regime, or past U.S. policy—are destroying the Middle East. And since Obama Administration policy fails to realize these things then it, too, is destroying the Middle East.

RubinReports: Obama Middle East Speech: A Big and Revealing Mistake That Nobody Has Noticed

RubinReports: Obama's Middle East Speech: The Opposite of Strategy Is Catastrophe

Obama's Middle East Speech: The Opposite of Strategy Is Catastrophe

This article is published on PajamasMedia.

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By Barry Rubin

President Barack Obama’s big Middle East speech is extraordinarily important. I think that it has been largely misinterpreted and deserves a very detailed examination. Forgive me then for analyzing it at length but that’s necessary to understand both Obama’s thinking and policy.

First and foremost, this could be called Obama’s George Bush speech. The intention was to find some way to make the main priority of U.S. policy the support of democracy in the Arab world. This is precisely the theme that Obama’s supporters ridiculed when Bush did it. So Obama had to find some way to approach the issue without anyone realizing he had copied Bush. He succeeded! No one seems to have caught on yet.

One of the tricks is that he began by saying that he was opening “a new chapter in American diplomacy.” But in his main theme he wasn’t doing that at all. He said, “The United States supports a set of universal rights.” Isn’t this in a real sense the exact opposite of multiculturalism? Doesn’t it contradict everything Obama and his supporters have stood for up to now?

Bush, whatever his failings, combined a policy of supporting democracy with one of fighting revolutionary Islamism. If Obama only supports revolutionary change and goes soft on America’s enemies, his policy will promote revolutionary Islamism.

Obama claimed, “Now, already, we've done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts.” In other words, Bush is to be identified with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; Obama is to be identified with ending those wars successfully and promoting democracy.

Second, this was not a speech about Israel-Palestinian issues. On the contrary, he was trying to find a framework for pushing that question onto a backburner. Here he failed completely. Since Obama has such low credibility with Israel and its supporters, some relatively band statements blew up into such a huge crisis that some are describing it as the end of the traditional U.S.-Israel alliance.

The main problem with Obama’s speech is not what he said about Israel but what he said about developments in the Arab world.

Basically, the difficulty is that he embraced change in the Arab world with no strategic sense whatsoever and not even a gesture toward the dangers involved. Obama wanted to put himself on the side of the “Facebook kids.” It is an approach that has nothing in common with a serious approach to foreign policy.

Everything about the upheavals is good according to Obama. He has zero comprehension of the revolutionary Islamist threat. For Obama there is only al-Qaida (bad); the existing regimes (bad) and those who want freedom and democracy (good). There is no mention of the Muslim Brotherhood. There is no mention of Hizballah.

“Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow.” Here he refers to Egypt and Tunisia. Who are the more who might follow? Obviously, Libya is implied here and also Yemen. Yet these eight words contain much of the huge flaw in Obama’s policy.

On one hand, no U.S. ally is given an exemption. There is nothing in the speech to indicate that Obama does not favor the overthrow of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Morocco, or Algeria. Have no doubt: These governments will see this speech as favoring their demise.

On the other hand, there is no special emphasis on the overthrow of America’s enemies. There is no explicit call for the overthrow of the Iranian and Syrian governments, nor of Hamas in Gaza, now keeping Hizballah out of power in Lebanon, nor the mass-murdering regime in Sudan.

It might be noble and consistent for Obama to say, “If America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change- with change that's consistent with the principles that I've outlined today.” But what that means is, for example, that friends will be treated the same way as enemies.

This is one more example of the upside down, non-strategic, absent of all concept of national interest that characterizes Obama’s policy. President Obama is no foreign policy Realist.

Obama stresses that al-Qaida is faltering. True. But other Islamists are advancing. I won’t list all the examples here but there are a dozen of which Obama never seems to take notice: Muslim Brotherhood gains in Egypt; Hizballah on the verge of power in Lebanon; Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip; Turkey joining the enemy camp; Iran still going full-speed ahead toward nuclear weapons.

Iran and nuclear weapons? There are three mentions but what is one of the most important factors in the region barely registers. One of those is to say that having nuclear weapons doesn’t benefit anyone. That should be a laugh line.

As I’ve said before, a basic concept of this administration is that al-Qaida is the enemy because it attacks America. Yet the much larger strategic threat posed by revolutionary Islamism—Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hizballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, smaller groups, and with Turkish government cooperation—is not perceived as a threat.

That is a catastrophe.

Most of the speech is a celebration of the revolutionary upheavals as if they were the American civil rights’ movement (he mentions Rosa Parks) or indeed the American Revolution.

What he wants to do is an extension of his view on domestic politics: get on the side of the people, encourage rebellion, and everything will work out all right.

And here is all he says about the threat to that rosy picture:

”Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don't align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region. But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles –- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:”

Really? What did Obama say about 2011 that might not be said about Iran in 1978? Or before the Palestinian elections that brought Hamas to power?

After the leading candidate for the presidency of Egypt predicted an Islamist majority in parliament can the president of the United States not have that disaster on his mind? Notice how he says “short-term interests.” But why can’t countries follow a path totally opposite to a Western concept of democracy, an Islamist dictatorship?

And why can’t the results be the opposite of “align perfectly” and be totally in opposition to U.S. interests? Why can’t the results be catastrophic for U.S. long-term interests, as the revolution in Iran was?

There were gestures toward women’s rights and a sentence on Christians. But notice how these are just put in to cover the administration. The Christians of Egypt are mentioned but not those suffering far more in Iraq. The problem must be portrayed as narrow not symptomatic of a much wider intolerance and extremism.

What could Obama have easily said? Something like this:

We favor forces of stability and democracy but recognize that there are powerful forces that want to divert these revolutions into the creation of new, anti-Western dictatorships that will add more decades of suffering and bloodshed to the region. We stand with the moderates and oppose those radical forces, recognizing the dangers of the current moment. Past revolutions have shown how things can go wrong and we are aware of this possibility.

We also recognize that in countries like Iran, Syria, and Libya, and also in the Gaza Strip, that there are especially brutal dictatorships incapable of reform and dangerous to regional peace and our interests. We will oppose those governments and favor their departure from the scene.

But there is no hint that such ideas have entered Obama's mind or those of the advisors to whom he's listening.

Finally what does Obama propose as his great policy for implementing his ideas?

Answer: He’s going to send money. But in foreign policy as on domestic issues this is not a solution. Consider all the aid the United States gave to Egypt or the Palestinians. What political advances did that bring?

And all the money won’t be enough. Food prices are rising. Egypt will continue to be anarchic. A democratic state will suffer a bigger crisis than a dictatorship under such conditions.

So that’s it. Obama’s policy is to cheer the revolutionaries, boo the dictators, and send money.

That is not a strategy, it’s a formula for catastrophe and the destruction of U.S. allies and interests in the region. Moreover, when anti-American radicals--the Brotherhood, other revolutionary Islamists, radical nationalists, and far-left parties--dominate Egypt's parliamentary elections in September (an outcome that is 100 percent predictable) this Obama policy will collapse overnight.

I’ll write about the aspects dealing with Israel and the "peace process" separately.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal, and a featured columnist at PajamasMedia His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center is His PajamaMedia columns are mirrored and other articles available at

RubinReports: Obama's Middle East Speech: The Opposite of Strategy Is Catastrophe

BECHUKOTAI; an accidental life

BECHUKOTAI; an accidental life

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

The secrets for successful relationships are found in this week's sedra, Bechukotai. It is also referred to as the "tochecha," or The Great Reproof. Hidden within its dire portents of doom are also the dire secrets of life. The antidote is provided along with the warning. The contraindications are listed on the label.

Whether concerning our Divine Spouse (G*d), or our mortal spouses (spice?), if you want a solid relationship, then you must not take him or her for granted. You must not be "casual" with the relationship. You must not forget birthdays or anniversaries. That is the necessary spice of the marriage.

The word for casual, "keri," appears many times throughout the parsha. Keri, related to the word "mikreh,"in modern Hebrew, connotes a chance, or accidental occurrence, or something that "just happened." In modern Hebraic parlance we say "mah karah?" for "what happened?"

In other words, being accidental in nature, conscious planning or premeditated forethought was not involved. Similarly, G*d is seen as Israel's spouse. According to our tradition, our engagement took place at Pesach, and our wedding took place at Sinai, on Shavuoth. But our anniversary with G*d is not celebrated but once a year. It is celebrated every Shabbat!

Every Shabbat at the kiddush we recall the Exodus from Egypt - yetziat mitzrayim (our Jewish anniversary), as well as the Creation of the World - yetzirat ha'olam (our human anniversary). This is borne out in the text by two remarkable hints. One is that the word "keri," quite remarkably, is mentioned seven times in this one section, echoing the proverbial seven "days" of creation (yom, usually meaning "day" in Hebrew, also refers to any time period in Hebrew, not necessarily the 24 hour day that literalists refer to in mistranslation). The fact that keri is embedded seven times in the text is a hint that conscientious Shabbat consciousness is its antidote.

The other hint is that the repercussions of relating to G*d so casually are sevenfold in nature. When we make kiddush on the wine, not only do we remember our actual leaving Egypt, but symbolically we affirm the presence of G*d in history. Repercussions signify accountability!

Conscious observance of our holy Torah prevents our relationship with G*d from becoming casual. Sleep is usually seen as the ultimate in casualness or inattention. Sleeping in class could be seen as not paying attention. But Shabbos represents an alternate reality. It's one of the highest ways we can honor G*d. If I sleep or eat on Shabbos that's very beautiful, but if I sleep or eat BECAUSE it's Shabbos, that's one of the highest ways to honor G*d, and we reap the rewards seven times over- lasting through each day of the week.

Sleep allows our subconscious to connect with its Divine source. Sleeping with intention honors that Divine source. Sheynah, meaning sleep in Hebrew, is connected to both the word for new change (shinooy) and the word for old change (yashan). Sleep is thus the fulcrum between the old which came before, laden with so many missed opportunities, and a new dawn that promises a fresh opportunity to change for the better. But the secret is in knowing how to be awake when awake and consciously mindful of the Divine Presence all around us each day. Subconscious sleeping aids us in our conscious wakefulness. Now the word Sheynah in Yiddish means beautiful (from the German schoen). So combining the two languages gives us a beauty sleep!

Is our existence at all a mere cosmic accident or a result of conscious Divine intention and Divine Will? If we treat our life as an accident of cosmic happenstance and thus bring that energy into our relationships, we will find our lives full of accidents. But if we tap into the Torah's wisdom as the blueprint for intentional living along a Divine latticework, we shall mine a rich world of rewarding relationships.

Now our Divine relationship with G*d is likewise a template for all successful human relations. We should honor and love those who are close to us at least as much as we love ourselves. We shouldn't take our friends for granted if we ourselves don't wish to be taken for granted.

Similarly, we should never take G*d for granted. For He is our BEST friend. If we do, then a great unraveling occurs- we begin to take first our spouses, then our friends, then even ourselves and our holy neshamas (souls) for granted. Don't blame G*d. He is a loving and compassionate G*d, the source for all compassion. Tap into G*d and tap into Compassion. He wouldn't be punishing us sevenfold or even one-fold. We'd be doing it to ourselves!

Shabbat Shalom.

© 2000 - 2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen Melman, z"l and in memory of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther bat Baruch z"l.

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

Sefer Chabibi Deepest Torah: BECHUKOTAI; an accidental life

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