Friday, July 11, 2014

How Obama lost Israel and the Palestinians before he was even elected.

With the relentless rocket fire continuing to come from Hamas in their futile but continuing attempt to cause mass casualites in Israel, and Israeli self defense forces using air strikes and a ground invasion to take out the capability of Hamas to fire them, John Kerry as Obama's representative has been virutally useless in getting a cease fire just as the Obama administration has been a vitual non-entity in getting anything accomplished in the Middle East fsince Obama's election.

The fault does not lie with Kerry. It goes back to even before Obama was elected and Obama's say anything at any time to whomever you have to say it to, no matter how reckless and irresponsible as long as there is some percieved political advantage for him.   And the consequences of that are,  even now,despite Kerry's shuttling, that  the United States has little or no credibility or influence on anyone in the  events currently unfolding in Israel and Gaza, or before.

But this didnt happen overnight. It happened in 2008, while Obama was running for president and became hoisted on his own petard over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,  and in the process destroyed his credibility as a peace broker  with both for all time.

It happened in 2008 when Obama gave a campaign speech to AIPAC - - the American -Israel Public Affairs Committee, in Washington D.C.  That speech and it's most controversial statement, designed purely for political purposes to gain the votes he believed he needed to win an election,  had serious consequence at the time, and even more now,  highlighted again  by the events raging in Israel and Gaza.

Though it had been 8 years earlier, Florida in the 2000 presidential election with it's  hanging chads and hand counted ballots which ultimately gave the presidency to George W. Bush it was something still fresh in the minds of most Democrats in 2008 and the conventional wisdom was that Florida again could be decisive in winning or losing the presidency in 2008.

Mindful of Florida's importance and its significant  Jewish population, Obama scheduled a campaign speech to be made to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee  in Washington in June of 2008.

Obama spoke to a packed house, and in that speech Obama declared his unequivocal support for a single, undivided, unified Jerusalem to be now and always,  the capital of Israel. He stated that any agreement with the Palestinians " must preserve Israel's identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognizable and defensive borders, and Jerusalem will remain the capitol of Israel and it must remain undivided".

With Jerusalem being the most contentious issue in peace negotiations, with all of Jerusalem being the current capitol of Israel, including East Jerusalem captured during the Six Day War, and with Palestinians claiming East Jerusalem as a future capitol for a Palestinian state, Obama's statement gave him what he wanted. A standing ovation from the 7,000 +  Jewish-American attendees in the audience and the prospect of winning the all important Jewish vote in all important Florida.

But Obama also got something he didn't bargain for. But should have.  The following day, when the Palestinian leadership and the Arab world heard about his speech they went predictably ballistic.

Because in the long and tortuous road to trying to find an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, the issue of  the final status of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem was the single most contentious, divisive, and controversial of all the issues to be resolved.

Because of this, every negotiator or team of negotiators in every administration over the last 50 years attempting to forge a peace deal, even those who privately supported a unified Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel,  insisted that the final status of Jerusalem be saved for last.

The reasoning was simple --  if negotiations between both sides could get to the point where all  other issues had been resolved and compromises made and the final issue to be resolved, the last hurdle, was the final status of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem in particular, both sides would be more inclined to make whatever compromises might be necessary to seal a deal and make the elusive two state solution a reality rather than see all the concessions, compromises, hard work and agreements previously made fall by the wayside.

So for Obama to essentially render negotiations useless from the very beginning as far as the Palestinians were concerned and to publicly proclaim before even being elected much less before a single negotiating session was scheduled, that the Palestinians had no chance of gaining even a sliver of East Jerusalem as the capitol of a Palestinian state, not only infuriated and enraged the Palestinians and the Arab world, but  by any measure,considering the seriousness and importance of that single issue, how contentious and emotionally charged it is for both sides, and vital to a peace deal,  Obama's speech could rightly be called, incompetent,  reckless, self serving, negligent, irresponsible, even stupid. It was said purely for his own political gain which showed how unqualified he really was for the office he was seeking.

For Obama or any presidential candidate to have made such a public declaration even if he believed it privately, and do it in a campaign speech over such a contentious issue, one that had bedeviled so many for so long,  especially since the United States needed to be seen as an honest broker between the parties even in light of its alliance with Israel, betrayed an incompetence and lack of an ability to grasp the seriousness of a major foreign policy issue left everyone in disbelief.  Even if that proved in the end to be the final status of Jerusalem, he couldnt have said anything to undermine the United States role in the peace process that any more incompetent.

Yet Obama managed to make things worse.

Less than 24 hours later, after Obama learned of  the Palestinian reaction which should have been no surprise, Obama tried to do what he has done many times before and since and has become famous for --  he reversed himself and backed away from his statement in a way that he thought would allow him to save face,  reverse course,  do damage control or undo the damage he did,  and hope others would swallow his explanation.

Obama claimed that everyone, the news media, the Israelis, the Palestinians, everyone,  simply misunderstood him.   He claimed that when he said he supported a unified single undivided Jerusalem,  he didn't mean a single Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel after all. Instead he claimed he meant  " a Jerusalem with no barbed wire".Which once again proved that Obama believed in nothing and his words are only designed to get whatever personal advantage he thinks his words might bring at the time. 

As everyone knew there hadn't been any barbed wire in Jerusalem since 1967 when East Jerusalem was captured by the Israelis in the Six Day War. So Obama trying to claim that he only meant that he was supporting something that had already been a reality for 41 years was met with more disbelief and even derision than his original statement. And mocked.

And made matters even worse. 

Obama's backtracking infuriated many Jews in the United States and Israelis and even before his election soured his future relationship with Netanyahu for all time which continues to this day. He also soured his relationship with Abbas.  And as a result of alienating both sides  it's understandable that Obama has had less influence over the Israeli-Palestinian issue than any president before him. He began with no credibility with either side even before he was elected and he still has no credibility. It was also the beginning of the end of Obama's credibility in the Middle East on any level  and, as the world has seen, eliminated any chance to broker a peace deal.

Obama's two faced approach was even more solidfied when, as recently as Sept. 2012 the State Department refused to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel in a complete about face from Obama's 2008 speech,  and stated that "the status of Jerusalem is an issue that should be resolved in final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians". 

With Hamas firing hundreds of rockets a day into Israel and Israel retailiating by destroying Hamas' ability to make war, Obama, almost feebly, claimed he was ready to broker a peace deal. It was, predictably ignored by everyone, including Netanyahu, Abbas, even leaders of other countries since it was accepted reality that Obama had no leverage and no credibility with anyone. And if anyone needs more proof that Obama himself knows he has no leverage, its how conspicuoulsy absent he is from both any negotiations and any public statements leaving it all up to Kerry.

If  Obama accomplished anything in that 2008 speech, it's that he did manage to do something that no other president has been able to do and it has continued throughout his presidency.  And that is, he united the Israelis and the Palestinians on one important issue.  Their mutual contempt for him. And distrust.

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