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President Barack Obama Photo: AFP
President Barack Obama Photo: AFP
 
UN Security Council Photo: AFP
UN Security Council Photo: AFP
 
 

Mideast can go to hell

Op-ed: Following midterm elections defeat, Obama’s foreign policy dictated by domestic voices

Alex Fishman
Published: 02.20.11, 17:31 / Israel Opinion

The American veto in the United Nations Security Council over the weekend is prompting Israel’s leaders to shut off their ears and mind. They insist on not understanding the message arriving from Washington: The Middle East can go to hell; the only thing that matters today is the presidential elections.

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The American veto was meant to appease the domestic needs of President Obama. The veto does not carry any positive message for the region. The opposite is true. And so, status quo fans in Israel, as well as Arab objectors to the diplomatic process, can rub their hands with glee. They win. The impasse shall persist. The Americans gave up on us. Should the diplomatic process resume, it will only happen after the next presidential elections, or after another wave of bloodshed in the region. Depends what come first.

 

Congress was the one behind the White House order to impose a veto on the Security Council decision to condemn Israel in the face of ongoing construction in the territories. When word got out regarding the upcoming condemnation, letters and calls were directed at the president and secretary of state by senior legislators from both parties. The letter urging the administration to impose a veto was signed within 10 hours by 100 legislators from both parties.

 

With this letter on his desk, the president engaged in a 50-minute conversation with Mahmoud Abbas, in an attempt to convince him to withdraw the condemnation proposal. However, Abbas was already trapped by his own decisions – he submitted the proposal, failed, and grew weaker.

 

In the second half of his term in office, Obama chose a new strategy. From the moment he discovered the extent of the midterm election failure, he has done everything in order to counterbalance the hostility against his policy. He went ahead with personnel changes meant to remove the most blatant and staunch ideologists among his loyalists. He set a new agenda: The era of clashes with the republicans is over. This is true both for domestic issues such as the budget and economy, and also in respect to matters of foreign policy such as the Middle East.

 

Clinging to diplomatic impasse

This is also the explanation for the American position vis-à-vis Mubarak in the first days of the Egypt uprising. There was no strategy, but rather, it was all about listening to domestic voices, from within the US. The left wing of the Democratic Party and the conservative camps in the Republican Party – each for different ideological reasons – view the democratic process as the solution to all global problems. With people domestically screaming democracy for the Arab world, Barack Obama told him Mideast experts to throw their papers to the garbage. For me, domestic politics is more important than Mubarak’s future, he said.

 

The same is true for the veto. The US did not impose a veto because it supports Israel’s policy. The House wanted to prevent the condemnation, and Obama sought to appease the House. Moreover, at this time the White House says that with this bunch of loonies in the Middle East, the diplomatic process will not be going anywhere regardless.

 

When Defense Minister Ehud Barak was meeting with the secretary of state, the national security advisor, and American defense minister last week, they expressed deep frustration. Yet today, given the new policy, they can no longer exert pressure.

 

Nonetheless, they fail to understand the Israeli indifference, which clings to the diplomatic impasse precisely now when the entire Mideast is in turmoil. You and us have a joint interest, they told Barak; propose a credible diplomatic plan for regional peace. That will save Abbas, it will save Jordanian King Abdullah, and it will remove the radical Islamist threat in Egypt ahead of the September elections. When the world around you shakes, don’t let the vacuum take over – because hostile elements will come in.

 

If the Palestinians don’t show up, it’s their problem. Yet you, Israel, would be able to at least minimize the de-legitimization wave against you in the world, the Americans said.

 

Barak brought this message back to Israel, and officials in Jerusalem added another layer of cement to their brains.

 

 

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