For many years, Barack Obama was known as a person endowed with emotionless “coolness” and presidential alienation. So why is it that on his last days in the White House he is suddenly running wild and trying to leave his mark on what he failed in the past few years?
Even more troubling is the following question: Why has Israel become the litmus test for Obama’s legacy? Why is the outgoing administration trying to set historical precedents—which it failed to bestow for such a long time—on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of all issues?
The deep political and cultural rift between the Democrats and the Republicans, which has taken over the United States, as well as the war of honor and values between Obama and President-elect Donald Trump, have made the battle over Obama’s legacy particularly intensive, and the outgoing president has been trying in his last weeks in office to create a policy and consciousness that won't be easily changed.
People in Washington are talking about Trump’s arrival at the White House as a revolution, not just as a political upheaval. There is a spirit of an uncompromising zero-sum game: Everything I gained you lose, and the other way around. Obama is therefore trying to push an unconstrained policy of his own, to precede such a revolutionary administration.
These moves contradict the spirit of continuity of government embedded within American democracy. The United States Founding Fathers set a long period of time between the elections and the change of administration in order to allow for an “organized transition of power,” not as a time for leaving a legacy. But the fact that Trump is perceived as a person who is out to erase Obama’s legacy—including his health and environmental policies, together with eroding multiculturalism in favor of a “white America”—has led to the serious deviation of the outgoing administration. Obama is no longer acting according to the tradition of restraint, as a “transition administration.” This is particularly true on issues in which his basic policy differs from the vision of the new administration, which is coupled with his obsession to leave his own legacy.
Different explanations have been offered for the sharp change towards Israel: Until recently, Obama chose not to clash with Israel over the Palestinian issue because of the Arab Spring and because of his emphasis on the Iranian nuclear issue. In the past year, he preferred not to push the Palestinian issue so as not to harm Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. He wanted to create a stately appearance and maintain the American rules of the game. But now, the barriers have been broken, and Israel has become a playing card in the conflict between Obama and Trump.
Israel, however, is not just a victim and a passive player. Instead of escorting Obama’s weak administration with an embrace until it gets off the stage, while mentioning its support for Israel’s security, Israeli officials acted arrogantly and expressed their support for Trump, strengthening the outgoing administration’s inclination for revenge.
It was Israeli foolishness that contributed to the diplomatic tragedy: “The occupation,” on the last days of Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, has been fixed as the uniting symbol of the progressive camp in the US and in the entire world. It now stars in the progressive lexicon against the “danger of Trump” and against “the populism of the Right,” which are allegedly threatening Western democracy.
This is, of course, a complete distortion of reality, and a serious deviation by the administration, which promotes a legacy that provides a moral justification for Israel’s critics and Zionism’s opponents. Obama and Kerry’s irresponsibility is fed by the arrogance of the leaders in Jerusalem, who have managed to position the settlements high in the international consciousness just in time for the change of administration. We have singlehandedly turned the settlements into part of the equation of the “Obama legacy versus the Trump era.”
Obama did not plan it that way, but has since jumped on the bandwagon in the Security Council vote and taken revenge against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Right, which arrogantly turned Israel into a pawn in internal American battle. We were wrong to make it easier for Obama and Kerry to look for a “legacy” at our expense.