By P. David Hornik
Thursday, April 09, 2009
ISTANBUL, TURKEY - APRIL 7: U.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan tours the Blue Mosque on April 7, 2009 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Getty Images)
“In the Middle East,” President Obama told the Turkish parliament on Monday, “we share the goal of a lasting peace between Israel and its neighbors. Let me be clear: the United States strongly supports the goal of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”
He added: “That is a goal shared by Palestinians, Israelis, and people of good will around the world. That is a goal that the parties agreed to in the road map and at Annapolis. And that is a goal that I will actively pursue as president.”
His words give rise to a few responses.
First—less importantly—Obama’s mention of Annapolis was a clear rebuff to Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s statement last Wednesday that Annapolis does not obligate Israel. Less importantly because Lieberman was speaking off the cuff and not necessarily voicing government policy; the new government has meanwhile launched a major review to determine its stance on Annapolis, the road map, and related issues.
Second, and more importantly, in “strongly support[ing] the goal of two states” Obama was openly rebuffing Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in a way that he would not—openly—rebuff the leader of any other democratic ally. On a central issue that affects Israel’s security and survival, Netanyahu has refused to commit himself to the “two-state solution” and instead has said he does not want to rule over the Palestinians but also does not want to give them powers—like control of air space and borders, an army, and the right to make alliances with other states—that could mortally threaten Israel.
In Ankara on Monday, Obama was addressing the parliament of a country that is 500 miles wide, and is himself the leader of a country that is 3000 miles wide. To enable the creation of a Palestinian state, Israel would have to shrink from its current width of 50 miles to no more than 10 miles at one of its most crowded points. Obama was saying that the Israeli prime minister’s red lines in that regard don’t count as far as he’s concerned.
Finally, Obama’s assertion that two states are “a goal shared by Palestinians and Israelis” can be challenged on a factual level. Regarding Israelis, various polls get different results depending on wording. In this one last February, for instance, Israelis were asked: “In light of the experience with disengagement, the Second Lebanon War and the war against Hamas in Gaza, do you support or oppose the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria?” The result was 51% opposed and 32% in favor. The right-wing bloc’s overwhelming win in Israel’s latest election also speaks for itself.
As for the Palestinians, just last week a poll by the Norwegian Fafo institute came up with results that directly contradict Obama’s words, finding that only one-third of West Bank and Gaza Palestinians support the two-state solution while the rest favor other “solutions” such as a single Islamic state or a “single state with equal rights for all.”
Meanwhile, as the Passover holiday approaches, the Israeli army and police will be raising their alert level and increasing deployments throughout the country. This is in response to “nine concrete warnings on terror organizations’ plans to carry out attacks and dozens of general warnings of shooting attacks, abductions, suicide bombings and firing of rockets and mortar shells.”
The security forces are especially concerned because of the recent uptick in terror attacks, including the killing of two traffic policemen in the Jordan Valley on March 15, the near-mass casualty attack on a Haifa mall on March 21, the ax murder of a 13-year-old boy in the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin last Thursday, and a thwarted shooting attack on a Border Police base near Beersheba by a 15-year-old Israeli Bedouin girl on Saturday—along with a surge of rocks and firebombs thrown at Israeli cars in the West Bank, a spate of bulldozer attacks in Jerusalem, and ongoing intermittent rocket fire from Gaza.
The still-unsolved killing of the traffic policemen and the mall attack are thought to be the work of organizations possessing terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank and Israel, with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda variously mentioned as suspects. As for the still-unsolved ax murder and the thwarted shooting attack, they were the work of individuals—in the former case, apparently a West Bank Palestinian man; in the latter, as mentioned, an Israeli Arab teenage girl—who were infused with the murderous hatred that is systematically instilled by Palestinian and Arab media, education, and religion.
The situation is serious enough that Israeli security forces fear that a new intifada may be in the making. Security forces also express concern at the increased involvement of Fatah—the allegedly moderate party of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas—in the terrorist activity and say “foreign forces are cooperating” with the Fatah elements.
In light of all this, Obama’s words in Ankara about “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security” as an imminent policy goal are clearly surreal and admit of two explanations. One is rhetorical submission to a Muslim world that is perceived, consciously or subconsciously, as too economically, diplomatically, demographically, and militarily powerful to defy.
The other is that Obama—as many have already claimed—wants to steamroll the new Israeli government. Netanyahu is working hard to find delicate formulas and approaches that will satisfy both Obama and Israel’s fundamental needs. It didn’t work with President Clinton.
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Tel Aviv. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.