By Larry Gordon
Prior to the midterm elections, we spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on the disappointing nature of the Obama presidency. Now that they are over with and the Republican Party has a historically dominant control of both houses of Congress, it is on to bigger, better, and possibly even more important things.
Obama remains undaunted and even energized. As Timothy Egan wrote in last weekend’s New York Times, referring to the colossal thumping Mr. Obama took in the midterm elections, “The president has been liberated by defeat, becoming the president that many of his supporters hoped he would be.” In Obama’s America, the moment of definitive failure and defeat is the perfect time to declare victory.
That said, there are so many other things to dwell upon and analyze. Perhaps chief amongst the myriad of topics is the election campaign in Israel and what it means for Eretz Yisrael and Jews everywhere. These are changing times for Israel. The struggle for the existence of Am Yisrael seems to be part and parcel of the daily evolution of the world.
Israel seems to yearn for that day when it can be secure and can relax, but those two restful characterizations of the Jewish place in our world seems somewhat at odds with the reality as we know it. It is as if our struggle is who we are; it is the definition of our state of being.
That, it appears, is the goal of the long-talked-about but less-likely-than-ever two-state solution. There is definitely a majority in Israel that would reluctantly support the idea of two states if it could come about through some kind of workable and effective formula. To utilize the idea, however, as a way to shrink and weaken Israel, has very little support amongst Israelis.
And so it was a few weeks ago that Bayit HaYehudi head Naftali Bennett told the Saban Conference in Washington DC that it is time to try some other options to improve the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians in view of the fact that the two-state idea is just not happening.
The moderator at the conference, former U.S. ambassador to Israel and U.S. lead negotiator Martin Indyk, offered an incredulous look of disbelief as he calmly informed Bennett that in his estimation there is no alternative to the two-state formulation.
Bennett told those gathered that as a businessperson, if you have consistently tried to do something a certain way and it just does not work no matter how many times you try, you have to summon up the courage and fortitude to admit failure and try something new.
And guess what—President Obama said the same exact thing last week, but not in respect to the Middle East situation. “In my bones I know that if you have a certain policy for 50 years and it doesn’t work, it’s time to try something new.” The president was referring to his plan to reestablish diplomatic ties with Cuba after a half-century of there being no relationship between the U.S. and her neighbor 90 miles off the South Florida coast.
Israel and the U.S. have been talking about this two-state business in reference to Israel and the Arabs since 1967 and perhaps longer. So in a sense what Obama was saying last week about Cuba is almost identical to what Bennett was telling the Saban Conference.
And it’s a good idea to start something new after a half-century of getting nowhere with Cuba. So it seems that the president’s thinking is somewhat aligned with Naftali Bennett’s—except when it comes to Israel.
The Castro family—Fidel and Raoul—are not giving up so quickly on their family business. But with Russia distracted and somewhat down and out and with oil prices sending their patrons in Venezuela trying to figure out their next economic move, the Castros figure that at this stage of the game they might as well see what they can get out of the U.S.
That they will not give up on the failed communist system and will not entertain the notion of elections in their lifetimes does not seem to trouble Mr. Obama in the least. The Castros are brutal dictators who have tortured and abused their citizens for decades. Obama is right that just isolating and ignoring them does not seem to be changing anything. But what does establishing diplomatic ties with them accomplish?
It was good that the deal with Cuba made the release of Alan Gross, an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development, possible. That Gross was held for five years for trying to assist the small Jewish community in Cuba is not, by any stretch, a reason to bring the Castros into the 21st century. Mr. Gross should have been released a long time ago, but the president was unwilling to release Cuban spies held in U.S. jails in an exchange.
Prominent Cuban Americans have spoken out in opposition to the president’s move, believing that the reestablishment of relations offers the Castro brothers a reward for running an oppressive regime for decades. It is additionally interesting that what troubles Mr. Obama about policy in Israel gets shrugged off and set aside when it comes to Cuba. The president said last Friday that normalizing relations with Cuba will take some time and that “the two countries would continue to have disagreements.”
When Israel and the U.S. have disagreements, it is usually combined with a U.S. threat to reevaluate the nature of the relationship and perhaps reconfigure policies going forward.
This past weekend’s New York Times included an editorial bemoaning the “dream of Palestine.” Israel has for a long time and repeatedly made efforts to create an environment of cooperation so that the two peoples could coexist. What is clear, but what the U.S. is unable to effectively articulate, is that there is no one on the Palestinian side of the equation to make peace with. After all, what is the point of the 92-year-old Shimon Peres entering into a peace agreement with the 81-year-old Mahmoud Abbas?
Now as things twist and turn, with new elections on the horizon, the Obama administration finds itself in the awkward position of having to soft-sell its radical-left approach to Israel and peacemaking, lest the electorate there become alarmed, motivating people to come out and vote for an even more right-wing government than Mr. Netanyahu has presided over these last two years. The odd thing is that no candidate vying for leadership in Israel is actually willing to surrender territory to the Palestinians to create a state of their own. The difference between the candidates for now is who is willing to talk about it and who is not.
Whatever the various parties stand for, they are all quite a distance from anything resembling a White House lawn ceremony where disagreements and misunderstandings are formally signed by the parties.
And now, a word about incendiary rhetoric. Whether it is Mahmoud Abbas telling his people to do whatever necessary to keep Jews away from exercising their rights to visit the Har HaBayit or Mayor Bill de Blasio referring to attacks on police officers on the Brooklyn Bridge as “alleged attacks,” as you can see, that type of loose and irresponsible talk has terrible consequences.
This business of being fair and evenhanded in the equation between protesters bent on violence and those in authority is abysmal and has no place in a structured and civilized society. Whether it is in Israel or New York, rhetorically encouraging violence or creating an impression that there is some legitimacy to that type of destructive activity is misplaced and needs to be wholly rejected.
In Israel, a number of innocent people have been murdered, and in New York last week two police officers were executed, and leadership gave the impression that there might be a place somewhere that action like that is understandable. They need to backtrack and apologize and, more importantly, change their ways.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.