By Larry Gordon
It seemed that after the election it would be smooth sailing, at least for a while, for President Barack Obama. In the aftermath of his significant victory and the affirmation that most of the country shares his outlook on many issues, no one could have anticipated what was coming next.
For my part, I cannot resist looking at this from a Middle East peace perspective and the perpetuation of the delusional idea that there is some kind of parity and good faith on both sides of the Israel-Arab equation.
Despite the myriad problems and situations that the president’s administration needs to tackle here at home as well as abroad, like so many presidents before him, Obama cannot resist locking his radar on Israel and the prospects for a lopsided peace. He’s looking for some kind of positive accomplishment somewhere. And frequently that’s where Israel comes into the picture.
Just looking at Mr. Obama’s face as he spoke at a news conference a few days ago communicated the impression that he is mired in increasingly difficult situations. No, they are not the equivalent of the ten makkos that the ancient Pharaoh had to deal with in Egypt over 3,000 years ago, but they are beginning to look awfully similar.
Now, do not misunderstand. I believe that although hesitant and possibly even reluctant, President Obama has done right and good by Israel. What the circumstances are behind what motivates him may be less about idealism or a pro-Israel stance than it is about political pragmatism. On that count we have become accustomed to viewing results in isolation without investigating too deeply why the president is doing what he does for Israel. Still, there is more courage and fortitude needed if progress is ever to be made in the region.
As we can see from Secretary Kerry’s almost every-few-weeks visits to the region, the president is anxious to get something right, and historically that means pressing Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. We know that this old formula does not and never has worked, but that does not mean that we cannot try one more time.
But then, lo and behold, there are these distractions that suddenly have the president looking anxious but feigning a lack of concern. Amongst the things on his plate is the matter of the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya along with three security personnel back in September.
It may have taken a little more than four years, but the country is finally getting the hang of the Obama zigzag rhythm when he is dodging an issue. On the murders in Benghazi, after they occurred the president announced that it was too early in the investigation to know what had happened and that coming to a conclusion was going to take time. So he asked the American people to be patient and allow the administration to figure out what had happened, make sure it does not happen again, and then bring the perpetrators to justice.
Then we became occupied with the election and the time flew by. Fortunately, there were those in Congress and elsewhere who would not let it go. Seven months elapsed, however, and now the presidential spokesman said that while they still could not say definitively what happened in Benghazi, it was now a long time since those events; I think he was inferring that what precisely happened was difficult to recall.
The crowning moment of the Benghazi fiasco was probably Hillary Clinton’s testimony before Congress. When asked what the circumstances were that led to the four American deaths, she said in exasperation, “What different does it make?” and added that the four were dead and that her only job now was to make sure it did not happen again.
Then recently we rolled from Benghazi right into the IRS scandal where Americans—mostly those who did not support the reelection of the president—found themselves on the opposite side of an audit. Just a few days ago the White House said, contrary to what they tried to make us believe earlier, that top officials in the administration knew about the IRS abuse of power over certain citizens and organizations but that they did not tell the president. Now they would like us to believe that the president found out about the brewing scandal by reading a newspaper. Doesn’t Mr. Obama have a computer? Doesn’t he watch Fox News sometimes?
And then it was revealed that the Justice Department had been tapping the phones of a number of Associated Press reporters in an attempt to discover the source of leaks from the administration to the news service.
There are few things in this country as sacred as press freedom, and when that is trespassed or infringed upon it is in and of itself a matter of scandal proportions. So now Congress wants to subpoena Mrs. Clinton to discuss Benghazi, they are waiting for IRS whistleblowers to emerge, and the administration is trying to excuse its way out of trying to intimidate and impinge upon our press freedoms.
On a somewhat related matter, it is only because Obama is surrounded by a whirlwind of brewing scandals that someone like Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid can say what he said on Monday to the New York Times. It was only a press interview, but Lapid, who is still a somewhat rising star on Israel’s political horizon, rained significantly on at least some of Barack Obama and John Kerry’s plans for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. First he said that he did not think that Israel should curtail building in the settlement communities in any way. Then he said that he believed that Jerusalem should never be divided. Wait a second—this is the centrist hope for Israel’s future in the post-Netanyahu era. Where are the American or the European peace deals without withdrawing from Judea and Samaria and dividing Jerusalem?
As you know, Lapid indulges in some pretty silly rhetoric about religion, expounding frequently on how proud he is of not being a religious Jew. But it looks like even his delight in his lack of religious observance might be part of the important role he will be playing in Israel’s future. After all, not being a religious Jew is usually compatible with the ideas of other secularists who are ready to relinquish everything in exchange for a wink and promise about peace from the other side.
Yair Lapid, though, turns that equation on its head. So far, he is saying what he thinks are new and creative things, but in reality they are just confusing and even a little wacky. About those who reside in remote settlements or about those concerned about the future of Israel, Lapid says, he does not agree with those who say, “G-d will help us.” And then he tells the Times reporter, “That is not a tangible idea to me.” I guess that is the big news: Yair Lapid cannot see or touch G-d.
This gives Obama and Kerry hope that amidst all the tzoros they are experiencing, there is hope in Lapid. But then in the same story, he says, “Jerusalem is not a place, it is an idea.” What?
Lapid got one right—Jerusalem should never be divided. But he also got it wrong. It is a nice poetic lunge to say Jerusalem is an idea, but there is nothing more physical and material that is simultaneously filled with spirituality than the ancient city of Jerusalem. So Yair does not see it. It’s annoying, but does it really matter?
The talk about two-state solutions and returning to negotiations may be a wonderful thing to think about and discuss. But that doesn’t really matter either as Mr. Obama is kind of distracted with those makkos at the moment. v
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