Avi Shamir

What Confuses Washington

In the grand scheme of things, the US has always had a clear Middle East policy: Firstly, Israel has the right to defend itself from hostile enemies and should be provided with a military advantage to guarantee its security. Secondly, Israel must withdraw from territory that it occupied in the Six Day War as a political solution for its conflict with the Palestinians.
Anyone who identifies with the Zionist Left should see no contradiction between those two points, though most folks on the Right would surely disagree – but let’s not get into Israel’s internal argument. No Israeli can deny that Washington has been consistent on both sides of its Middle East strategy when no less than nine US presidents going back to the Johnson Administration have provided Israel with generous military aide and also called on Israel to make a territorial compromise. In fact, these guidelines were in the same spirit as those of Johnson’s predecessors, Truman, the first US President who supported Israeli statehood, Kennedy, the first US President who sold Israel military equipment, and Eisenhower, the only US President who told Israel in plain English to give back territory (the Sinai, in 1956) and got what he wanted without a big fuss. In brief, attitudes may change, but US policies on the Arab-Israeli conflict haven’t changed much over the years.
If so, one would expect the Obama Administration to carry out America’s longstanding policy with a clear voice. Lately, though, it seems every time Obama gets involved with the Middle East – and I can cite examples from Lybia to Iran, but let’s keep things simple – he makes Uncle Sam seem like a stranger in a strange land who doesn’t speak the language, understand the natives or know what he’s doing. Why does Obama look so confused, and why does Secretary of State Kerry look like he could crawl into a hole? Can any rational person explain how the President of the United States and his leading diplomat suddenly find themselves in cahoots with a radical Islamic terrorist group that uses hospitals as launch pads for rockets, digs tunnels under mosques to terrorize Israel and uses petrified Palestinian civilians as a human shield? Is it just a misunderstanding, or is the leader of the free world pushing Israel to agree to cease fire terms that favor the horrifying Hamas and their strong supporters in Turkey and Qatar.
I sure hope it is a misunderstanding, and would expect Obama to make a complete about-face like the shrewd politician he is, say “Yes We Can” one more time and right the course of his floundering administration.
He can do this by taking two big steps: One, to declare that the US now backs the Egyptian cease fire proposal which, on the face of it, doesn’t award the Hamas any points, a moral victory or a way to face the Palestinians they betrayed with claims like “we won!” Two, and this is the real sticking point: The US must state clearly that it stands behind Egypt’s new government, which last year threw out the ruling Moslem Brotherhood who just happen to be the big brother organization of the very same Hamas.
These reversals can atone for past blunders made by the Obama Administration, namely: its shameful support of the Moslem Brotherhood and their closely allied terrorist organization. It is inconceivable that the world’s greatest democracy and longtime friend of the only democracy in the Middle East can so misjudge what democracy stands for that it backs a dictatorship run by religious fanatics who came to power in a free election, or a terrorist group that also managed to get itself elected. If Washington is confused by the “goodness” of free elections, it would do well to get over its confusion – the same way it once got over the freely elected Hitler.
Can Obama pull off this abrupt U-turn without looking like a fool in the eyes of his critics? The better question is: Can he afford not to? Sure, the criticizers are always ready to jump all over a politician who zigzags his way to sincerity. But while many or most politicians are reluctant to face their public with the simple admission that they made a mistake, many of the people who vote for them are just plain suckers for honesty. The lame duck Obama no longer needs their votes, but unless he wants to go down in history as the American President who really blew it in the Middle East he better own up and come clean.
Until he does, Israelis who call themselves Zionist Left or mainstream can deliver a plain message to Obama: We appreciate that you’re giving us all that money for the Iron Dome, which is saving so many lives, and we understand that you want us to negotiate a political settlement with the Palestinians, which can save many more lives. But if you care at all about your good name, don’t let it get mixed up with Hamas.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.
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