Does Israel Need Obama’s Tough Love?

LANNY DAVIS:Attorney/Former White House Counsel/Liberal Weasel/Clinton SpinDoctor !

I thought President Obama’s speech in Cairo, Egypt, was eloquent, historic, and could well be regarded as one of the most important foreign policy speeches ever made by any U.S. president.

Some American Jews did not like that Obama publicly called out Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for refusing to support a two-state solution and a freeze on all settlements. My answer is: Why is this? Mr. Netanyahu is breaking not only with the policies of three prior presidents, but of three prior Israeli prime ministers.

On the other hand, many American Jews and Israelis feel strongly that Obama should better understand that such public scolding of Israel, which breaks with the bipartisan tradition of prior administrations, will only strengthen the hardliners of Israeli (and Arab) politics, and thus, weaken Mr. Netanyahu’s ability to make peace, given his already fragile coalition government dependent on right-wing parties.

Most alarming to me were the negative perceptions of the speech that I heard over the weekend from American Jews who are the liberal Democrats, in the president’s political base, and support a two-state solution and a freeze on settlements.

I don’t share their concerns about Obama, as I will discuss later. But here are the key facts omitted from the president’s speech that led to their anxieties:

1) The president seemed to compare the plight of the Palestinians to that of American slaves before the Civil War. This was seen by many American Jews as both inaccurate and insulting. The president failed to note that Israel does not treat Palestinians in any way comparable to the brutality of Southern slave owners and task masters.

2) When the president used the word “occupation” about Israel’s presence in the West Bank and, before 2005, in Gaza, many American Jews noted that the president ALSO omitted the following facts that would put that word in its proper context:

* Between 1947-1967, Arab nations at any time could have declared a Palestinian state, as Jordan controlled all the West Bank and East Jerusalem during that time period, including the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, and Egypt controlled all of Gaza. Why didn’t they?

* The West Bank and Gaza were “occupied” (as was the Golan Heights) only after Israel was attacked by Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt in 1967, with its very existence threatened.

* In 1999, under President Clinton’s leadership at Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an independent state comprising all of the West Bank, Gaza, and parts of East Jerusalem, and joint control over the holy places. Clearly that would have ended the “occupation.” The Palestinian leaders rejected that offer.

* In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew its “occupation” of Gaza and dismantled all of its settlements, including using the Israeli military to force resisting Israeli settlers out of Gaza. What followed? The terrorist organization Hamas, whose charter calls for the total destruction of Israel, launched 8,000 rockets and missiles intentionally aimed at killing innocent Israeli civilians, women and children.

3) The president entirely and inexplicably omitted in his speech any reference to Hamas and Hezbollah, two organizations that have attacked and killed thousands of innocent Israeli civilians and that the U.S. has long declared terrorist. This was so surprising to me that I didn’t believe it until I read and re-read the speech.

4) Most Jews on the liberal side of the spectrum agree with Obama that Jewish settlements on the West Bank must not continue, as they impede the peace process, although there is some debate about allowing natural population growth of current settlements. But Obama omitted the fact that Israel has more than 1 million Palestinians living within Israel as citizens – about 20 percent of the population — with full civil and voting rights and representatives in the parliament. If there is a two-state solution, why can’t Jewish settlers remain and even expand their communities as citizens of the new state of Palestine? The president never asked this question.

I found some of these omissions troubling too. But they do not lead me to doubt, even slightly, that Obama remains pro-Israel and committed to the safety and security of Israel. I believed his words, which seem to have been ignored by many of the critics I heard from