It is not every day one can announce a shift in world history, but today is such a day. We are now in a new era, in the Middle East and the rest of the world. This is not a joke – definitely not a joke – and, as you will see, it is no exaggeration, either.
Let me explain. For the past seven weeks I have been in the United States, mostly in Washington, DC. I have spoken and listened to many people. As a result, I am in a position to describe to you with a high degree of accuracy what US policy will be for the next 3.5 years, and perhaps for many more.
The administration has crossed a line regarding, in simple terms, backing the “bad guys.”
This is literally true in Egypt, Syria, Sudan, the Palestinian Authority, Bahrain (with its support for the opposition), Qatar and Turkey. In some ways, as we will see, the war on terrorism has been turned into the war for terrorism.
Too extreme? On the contrary, this is not a conservative or liberal analysis, merely an honest one. Let’s take a serious look at Obama’s Middle East policy in the second term, from 2013 to January 20, 2017.
The real US diplomatic line is: Bad Netanyahu (and Israel) – why can he/they not be moderate and flexible (concessions like, say, releasing 100 terrorist murderers in exchange for nothing don’t count), like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas (and the Palestinians, who are actually inflexible, constantly escalate demands and reject US strategy on the peace process); or like Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (throwing intellectuals and journalists in prison, betraying US strategy on Iran, backing anti- American Islamists, and sending former army officers for long jail terms on phony charges)? During the coming months, and even years, if they are given to me, I will pursue these themes. You may not believe what you read here today or tomorrow, but eventually, you will.
Let me repeat: this is going to happen. As shocking as it might sound, it is in fact already happening. It is unavoidable, because with a president who will not learn, a bought-off elite, a sold-out second-term Congress and a remarkably cowardly or partisan media, nothing will change. The situation will only get worse and more obvious.
In this series of articles, I will describe eight things that will almost certainly happen during the rest of Obama’s term, and how to minimize the resulting harm to the interests of the United States and its would-be Middle East allies.
Here is the first of these inevitable themes, any one of which would be horrid enough. However, note they can all be mitigated and delayed.
Israel cannot depend on the US. That doesn’t mean Obama and others will not provide military aid or say nice things at every event, but rather that there is no US commitment that one can assume will be upheld nor any Israeli initiative that will really be implemented.
This is a complex issue, but here are some brief points: The idea that Obama and his team are the greatest friend of Israel is a deadly insult, and I can prove it in two minutes.
Minute one: The United States has undermined Israel on many issues. Do I have to provide a list? Okay, here’s a partial list: Egypt (support for a hostile Muslim Brotherhood government); Tunisia (ditto); Sinai (enabling insurgency); Hamas (the desire to keep the Brotherhood – an ally of Hamas – government in power in Cairo); Turkey (supporting the Islamist, anti- Israel government); Syria (support of radical Syrian Islamists); Europe (lack of support for Israeli position on peace process); America itself (encouragement of anti-Israel forces among Jewish community and in Obama constituency); Palestinians (lack of criticism or pressure on Palestinian Authority, PA).
I’ll save more for later, but I think this is an impressive enough list for starters.
Minute two: But wait, there’s something more here.
The most dangerous, insulting argument is this: Secretary of State John Kerry has repeatedly said – and this is the theme of the administration supporters, including Jewish supporters: The greatest danger to Israel is if Israel does not get peace soon.
This is an absurd lie. The greatest danger to Israel would be for Israel to accept a dangerous and unworkable peace agreement that the other side would not implement. In other words, the greatest danger for Israel would be to listen to the bad advice of Obama, Kerry and their supporters.
Consider: who should be more knowledgeable about Israel’s situation and more aware of its real interests, Israel or America? Do people think that Obama knows better than Israelis? That he cares more? That’s absurd and insulting.
A survey by (the very dovish) Israeli Democracy Institute showed 65.6 percent of Israelis questioned did not expect to see a deal in talks between Israel and the Palestinians within a year. And if you take into the account the don’t-knows and no-opinions, that percentage goes up.
In fact, 55.5 percent of the Israeli people – and 63% of Israeli Jews – said they were against Israel agreeing to return to the 1967 lines, even if there were land swaps which would enable some Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem to remain part of Israel. And the reason isn’t the terms ostensibly offered, but rather the credibility, or lack thereof, of the United States and the Palestinians.
But the US government and its supporters believe that the Israeli government in partnership with Obama should betray the beliefs, aspirations and security of the Israeli people.
And we are not only talking about Jewish settlements, even for those willing to give every one up for real, lasting peace.
To better understand what has just happened, consider the following analogy: Israel was walking down a dark alley in the belief that kindly old Uncle Sam – perhaps a bit grumpier lately – had its back. Then it peered over its shoulder and froze in horror at the sight of the terrifying monster just behind it. Yet you will never ever hear an Israeli politician admit that.
Read Netanyahu’s unprecedented memo on the talks and the prisoner release. It reads as if he had seen a ghost; he is trying to signal something very grim and serious, and there is no implication that he believes in any possibility of compensation for this concession.
Faced with the wasted effort of an extremely unilateral Palestinian prisoner release, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government went along because they realized something: This was not a routine exercise.
During the process, they realized that the indifference of the United States to Israel’s interests was extremely high; that Congress was hypnotized; that the Jewish community in its Obama worship was largely neutralized; and that rather than fighting European hostility, the White House was conducting it.
Looking over their shoulder in the misty night, they realized that a very large beast was following them. If you read Netanyahu’s unprecedented memo to the Israeli people as to why the terrorist prisoners were released, you get that clear signal. They realized that the Obama administration was extremely dangerous and that it was necessary to buy time.
Of course, the talks will not go anywhere, because the Palestinians know that they have a strong hand and they will therefore overplay it. But the US administration’s willingness to punish Israel to win public relations points and shore up the doomed US alignment with Islamists has to be reckoned with.
The author is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center (www.gloria-center.org), editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) journal and Turkish Studies. His forthcoming book is Nazis, Islamists, and the making of the Modern Middle East (Yale University Press).