U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Swissvale) spoke to a Jewish audience in Pittsburgh last week, spending a good chunk of time on Israel and the current problems between the Obama administration and the Jewish nation.
Doyle wanted to assure his audience that while there are certainly “bumps in the road” between the United States and Israel, there is no need for any real concern because the alliance between the two countries is strong and always will be. He promoted his own record of support for Israel, though he didn’t specify any single position or vote he’s taken, and defended the Obama administration’s recent scapegoating of Israel as strictly policy differences that would be ironed out and having no real impact on the “special relationship” between the two nations.
Doyle’s assurances ring hollow, but more than that he is defending and promoting the Obama administration’s mistaken and dangerous policy.
Pressuring Israel will not get the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The notion that being tough with Israel is going to help garner support among Arab nations to confront Iran’s nuclear ambitions is false. Also, Obama’s stance toward Israel indicates that he takes for granted that Jews will vote for him in 2012, no matter what.
President Obama believes that arguing with Israel about settlement building is going to get the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel. The evidence is exactly the opposite. Once Obama took a hard line about “settlement construction” in the West Bank last year, so too did Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who suddenly refused to join direct negotiations until a complete settlement freeze was declared. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to a temporary West Bank freeze, Abbas would no longer agree to direct negotiations, preferring instead mediated proximity talks. Then when Obama threw a hissy fit over 1,600 apartments in east Jerusalem, the Palestinians refused to join even proximity talks. And a recent poll that “surveyed 1,356 Arabs in the Palestinian Authority, ages 18 and over, including 500 residents of Gaza” shows that current Palestinian public opinion mirrors Obama’s hard line. According to the poll “the vast majority of respondents — 78.6 percent” now oppose “any form of negotiations with Israel if the Jewish State does not cease ‘settlement’ activity.”
But what about gaining momentum among Arab states to confront Iran by pressuring Israel to the negotiating table? This is also a working premise of the Obama administration strategy and it, too, is false.
As Ray Takeyh recently explained in the Washington Post, “The notion that the incumbent Arab regimes are reluctant to collaborate with the United States on Iran because of the prevailing impasse in the peace process is a misreading of regional realities.” Takeyh argues that the Arab states are eager for someone to confront Iran as long as it doesn’t include them. “In private… [the Arab states] decry Iran’s ambitions, fear its accelerating nuclear program and even hint at the advisability of using military force against its atomic installations. Yet they are loath to be part of an aggressive strategy, which they would see as unduly antagonizing the Islamic Republic.” And according to Takeyh’s analysis Iran isn’t worried about its Arab neighbors or even the threat of U.S. military retaliation for building a nuclear bomb.
What Tehran does worry about is Israel. “Unlike the Arab states, Israel approaches Iran with resolution. And unlike the United States, Israel is not entangled in conflicts that Iranian mischief can aggravate. Hamas and Hezbollah are not only unreliable proxies but ones that Israeli armor can handle. Fulminations aside, Iranian leaders take Israeli threats seriously and are at pains to assert their retaliatory options. It is here that the shape and tone of the U.S.-Israeli alliance matters most. Should the clerical oligarchs sense divisions in that alliance, they can assure themselves that a beleaguered Israel cannot possibly strike Iran while at odds with its superpower patron. Such perceptions cheapen Israeli deterrence and diminish the potency of the West’s remaining sticks.”
Finally, Obama’s belligerence toward Israel only highlights how much he discounts Jewish voters. Indeed, it is Obama’s Press Secretary Robert Gibbs who explained this fact. Gibbs raised the issue with the president recently, piping up at a briefing during a discussion about escalating tensions with Israel. Gibbs chimed in “to make sure the president understood the ‘conventional wisdom’ promoted in the media, that Obama’s toughness with Likud hard-liners would potentially erode his domestic Jewish support,” Gibbs described. Obama didn’t agree. “For a lot of reasons, [Obama] would discount that,” Gibbs said.
President Obama has a lot of time before he’ll have to test his theory — but Doyle doesn’t. Doyle is supposed to be taking his orders from his constituents not the White House. Come November, everyone who cares about Israel can send him a message that the current policy is shameful and counterproductive and that taking Jewish votes for granted is a huge mistake.
(Abby Wisse Schachter, a Pittsburgh-based political columnist, blogs at www.nypost.com/blogs/capitol and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)