Saturday, May 23, 2009

Some Evidence Of Change

This week's jaunt over to Watching America was another educational excursion. Some of the issues covered include China-US relations, Russia-US movement toward nuclear weapon reduction talks, the swine flu epidemic, and the recent visit of Benjamin Netanyahu to the US.

It was that last issue which I found most interesting because the television coverage I saw earlier this week (the post-meeting "smiley-faces") seemed to imply business as usual between the two countries. My assessment, according to the various articles posted, was wrong. President Obama's policy towards Israel and the Middle East just might be moving toward a more balanced view of that region and its number one problem, something Israel's new Prime Minister must not appreciate.

The article with what I found to be the most cogent analysis of that meeting came from Germany's Berliner Umschau. Written by James Kling (and translated by Watching America), the article has a concise and accurate summary of the complicated issues facing this administration: the two-state solution, right of return, settlements, Jerusalem, and Iran. For that summary alone, the article is worth the read.

What interested me more, however, is Mr. Kling's assessment of what appears to be a shift in approach by the US when it comes to Israel, a shift which just might be possible because of a change in opinion in America itself when it comes to Israel.

Barack Obama is the first American president in a long time to acknowledge that America’s interests don’t necessarily always coincide with Israel’s, and that Israel’s latest hard-line government is now actually acting against America’s interests in the Near East. That fact was brought home to Israel’s new prime minister of six weeks when he visited Obama in Washington. ...

...Because Israel owes its very existence to the U.S., America can’t very well turn its back on it. If an American president were to even consider doing so, he would be committing political suicide. The pro-Israeli American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) openly admits to being a pro-Israel lobby, and it has enormous influence. More importantly, Obama would be unable to count on the Democratic Party, because many members of Congress would be running the risk of losing their seats in the next election if they supported him.

Gradually, however, the atmosphere is changing. People within the government now realize that it is America’s one-sided support for Israel that makes any agreement with the Arabs impossible. And things are changing across the nation itself: If the most recent opinion polls are accurate, a majority of Americans no longer sees U.S.-Israeli interests as congruent; they support a two-state solution, they support the right of return for displaced Palestinians (or at least compensation for them) and they are in favor of allowing Hamas to take part in peace negotiations.

If Mr. Kling is correct, and I do hope he is, President Obama has a real opportunity to move the difficult process along without being seen as sacrificing Israel's very existence. What it will take is real leadership, but, even with all my complaints with Mr. Obama as expressed here since January, I believe he has that quality. He certainly has the right policy team for the issue. Both Secretary of State Clinton and Middle East envoy George Mitchell have the chops for the job and the ear of the President, something that can't be said for the last administration.

So, yes. I am hopeful. I am also cautiously optimistic.

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