Monday, December 01, 2008

The Future is Now

With the US presidential campaign behind us, it's worth revisiting a question often raised over its course, particularly on the day the President-elect officially announced his foreign policy and national security team: what will an Obama administration mean for Israel? For those who encountered the insinuations of Clinton surrogates during the primaries, floating here and there around the Internet, that Obama isn't the friend Hillary is to the Jewish state, today's announcement of her nomination for Secretary of State, I think, is a reminder of the cynicism of such campaigning. By surrounding himself with Clinton, Biden, a cadre of establishment generals, and by retaining the services of Defense Secretary Bob Gates, Obama isn't giving any indication that the "special relationship" is subject to the "change" we all eagerly anticipate. For the time being, at least, he'll have silenced the fear-mongers in the American Jewish community. Provided that his reorganization of the American defense budget doesn't cost Israel, if he maintains the status quo, Obama will inevitably be seen by some as "good for Israel." And isn't that what this is all really about? Will he be "good for Israel?" What we should consider, then, is what that really means: what is good for Israel? Roger Cohen's opinion piece in today's Times urges "tough love." Cohen riffs off of Ehud Olmert's Yediot interview from September, now translated and excerpted in the New York Review of Books. In the interview, Olmert takes a hostile stance toward the military leadership in discussing a legacy that he's clearly ambivalent about. What the generals and the demagogues don't understand, the PM argues, is that the Golan is going back to Syria, (this or that hilltop is "worthless"), and almost all territory conquered in '67, minus a few bits that will be exchanged for territory currently within the Green Line. Jerusalem will have to be divided. As I recall, Olmert's proposal for the compensatory land is mostly Negev desert that will be used to provide a link between Gaza and the West Bank in the future, final Palestinian state. I'm curious to hear what people think of Cohen's column -- or Olmert's proposal. I can't find much in the column that is, to me, objectionable. When I consider all this, I ask myself whether the Obama administration can provide what John McCain called a "game changer:" a new element in the stale mix of fear, resentment, demagoguery, and domestic political imperatives that prevents a breakthrough in Israeli-Arab relations. Will the preternaturally calm President who is an out-and-out friend of a Palestinian intellectual change the dynamic with his very demeanor -- all his freshness? Freshness will fade, but, alas, there's hope. Or will a second Clinton profit from the lessons learned by the first? And what's wrong with tough love? What else will persuade a government led by Bibi in coalition with right-wing religious parties to crack down on the illegal settlement activity that American diplomats and American power have in recent years so miserably failed to rein in?


Amos said...

My main problem with Roger Cohen's piece is that it reduces the search for a successful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to one of Israeli willpower. He, like Olmert (after all these years of doing nothing!), reasons that if Israel were only nudged hard enough by the U.S. to compromise on some key issues, we could see peace in the Middle East almost immediately. What is the role of the Palestinian organizations and their various agendas in this picture?

I also think this statement is potentially misleading:

For the time being, at least, he'll have silenced the fear-mongers in the American Jewish community.

I know that you are referring to a small group of fear-mongers, but this makes it sound as if Obama stood in some kind of antagonistic relationship vis-a-vis American Jews as a whole. As you know, the election results showed the opposite to be true. The small core of fear-mongers, many of whom were not autochthonous to American Jewry, would have opposed any other Democratic presidential candidate with similar demagoguery (with the exception of the Islam "accusation"). They cannot be silenced and are not worth engaging. The vast majority of American Jews simply do not fear Obama.

As for Obama's friendship with Rashid Khalidi, I am not sure how out-and-out it is anymore, though I could be wrong. I can't imagine that Khalidi is very pleased about the foreign policy direction Obama has taken since entering the Senate.

Noah K said...

By out-and-out, I mean Obama has never denied being friends with Rashid Khalidi. And I don't think the relationship was superficial or intellectually irrelevant -- if you look at the back story on Obama in Chicago. See today's Ha'aretz on this, by the way. Yeah, Khalidi's not happy about Obama's "Israel policy." My point is about the fresh perspective he brings to the conflict, which I can't help but think will be fresher for having discussed at length with such a figure. I'd say the same if he'd had the relationship with Edward Said.