Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Obama In Jerusalem: The Contradiction

This from Aluf Benn, one of Israel's most respected columnists:

To the Israeli establishment, McCain seems like the natural choice. With his white hair, expression lines and combat experience, he embodies the Israeli concept of leadership - a kind of American version of Yitzhak Rabin or Ariel Sharon. If McCain continues Bush's policies, Israel will benefit from the term of another U.S. president who understands its needs.

Obama represents an exciting option, albeit a more dangerous one: If he manages to rehabilitate America's international stature, reduce its dependence on oil and push through peace between Israel and the Arabs, Israel's strategic situation will improve dramatically. But on the way, he might have to pressure Israel. If he fails, Israel will have to pay the price without reaping any returns.

The contradiction in Benn's little piece is almost universally shared, and it explains why reading the newspaper with breakfast will give you reflux until about noon. Obama's approach will, according to Benn, dramatically improve Israel's strategic situation. But to get there, he will have to "pressure Israel"--that is, force Israel to do what is in its interest. McCain, on the other hand, looks like Rabin, will continue Bush's "beneficial" policies, and understands Israel's "needs."

And what's the "price" Israel will have to pay if a peace initiative fails? That it will have no peace, you mean like the price it is paying now?

None of this makes sense unless you understand the psychological code. What Israelis feel above all, alas, is the fear of rejection and abandonment. A friend is someone who lets you do what you want; someone who will overlook your "faults"--you know, the occupation, the settlements--and will not embarrass you in the world-at-large by calling attention to things you might do differently; someone who defines the world-at-large in a way that makes you seem necessary.

Less friendly is someone who believes, as Obama does, in the process of building cooperative agreements, collective security, etc., and who will therefore actually look at what the parties to a conflict are doing to exacerbate their problem
, that is, ask "what if everybody did that?"; someone who supposes all sides should be mutually respectful, and will offer criticism as diagnosis, not as condemnation.

Anyway, Benn's main point is that Obama is trying to influence American Jews, not Israelis. He might be interested in a new about-to-be-published J-Street poll, which asked American Jews:

Would you support or oppose the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict if it meant the United States publicly stating its disagreements with both the Israelis and the Arabs?

Over 85% said, "yes," 41% "strongly.