Conventional Wisdom

09.05.12

Contra The GOP, Obama Upheld The Status Quo

Last night, former U.S. Representative Robert Wexler assured the Democratic National Convention that President Obama has not, contrary to right-wing scuttlebutt, thrown the Jewish State under a bus.

He praised Obama’s "heartfelt, steadfast commitment to the state of Israel," going on to say, "Over the past four years, the President has proven this commitment time and again, in both word and deed." Then Wexler listed ways in which Obama has improved Israel’s military advantage, "bravely stood up for Israel in the international community," and acted to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Wexler said all these things as if the fact that my President had done absolutely nothing new was supposed to make me feel better. But as a Jewish voter who was very excited to cast her ballot for Barack Hussein Obama in 2008, not only am I disappointed—the fact that the Democratic Party is essentially trying to out-AIPAC the Republicans just adds to the disappointment.

Given what Candidate Obama said before the election, and what President Obama did after his inauguration, I thought I had every reason to believe that his Administration would be different from those before it. I thought the Obama White House was going to make a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a priority.

On the campaign trail, Obama said a viable, contiguous Palestine "is in Israel’s interest"; his first phone calls from the Oval Office were to the Palestinian President and Israeli Prime Minister; and in March 2009, he told the press:

The status quo is unsustainable, [it’s] critical for us to advance a two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side-by-side in their own states with peace and security.

After all this, how was I to guess that not only would the Obama White House fail to do anything even remotely bold to re-start negotiations (other than the-settlement-freeze-that-wasn’t), but that his Administration would literally veto its own settlement policy at the UN to keep Israel happy? How was I to guess that Obama surrogate Robert Wexler—a man who resigned abruptly from Congress in 2009 to head the Center for Middle East Peace, no less—would be trotted out to tout Obama’s tough-guy bona fides (and throw out a one-sentence nod to the notion of a Palestinian state)?

The possibility of building a lasting and mutually acceptable two-state peace is significantly slimmer than it was in January 2009. Israel’s settler population has ballooned to some 650,000, and the Gaza Strip lives under an Israeli-led blockade that threatens to make life there "unlivable" within a decade. Since Obama’s inauguration, Palestinians have killed 25 Israelis, and Israel’s security forces and settlers have killed more than 400 Palestinians. Hamas has held on to power in Gaza despite the blockade, and Palestinian anti-corruption efforts show just how endemic the problem remains within the Palestinian ruling class. Moreover, 71 percent of Israelis and 68 percent of Palestinians feel there’s virtually no chance that an independent Palestine will be established in the next five years.

These problems don’t change the fact that Palestinians still need and deserve a state, and it seems I should be able to expect the Democratic party to recognize that fact ("in both word and deed," as the man said)—or at least do a better job of it than their competition. But the unpopular truth is that Israelis need a viable Palestine, almost as much as Palestinians do.

Israel itself needs to resolve both the refugee and Jerusalem issues and negotiate security arrangements, and simply put, none of that will happen if America isn’t there to encourage, cajole, brow-beat, and ultimately, provide guarantees.

It’s entirely possible that any Obama efforts toward this end would have failed, and we’d be stuck here anyway. All human effort is vulnerable to failure, and neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians have made any of this easy.

But the other unpopular truth is that 48 years of occupation and militarized conflict management have not made Israel secure, and allowing both to continue does Israel no favors.

But of course, as Peter Beinart wrote yesterday, "The real message of the Democrats’ 2012 platform is exactly the one Republicans have been longing to hear: We give up." I don’t really expect a re-elected Obama to do in his second term what I so fervently hoped he would do in his first.

And I’ll be voting for him anyway. I’m a Democrat, and like 96 percent of American Jews, Israel is not my only issue.

But I admit that I will cast my vote with a heart weighed by disappointment and heartbreak. President Obama had a chance to make history, and instead, he repeated it—and Israelis and Palestinians continue to pay the price.

Mr. President: Please prove me wrong.