President Obama’s latest thoughts about the Middle East add to the confusion that seems to be his special contribution to American policy. It is right to support Arabs and Muslims who are in the street demanding justice and freedom. Unfortunately, Obama is too late in the day to have much practical effect. He should have spoken out two years ago, when the Iranian extremists rigged their election and fired on demonstrators, just as he should have spoken out two or three months ago when the Syrian president Bashar Assad started to kill his people. In both cases, silence indicated that Obama’s heart wasn’t in it. To say now that Assad must make a transition to democracy or “get out of the way” is just verbiage. What transition? And how is he to get out of the way without being helped at gunpoint to do so? And there is no explanation of the utterly mysterious approach to Libya; Obama demanded that Qaddafi get out of the way but refuses to implement such a policy. Obama has infuriated the Saudis, which in itself is no bad thing; the kingdom is monstrously unjust and unfree. But when he omits any mention of the Saudis themselves and comes down heavily on their little dependency of Bahrain for shooting protesters, he’s either resorting to hypocrisy in the hope everyone will understand that American national interests have priority over morality, or he’s just unaware of reality.
Unawareness of reality is the least that can be said about his approach to Israel and Palestine. His promotion of the Palestinians rests on the pretense that their state would be normal. In fact, the Palestine Authority is only a miniature version of the usual one-man tyranny that millions of Arabs are now doing their utmost to reject. Moreover, the rivalry between Islamist Hamas and the quasi-secular rival Fatah is already a civil war in embryo, and their agreement to cooperate is a stage in the power struggle between them. Never mind that previous American presidents committed the United States to support border revisions and land swaps; no Israeli government can possibly agree to return to the pre-1967 borders. Besides, if more than a million Arabs live in Israel, why is the future state of Palestine permitted to declare that it will be Jew-free?
Obama advises Israel to be bold. “Bold” here means dividing Jerusalem, leaving the West Bank and in particular the Jordan valley in hostile hands, and it is really a euphemism for risking Israel’s security. His heart is evidently engaged in promoting the Palestinian cause, and it won’t take much more for this to end in another bout of armed conflict.