President Obama has claimed many times to be a steadfast friend of the state of Israel. He certainly found bold words to convey that impression when he addressed the AIPAC conference in 2008:
We know that we cannot relent, we cannot yield, and, as president, I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security . . . not when there are still voices that deny the Holocaust, not when there are terrorist groups and political leaders committed to Israel’s destruction, not when there are maps across the Middle East that don’t even acknowledge Israel’s existence, and government-funded textbooks filled with hatred towards Jews, not when there are rockets raining down on Sderot, and Israeli children have to take a deep breath and summon uncommon courage every time they board a bus or walk to school.
The presidential aspirant went further. In the same speech, he proclaimed that “there is no room at the negotiating table for terrorist organizations.” The president didn’t touch on the matter of borders, but he did pledge that “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.”
But since taking office, the president’s actions have been anything but friendly. By publicly demanding in 2009 that Israel halt all settlement activity, he stepped into the role of negotiator for Mahmoud Abbas, who had not, before then, made participating in talks contingent on such a moratorium. (Afterwards, he could do nothing else.) By announcing American demands on Israel at the United Nations — a seat for virulent, Israel-despising despots — the president betrayed his promise to stand by the lonely democracy in the Middle East, and, in fact, contributed to the atmosphere of menace toward Israel.
The president’s concept of friendship toward Israel was capacious enough to permit him to insult the nation’s prime minister during a Washington visit because Netanyahu had not agreed to stop building apartments for Jews in Jerusalem, and to instruct his secretary of state to engage in a 40-minute dressing-down of the PM for the same offense.
Now Obama claims to have found a new expression of friendship — the demand that negotiations over a future Palestinian state begin with the assumption that Israel will relinquish all of the disputed territories acquired in a defensive war 44 years ago. Is the president again serving as chief negotiator for the Palestinians?
The president claims a warrant for his unprecedented demands on Israel — pressure to withdraw to what Abba Eban called “Auschwitz borders” — from the Arab Spring and what he perceives to be the dangers of “procrastination.” It’s an interesting word choice, suggesting that Israel has been reluctant to make peace.
An actual friend of the Jewish state might look at things differently. Did President Obama notice that Mubarak’s exit, however well deserved, has thrown into the doubt the most important peace treaty Israel was ever able to sign with an Arab neighbor? Egypt, which had been, at best, an intermittent ally in thwarting Iranian arms shipments to Hamas, has now become much more cordial with Tehran, with unknown consequences for the sensitive border between Egypt and Gaza.
The president has been slow to comment on it, but surely he has noticed that Syria is in flames and that Bashar al-Assad has already attempted to divert anger away from himself and toward Israel by sending hundreds of Palestinians to breach the border on Israeli Independence Day. Turkey, formerly Israel’s best Muslim ally, has slid into hostility under the leadership of an Islamist party. At the U.N., the General Assembly will vote in September on declaring the statehood of “Palestine.” What then? Will Israel’s efforts to disarm the Palestinians in Gaza be considered an act of war against a sovereign state?
And what of the Palestinians, with whom Israel would presumably be negotiating these “land swaps”? The president acknowledged that “Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with those who do not recognize its right to exist.” How to account then for Obama’s timing? The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have just inked a unity accord. After the ceremony in Cairo, Mahmoud Abbas made clear that Hamas had surrendered none of its extremism to get the deal: “It is not required of Hamas to recognize Israel. We will form a government of technocrats and we will not ask Hamas to recognize Israel.”
Yet at this, of all moments, President Obama chose to issue a public demand that Israel preemptively surrender its essential security buffer of land. It’s nothing less than a reward for Hamas and for the Palestinians’ unswerving dedication to Israel’s destruction.
A false friend can do more damage than an open enemy.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.