Barack Obama: Israel’s true friend
Gideon Levy Open Democracy
Gideon Levy is a journalist with the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz
The United States president’s meeting with Israel’s prime minister offers Israel a future it must grasp, says Gideon Levy. 25 – 05 – 2009 It’s already clear: the United States president is a great friend of Israel. If Barack Obama continues what he started in his meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu on 18 May 2009, he might prove to be the friendliest president to Israel ever. Richard M Nixon saved Israel from the Arab states in 1973, and Obama is about to save Israel from itself.
Nixon sent Israel arms and ammunition at a critical time, and Obama is sending – at a time no less critical – the substance of a complete peace plan, a plan that would save Israel. All that remains is whether Obama stays determined and decisive as he was in the White House summit. In one moment he changed Washington’s madness and the attitude toward the Israeli occupation. Now it will be seen if he succeeds in altering the same madness in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
It’s a long road, and Obama began well. In a single move he shrank the fear-mongering of Netanyahu and his mouthpieces on Iran to its proper size. In a single move he put the centrifuges of occupation – the real existential threat to Israel – at the top of the agenda. He fended off Netanyahu’s attempts to divert attention from substantial issues, and blocked all efforts to waste more precious time on Iran and impose ridiculous preconditions on the Palestinians.
He also blocked all efforts to distract Israel with committees, promises for negotiations, formulas, declarations and empty words. These are Israel’s best tricks and games; anything to evade responsibility for the main issue – the end of the occupation. Obama understands that now is the time for an end to petty words, impotent negotiations and a hollow peace process; now is the time for big deeds and a courageous leap over the abyss. The one opportunity Israel’s “friends” in Washington have all suddenly shed their skin.
They, too, sense a rare opportunity in the middle east. They, too, are tired of what Binyamin Netanyahu has tried to peddle. They, too, understand that the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank must precede Iran’s nuclear reactor in Bushehr. How pathetic and heartrending was the sight of the Israeli prime minister sitting tense and sweaty, next to the new American president, confident, stylish, and impressive; without all the jokes and back-patting of Ehud Olmert and George W Bush. The latter was in fact the least friendly president to Israel – one who allowed it to carry out all its violent madness. How pathetic was the sight, yet how encouraging.
Perhaps Netanyahu learned something during his short and dramatic visit, notable for the way that Obama tore off the mask of so-called peace-loving Israel. If Netanyahu really feared for the fate of the country he would have immediately agreed, in the Oval Office, to all the ideas put forth by this fantastic president. If Israel does not respond, then the Israelis, the US president and the entire world will know that Israel does not want peace. An Israeli refusal of Obama’s efforts will reveal that there is no peace partner in the middle east (see Akiva Eldar, “The United States and Israel: moment of truth”, 18 May 2009).
The absent partner is an Israel which announces: no to peace with fifty-seven countries, no to a move that will neutralise the threat of the Iranian bomb, and no to two states now. This is not only a “no” to peace but also a “no” to a chance to end the war over Israel’s establishment with a major victory. This would mean that Israel’s greatest strategic asset ever, its alliance with the United States, would be destroyed. Binyamin Netanyahu may now endanger Israel even more than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (see Aluf Benn, “Netanyahu bringing Israel closer to war with Iran”, Ha’aretz, 26 May 2009).
Israel must be thankful to Barack Obama. A mere four months after taking office, he is trying to rescue Israel, the middle east, and basically the entire world, whose most dangerous conflict is this one. The threats are many; first and foremost refusals by Israel; a loss of interest by Obama himself; and Palestinian divisions. The ball is in Netanyahu’s court. If he ends the occupation, he’ll get peace and security; if he doesn’t, he won’t. It’s not about another minor deal, but about the future of the Zionist enterprise. Such an opportunity will not return. Yes, we can. Obama has proved it; now it’s Israel’s turn.