Saturday, April 06, 2013


Steve Kramer (
President Obama descended on Israel just before Passover, a very inconvenient time for the residents of Jerusalem. Days ahead of time, streets had to be closed to traffic near the venues the president was set to visit. During his visit, traffic came to a standstill for hours at some locations. Even more inconvenienced were the residents living near to the Prime Minister and President of Israel's residences. They were subjected to continual ID checks and weren't allowed visitors during this crucial time. Nevertheless, Jerusalemites and almost all Israelis were pretty satisfied with Obama's performance.

Performance is the correct word, for every event and every public pronouncement of the American president was carefully choreographed. This was necessary to overcome the deficit in respect and affection that Obama had caused by his visit to Egypt, shortly after his inauguration in 2009. In Cairo, the president spoke to an invited audience of students and Islamist party members, cozying up to the Arabs, promising them a new American agenda, and "showing the love" he had for them. 
That in itself was not likely to elicit a good response from Israelis, but there was more. 

In Cairo, the president directed his talk specifically to the Muslim Brotherhood members (who had been seated up front), thus elevating their status. He did mention Israel, but strictly in contemporary terms, giving the impression that the State of Israel had no ancient roots in the region and was almost a direct result of the Holocaust. So, not only were Israelis offended, so was Mubarak, who was later discarded by the Obama administration in favor of the Brotherhood. 

Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in Cairo the president called for a mandatory halt in Israeli construction beyond the Green Line (1949 Armistice Line). The icing on the cake was the omission of Israel from the presidents 2009 itinerary, in favor of Turkey, whose democratically elected, Islamist leader (Prime Minister Erdogan) became one of Obama's closest cohorts. 

Obama's visit last month was a different story. The places chosen to visit emphasized Israel's deep roots in the region (The Shrine of the Book and the model of Second Temple Period Jerusalem at the Israel Museum); Zionism (the grave of Theodor Herzl at Mt. Herzl National Cemetery); and the Holocaust (Yad Vashem). The words he uttered during his public pronouncements were soothing to Israelis, validating Israel's ancient history and promising to "have Israel's back" regarding Tehran's nuclear threat. 

However, the question is, how much do the president's statements to Israelis mean when taken in the context of promises previously made by former presidents. We've been burned before by "amnesia" on the part of sitting presidents.

Here are selected statements made by sitting presidents, with bolding added :
Jimmy Carter: "It's absolutely crucial that no one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our number one commitment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace. It's a special relationship." (1977)
"I would rather commit suicide than hurt Israel." (1977)
"I am opposed to an independent Palestinian state, because in my own judgement and in the judgement of many leaders in the Middle East, including Arab leaders, this would be a destabilizing factor in the Middle East and would certainly not serve the United States interests." (1980)
"We are committed to a Jerusalem that will forever remain undivided with free access to all faiths to the holy places." (1980)
President Carter was later to become an apologist for the Palestinians, an avid anti-Zionist, and published the scurrilous book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid."

Ronald Reagan: "Israel exists; it has a right to exist in peace behind secure and defensible borders; and it has a right to demand of its neighbors that they recognize those facts. In the pre-1967 borders Israel was barely 10 miles wide at its narrowest point. The bulk of Israel's population lived within artillery range of hostile Arab armies. I am not about to ask Israel to live that way again." (1982)
Reagan began the sale of  powerful American armaments when he approved AWACS radar planes for Saudi Arabia. He supported the UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the attack on the Osirak nuclear facility and he punished Israel following Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights.

George W. Bush: "As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion." (2004)
"The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel. That's a threat, a serious threat. It's a threat to world peace; it's a threat, in essence, to a strong alliance. I made it clear, I'll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel." (2004)
President G.W. Bush was a great supporter and enabler of Saudi Arabia, which funds terrorism against Israel on its own, and through Hamas. Bush opposed the construction of Israel's security fence and refused to repeat President Clinton's denunciation of Yasser Arafat as a "terrorist."
All quotes are from

Barack Obama: "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop." (2009)
"The core issue right now is, how do we get sovereignty for the Palestinian people and how do we assure security for the Israeli people? If we solve those two problems [sovereignty and security], the settlement problem will be solved. ... Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state."(2013)

Israelis heard President Obama's words, in Cairo (2009) and just last month in Ramallah. In truth, no other president has been so frank with the Palestinians, basically telling them to get over the issue of settlements and recognize Israel as "Jewish," so this breakthrough is promising. However, it was Obama who raised Palestinian expectations in the first place in 2009. 

We know that Obama can "talk the talk." But will he "walk the walk" concerning Israel's security, both with the Palestinians and with the Iranians? And even if he does, what about the next president, who will not necessarily be bound by previous presidential promises? Clearly, Israel's most significant bulwark against Islamic jihad is Israel itself.

Buddies?                                photo:

Stephen Kramer, Author
"Encountering Israel - Geography, History, Culture"

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