Aaron David Miller is no ‘Zionist ideologue’ (a phrase that he himself has used pejoratively). He is not a fan of Jewish settlements east of the Green Line, and he has said that
Palestinians deserve an independent state living in peace and security alongside Israel. They’ve suffered enough; their cause is just and compelling.
He recently wrote this about the Levy Commission report, which concluded that Jews have a right to live in Judea and Samaria:
Israeli settlement activity continues unabated. In fact, in a truly bizarre and tortuous bit of twisted logic, a recent report by a committee created by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually recommended sanctioning the Israeli activity.
My regular readers know that I applauded the Levy report as a breath of fresh air which could finally bring the government of Israel out of the ghetto it voluntarily created when it ceded its legitimate rights and adopted its enemies’ language of ‘occupation’.
And while I think that Palestinian Arabs have certainly suffered, I also think that the “Palestinian Cause” is no more or less than a racist war against Jewish self-determination — and that the agent of Palestinian suffering has not been Israel, but rather the truly awful Arab leadership.
So Miller and I are not at all on the same page. On the other hand, he has worked for six American Secretaries of State as an adviser on Israeli-Arab negotiations, and has written four books and countless articles on the Mideast. The least we can do is listen to what he says.
And what he says about the prospect of a second Obama Administration is foreboding indeed. After criticizing Netanyahu for not “trusting [his] own instincts” and therefore being untrustworthy himself (yes, I know, “tortuous” and “bizarre” logic), he turns to Obama:
If Bibi seems weak, Obama has left no doubt that he has strong views when it comes to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. And he hasn’t changed his views of Israel or Netanyahu, even if his first failed run at the peace process and the impending presidential election have caused him to back off.
I’ve watched a few presidents come and go on this issue, and Obama really is different. Unlike Clinton and George W. Bush, Obama isn’t in love with the idea of Israel. As a result, he has a harder time making allowances for Israeli behavior he doesn’t like. Obama relates to the Jewish state not on a values continuum but through a national security and interest filter. [I wish! — ed.]
It’s true that the president doesn’t emote on many policy issues, with the possible exception of health care. But on Israel, he just doesn’t buy the “tiny state living on the knife’s edge with the dark past” argument — or at least it doesn’t come through in emotionally resonant terms.
As the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson reported, Obama doesn’t believe the “no daylight” argument — that is, to get Israel to move, you need to make the Israelis feel that America will stand by it no matter what. Quite the opposite: Obama appears to believe that Israel needs to understand that if it doesn’t move, the United States will be hard pressed to continue to give it complete support. [i.e., it will throw Israel to the wolves — ed.]
In this respect, when it comes to Israel, Obama is more like Jimmy Carter minus the biblical interest or attachment, or like Bush 41 minus a strategy. My sense is that, if he could get away with it, the president would like to see a U.S.-Israeli relationship that is not just less exclusive, but somewhat less special as well.
Right-wing Israeli leaders have found ways to cooperate quite closely with American presidents in the past. But this time around, it’s not so easy.
There are just no good answers to the region’s problems. The peace process is stuck, and Iran’s quest for a nuclear weapon seems impervious to sanctions or diplomacy. The Arab world is going through changes that will introduce even more uncertainty into Israeli calculations and make risk-taking on the peace process less likely. And as the president might say, let’s be clear: Netanyahu is not going to offer the Palestinians a deal on Jerusalem, borders, or refugees that they will accept. Indeed, on the issue of a peace settlement, Obama’s views are much closer to the Palestinians than to Israel.[my emphasis]
Whatever one thinks of Miller’s ideological stance, he is a professional who has been around for a long time and who knows all the players. At the beginning of his article, Miller quotes Sen. John McCain’s remark that “Everybody knows that relations with Israel have never been worse,” and after describing some of the bad moments under Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush I, admits that McCain is “on to something.”
And the problem is not only one of policy and perceived interests, it is personal, with Obama’s dislike of Netanyahu a matter of public record.
It seems to me that not only are relations between Israel and the US worse than ever, they have the potential to get much worse if Obama is reelected and is no longer constrained by electoral politics.
And it is the worst possible time for this to be the case.