He’s yet to resolve the rest of the chaotic and dangerous Mideast, but President Obama seems intent on ending his second term the way he started: with a push for a Palestinian state.
Both attempts were punctuated by official trips to Israel by Vice President Joe Biden.
That first trip, in 2010, was marred by a scandal of biblical proportions. A low-level Israeli official approved a first stage of a future plan to extend some housing for Jews in the northern section of its capital, known (for some reason) as East Jerusalem.
Obama’s rebuke, complete with a leaked angry call between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was heard around the world. The Bam-Bibi Cold War was officially launched. It’s not over.
Biden’s current visit was marked by a Palestinian murderous rampage in several Israeli cities Tuesday. In Tel Aviv, a Palestinian knifed and injured 10 Israelis. He also killed a visiting American, 29-year-old Taylor Force, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The attack took place less than a mile away from where Biden was at the time.
Biden condemned terrorism and incitement and urged Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to do the same. Abbas, instead, expressed condolences over the death of the American — and went on to blame Israel’s policies for the terrorism (which he habitually glorifies).
Israeli police suggested Biden’s visit triggered the rampage, but no one at the White House said it was a Palestinian “slap in Biden’s face.” No one at the State Department called Abbas to express Obama’s outrage.
Instead, there’s new talk of an American push for a UN Security Council resolution that would set parameters for a future peace agreement. Obama, after all, is a great believer in the United Nations. As he told The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in a new interview, “multilateralism regulates [American] hubris.”
But the United Nations is also where Israel can’t get a fair shake — as even Obama’s diplomats admit. Plus, Abbas lacks the legitimacy to make a deal.
Netanyahu’s wary about creating yet another failed, hostile Arab state on his border, even as the rest of the region boils. And as we learn from Goldberg’s interview, one of Obama’s solutions for the rest of the region is that the Saudis will learn to “share” the Mideast with Iran.
Yet, that’s the same Iran that just ridiculed Obama’s nuclear deal this week with fresh testing of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Those missiles were marked, in Farsi, “Israel must be erased from history.” And, always wary of mistranslation, the mullahs added in Hebrew: “Israel must be erased from the earth.”
When Netanyahu in the past stressed Arab enmities and Iranian threats over the need for a Palestinian state, Obama’s aides complained about him “lecturing” the president. In one such visit, Goldberg writes, Obama returned the favor: “I’m the African-American son of a single mother,” and “I managed to get elected president of the United States. You think I don’t understand what you’re talking about, but I do.”
Lecture for lecture. Personal history will trump existential concerns.
This week, as Israelis bled in the streets and watched how Iran’s threats are met with no more than a shrug from the international community, the White House quibbled about who should be blamed for the fact that Netanyahu passed on the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting in Washington next week with Obama.
Netanyahu likely declined because he didn’t want to lend credibility to a brewing “peace plan” — a legacy project that he believes is bad for his country.
The now-infamous Bibi-Bam war may be part of what the president sees as a “doctrine”: A courageous pushback against some invisible “foreign policy establishment” in Washington. As Goldberg observes, Obama “is willing to question why America’s enemies are its enemies, or why some of its friends are its friends.”
So rather than spending the first days of his last spring in office with an Israeli leader, Obama will be in Cuba. And never mind that his plan to meet dissidents there seems to be fizzling. Instead, he’ll spend his day in Havana watching a Tampa Bay Rays game against Cuba’s national baseball team.