Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank won’t bring peace to the Middle East, no matter what the White House says.
Israel has no better friend than the United States. Israeli governments and the Israeli public listen eagerly to the advice proffered by Israel’s American friends. Sometimes we tend to agree and take the advice, other times we respectfully disagree. We know that the intentions are always the best. The two countries’ common strategic goals lead one to believe that generally what is good for America is good for Israel, and what is good for Israel should be good for America. But what if an administration in Washington adopts a mistaken policy, one that’s not good for America and is not likely to be good for Israel?
Unfortunately, the record of American foreign policy in the Middle East over the past four years has not been good; mistakes have been made. In an essay in The Wall Street Journal on Saturday, Walter Russell Mead, a Democrat, a former senior fellow at the American Council on Foreign Relations and now a foreign affairs professor, writes: “The Obama administration had a grand strategy in the Middle East. It was well intentioned, carefully crafted and consistently pursued. Unfortunately, it failed.”
Mead lists five big miscalculations about the Middle East made by Barack Obama’s White House: misreading the political maturity and capability of the Islamist groups that America supported, misreading the political situation in Egypt, misreading the impact of America’s strategy on relations with its two most important regional allies (Saudi Arabia and Israel), failing to grasp the new dynamics of terrorist movements in the region, and underestimating the cost of inaction in Syria.
Most Israelis will agree with this assessment. American attempts to bring democracy to Iraq have failed, as have American attempts to promote democracy in Egypt. To the list of misjudgments might be added the American misreading of the situation in Iran and of the political situation in Israel.
To the list of Obama’s misapprehensions, Mead adds the president’s misreading of the character of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom he once referred to as one of his five best friends on a wide range of issues, but who has more recently been condemned by the U.S. government for offensive anti-Semitic charges against Israel. Remember that on Obama’s recent visit to Israel, still during his honeymoon period with Erdogan, he convinced Benjamin Netanyahu to swallow his pride and apologize for the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident. The expectation that this uncalled-for apology would normalize Israeli-Turkish relations quickly turned out to be no more than fantasy. It was bad advice.
So what advice is Obama, through his emissary John Kerry, giving Israel these past few months? He’s telling Israel, in almost so many words, to abandon Judea and Samaria. The Middle East is aflame from Iraq to Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, while Jordan is in an unstable equilibrium. Israel is the only island of stability in the region, but Obama turns his attention to the one area that’s relatively quiet because it’s under Israeli control – Judea and Samaria – and advises Israel to abandon it and turn it over to Mahmoud Abbas.
This presumably will bring peace and quiet to the Middle East. It must be said that this judgment is likely to be mistaken, as have so many other judgments on the Middle East made by the White House in recent years. It’s more likely that rockets launched from the areas to be abandoned would fall on Israel’s population centers, and Israel would be forced to take military action in defense of its civilian population. For Israel it would be a high-risk venture, for America a mistake.
It’s bad advice.