Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Obama's visit to Israel, a disaster to come?

By the time this will be posted on my blog president Barak Obama will be in Israel, or just about to. His long awaited, not so long awaited, necessary, not necessary visit will finally take place.
If you follow all the discussions in media, from MSNBC to Fox, the visit is not about advancing the peace process. It is about winning over the Israeli public. As Jeffrey Goldberg puts it: "Crack the Israeli code".
Why is that important?
Popularity never hearts in politics, and without the backing of a popular figure the peace process cannot gain popular support. So it is about the peace process. It is just that other US presidents did not need to do that. They always enjoyed a strong popularity among the Israeli public; especially George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Obama on the other hand has the lowest popularity figures any serving US president ever had. Therefore, if he wants to push the peace process forwards, he need to increase his popularity among Israelis.
It is a separated discussion as to why his popularity so low. The more urgent question is, is it doable?
Yes, it is doable. Israelis like liking American presidents.
That does not mean it is going to happen. Judging from the remarks Deputy National Ssecurity advisor Ben Rhods gave to the Israeli press corps, optimism has little to hold on to.
All the damage is in this quote:

Presidant Brack Obama (right), and Deputy National Ssecurity advisor Ben Rhods (left).

"The US believes that Israel must show it is serious about its peace efforts. It must convince the general Arab public, if nothing more to maintain Israel's peace treaty with Egypt."

This statement is wrong on several levels. First it is patronizing. Friendly atmosphere cannot start with telling people they must behave themselves. Even if the patronizing is correct. The problem with this patronization is that it is neither. It is not correct it and it is not incorrect. Each side has its own ideas as to what is serious about peace and what is not serious about peace. In a peace process the peace broker is not suppose to give the two parties another reason to bicker.

And it gets worse, because the way Ben Rhods phrased his advice he already took a side in a dispute that has not happened yet!
He took the side of Egypt. This alienates Israelis because from their point of view they have already made a series of territorial concessions, with security risks attached. Some may not consider these concessions serious since the settlements continue to expand. Right or wrong this is precisely the kind of a debate a peace broker hopes to avoid.
But in peace making debates like this are nothing more than headaches. Now, these headaches are not fun, to say the least. Ask James Baker III; ask Madeleine Albright; ask Henry Kissinger. But broken peace accords are worse.

Right now Egypt is ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a popular political party that opposed the peace process vehemently. It is reality and American pressure that prevents them from breaking it. Since Ben Rhods took Egypt's side, he gave them a way out of the peace accords. With each side having its own ideas as to what 'serious about peace' is, all the Egyptian leadership has to do is to use Ben Rhods remarks as a go ahead is to constantly claim Israel is not serious about peace, back it up with mass street demonstration, which they can arrange easily. Until finally they have an excuse to break the Camp David Peace Accords. Needless to say, the Camp David Peace Accords are one the most important achievements of American foreign policy. Something both Democratic and Republican administrations worked hard to achieve and maintain.
None of these had happened yet, thankfully. All that is needed is for the most powerful man on earth to express this logic publicly. The impression from the discussions in the Israeli media is that is not going to happen. Let hope these impressions are correct since Ben Rhods is the one writing the president's speeches for president Barak Obama visit to Israel.

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