By Barry Rubin, PJ MEDIA
To put it plainly, the press briefing supposed to indicate how President Barack Obama’s thinks about Israel on the eve of his trip here, is a combination of fantasy and insult. It is likely that the Obama Administration made such statements for show, to persuade the Arabic-speaking world on the even of Obama’s trip that the United States is striving for peace, is not acting like a puppet (or should one say, ally? of Israel) and using its influence to change Israeli policy even as it does nothing of the sort.
As proof that Obama isn’t going to do anything, he reportedly told Arab-American leaders before his trip that he wouldn’t make some peace initiative because the government in Israel is not ready to make concessions and so there is no point in bringing pressure to bear at this time. I see that as a mixed statement. On one hand, he isn’t going to pressure Israel because he knows that to be a waste of time. That’s good.
Yet the premises on which this argument—as repeated in the public briefing of the media—is based can also be described as believing that what the Arab public really wants is progress toward peace with Israel and that the United States sees the ball as being in Israel’s—not the Arabs—court.
The other premise is a strange hint that Washington has suddenly realized what Israel has understood since the beginning—that the “Arab Spring” isn’t going well. Now it feels the need to explain to Israeli leaders what they have long known, and give bad advice on what to do about it.
To show how mainstream Israelis who follow these issues closely see these themes, let’s quote how the Ynet reporter who covered the briefing—the respected and nonpartisan Yitzhak Benhorin—summarized what Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said. Here’s his lead:
- “U.S. President Barack Obama will not be bringing a peace plan to Israel, but he will try to convince Prime Minister Benjamin and the Israeli public that after the Arab Spring, Israel cannot depend on autocrats holding everything together in the region..”
Here’s a president arriving at a moment when Israelis think the region is falling apart, with old autocrats being replaced by new ones and a more hostile environment, and the message is: You shouldn’t be complacent that everything is great?
Where does this come from? It is the American conception that the “Arab Spring” is a great thing, that old autocrats are falling and will be replaced by more democratic and moderate regimes. That is American; not Israeli thinking.
If that theme is based on fantasy, the second theme is insulting. Here is the second paragraph of Benhorin’s analysis:
- “The U.S. believes that Israel must show it is serious about its peace efforts. It must convince the general Arab public, if nothing more than to maintain Israel’s peace treaty with Egypt.”
These are Benhorin’s words, not Rhodes’ exact formulations. But I think Benhorin reads the message properly.