Friday, May 20, 2011

Why This Strategy? Why Now?

We write this post in search of answers rather than offering opinions.
Yesterday, the President gave a major address on our Middle East foreign policy.  In his remarks he offered his views on the Israeli/Palestinian dispute.  He said that any discussions about the disputed territories should start with the boundaries drawn up in the 1967 negotiations.
His remarks drew mixed reviews from all except the Israelis… they are pissed.  Those on the right, neo-conservatives, who are traditionally pro-Israel, felt that by insisting on the 1967 boundaries the President had thrown Israel under the bus.  Those on the left supported the President believing that he was simply trying to provide a starting point to get the talks moving once again.  Some say he went too far…other say not far enough.   
Today, The President will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  This meeting between the two leaders was already predicted to be contentious given what has been described as their “frosty” relationship. In light of the President’s remarks a referee might be in order.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has already dismissed the President’s comments as “indefensible”.
What has us puzzled is why did the President choose to weigh in on this dispute…and why now?
We understand that Israel is a key military ally in the oil rich Middle East.  One former Secretary of Defense noted that having Israel in the region was like “having a large air craft carrier patrolling the area…a carrier that could never be sunk.”  Israel has supported our policies and proven invaluable in assisting our military and intelligence agencies.  With many of our European allies scaling back their military deployments due to economic restraints, Israel’s presence is becoming even more important.  The belief that the negotiations should begin with Israel turning over lands that they acquired since the 1967 negotiations is not new; nor is the Israeli response.
With all the changes going on in the Middle East the Israeli/Palestinian feud had been simmering on the back burner.  As we watched the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, Libya and now Syria the one thing notably absent was the burning of American and Israeli flags.  Once upon a time the hatred of the US and Israel was the cornerstone of the unrest in the Middle East.  Now, as demonstrations break out throughout the region, the protestor’s anger is directed toward their own government’s policies rather than on an ideological dispute thousands of miles away.  The seeds of democracy have been spreading rapidly over the past few months.   Why the President chose this time to turn the focus toward Israel and Palestine is confusing.
There is also an election to consider.  The Jewish community is very influential in American politics.  The American Israel Public Affairs Political Action Committee (AIPAC) is said to be the second most powerful lobbying group in Washington.  We wonder why the President would want to swat at this particular hornet’s nest at this particular time.  Poking a stick at these folks is a strategy with which we are unfamiliar.

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