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The Acrobat

President Obama’s Middle East diplomacy seems to eschew symbolic triumphs in favor of a pragmatic vision that keeps all sides guessing. Israel could have a lot to gain by signing on.

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President Barack Obama at the AIPAC summit in Washington. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

One way to distinguish a truly gifted politician from the pack of run-of-the-mill political actors is by how long he can walk the tightrope between ambiguity and commitment while keeping the largest number of policy options up in the air. By keeping his audience guessing about his true intentions for as long as possible, the canny tight-rope walker forces the parties to any given dispute into the role of mesmerized spectators. Boo, and one of the balls might drop to the ground. Applaud, and maybe the juggler will keep juggling a while longer. The circus performer’s talent that is required here can be joined to any kind of politics, liberal or conservative, successful or not. Franklin D. Roosevelt had it. Yasser Arafat had it. Ariel Sharon had it. And Barack Obama has it.

Obama’s ability to maintain his balance without committing himself stood out in sharp relief over a dramatic four days in which both sides to the Arab-Israeli conflict tried to paint the president of the United States as a partisan whose judgment could not be trusted. Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath told the New York Times that the first of two presidential addresses on the topic—given last Thursday—“contained little hope for the Palestinians”; Obama’s second speech, delivered yesterday at the annual AIPAC policy conference in Washington, inspired a dismissive retort from Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, who said it showed that the U.S. government will continue “to support the occupation at the expense of the freedom of the Palestinian people.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters in the American Jewish community portrayed Obama as a betrayer of Israel—one who had either ignorantly or maliciously plucked crucial negotiating cards out of Israel’s hands by mandating a retreat to the indefensible 1967 borders in the face of two decades of Palestinian rejectionism. Obama’s critics were not entirely off the mark: The president had publicly adopted a key Palestinian negotiating point as official U.S. policy. Yet there was also something unbalanced about the attacks, which seemed to willfully ignore political and historical reality. After all, America’s strategic partnership with Israel since the 1967 war has been founded on the paradoxical idea that a strong Israel will be able to make territorial concessions to the Arabs. America gains influence through Israeli strength, which it builds up and then waters down to make the Arabs happy, furthering the dependence of both sides on Washington.

One outcome of this dynamic is that Israel’s strongest supporters in the White House often take steps that dramatically undermine Israel. It was no accident that George W. Bush backed both Ariel Sharon and the creation of a Palestinian state. Ronald Reagan—a steadfast friend of Israel if there ever was one—also halted the invasion of Lebanon and let Arafat escape to Tunis, tried to force the Israelis to negotiate with the PLO, denied the Israelis the right to attack the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, then cut off military aid when they did. Yet Reagan’s seemingly antagonistic policies toward Israel make sense when seen in the context of the Cold War, the Iran-Iraq war, and other major U.S. commitments of his era. The surprise of this week is that it appears the same may be true of Obama, who may be thinking about the Middle East in more subtle and original ways than either the Israelis or Palestinians have yet given him credit for.


The political theater began last Thursday, when Obama delivered a somber and contradictory speech about America’s attitude toward the changes that have swept the Middle East in recent months. It was a wizardly piece of stagecraft whose purpose was to lay out a concrete set of American attitudes and preferences against a backdrop of ambiguity, in order to preserve the widest possible scope for future action. America likes democracy and will reward liberalizing and democratizing regimes, at the same time as it won’t disown repressive allies, like Bahrain. America is not hostile to political Islam but supports liberal values, like freedom of religion and speech, and gender equality. The contradictions in these positions are obvious, but life is full of contradictions.

The one place in which Obama was uncharacteristically specific about an expected sequence of actions and responses was his outline for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president’s invocation of the 1967 borders as the basis for a settlement reportedly left Netanyahu incandescent with rage. The Palestinian leadership, meanwhile, was apparently angered by Obama’s call for a “non-militarized” state. Pundits were quick to tease out tiny differences between the president’s statement and various U.S.-backed frameworks for a two-state solution that have been gathering dust for the past decade. Ignoring the reality of 20 years of negotiations, many Jewish and pro-Israeli commentators attempted to frame Obama’s speech as a devastating embrace of Palestinian demands that would force Israel back to its 1967 borders—only nine miles wide at their narrowest point, Netanyahu informed the president, who had no doubt heard it all before—and invite another large-scale war in the Middle East.

Speaking to AIPAC on Sunday morning, Obama appeared to win over most of the crowd without substantially backtracking from the positions that had provoked such outrage on Thursday. “What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately,” he argued.

Except that wasn’t quite true. Missing from both the post-game analysis and from the president’s own remarks was any mention of what appears to be a central paragraph in Obama’s Thursday statement: “Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The idea that the future of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees are core issues of the conflict that should be left for last seems at first glance like a familiar restatement of the approach that has governed peace negotiations since Oslo, which is to negotiate the easy stuff first, and do the hard stuff later. What was new and potentially revolutionary in Obama’s speech is the setting up of two sets of equivalencies, which are to be negotiated in sequence: first, Territory and Security, and then, Refugees and Jerusalem. Obama proposes negotiations about territory and security leading to a withdrawal of Israeli troops from most of the West Bank, with agreed-upon land swaps, while recognizing that any such agreement will fail when it comes to Jerusalem. Essentially, what Obama is proposing is an arrangement in which Israelis and Palestinians negotiate a map from which Jerusalem is excluded, and dictating that that map will look more or less like the 1967 borders, with large settlement blocs included inside Israel in exchange for equivalent patches of sovereign Israeli territory being ceded to a future Palestinian state.

Which brings us to the right of return. Since Oslo, Western observers have operated on the assumption that the Palestinian “right of return” is mainly a rhetorical device that will be abandoned in any final settlement in exchange for compensation and the resettlement of refugees inside Palestine. The Israelis have stipulated that a negotiated settlement will mean the end of all Palestinian claims against Israel and would entail the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The conventional reading of Obama’s proposed pairing of territorial and security negotiations before Jerusalem and refugees would therefore be that the two “wrenching and emotional” issues are mainly important as theater, since neither side means what it says. Just as the Israelis have repeatedly proven willing to negotiate the boundaries of Jerusalem, the Palestinians know that the right of return is a fantasy and that they will ultimately recognize Israel as a Jewish state in order to obtain a state of their own.


The question, then, is whether Obama believes that Jerusalem and the right of return are real issues—the core of the crisis—or not.

Having spoken with most of the leading figures in Fatah over the past decade, it is my sense that the real fantasy here is the arrogant assumption that the Palestinian leadership will abandon its most deeply held principles in exchange for what even moderates see as a shriveled slice of historic Palestine. Indeed, reviewing my notes of conversations with all of Arafat’s key political advisers and security chiefs, including Mahmoud Abbas, I can’t identify a single one who expressed any clear willingness to abandon the right of return, or recognize Israel as a Jewish state. At best, these were framed as issues for future negotiations that would need to be submitted to a vote of the entire Palestinian people—including an estimated 4 to 6 million refugees and their descendants. No Palestinian leader I’ve ever spoken with—secular moderates included—imagined Israel as a permanent feature of the political landscape in the Middle East. All saw it as a more or less unnatural creation that would be subsumed, peacefully or not, by the resurgence of Arab Palestine in 20, 50, or 100 years.

A gifted politician who has the added advantage of having grown up partly in Muslim Indonesia, Obama seems acutely aware of the importance of symbolic, emotional politics, even as he prides himself on his own reasoned detachment and as he keeps relatively little patience for narratives of victimhood at home or abroad. I also believe that he is entirely serious when he says that he understands that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with a party—namely Hamas—that denies its right to exist. What Obama has set up, therefore, is a juggler’s paradise, in which he can keep both sides in suspense while he walks the tightrope toward a practical resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

In the best of all possible worlds, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators might build confidence negotiating about security and borders within the 1967 parameters that Obama has now established as official U.S. policy, and then be willing to tackle the so-called core issues. But seeing as that approach has failed repeatedly over the past two decades, it seems unlikely that Obama simply intends to try the same thing again.

Obama’s strategy for an Israeli-Palestinian deal therefore seems predicated on two assumptions:

1. Jerusalem and the right of return are the issues on which the two sides are least likely to agree.

2. An agreement between the two sides on these or other issues has been further complicated by the pact between Fatah and Hamas.

Given these assumptions, the outlines of Obama’s proposed pathway to peace become clearer: a phased withdrawal of Israeli troops from most of the West Bank at the direction of the president in exchange for security guarantees and other inducements from the United States. The Israelis would be forced to remove settlements and bring their troops home from most of the West Bank as they did during the disengagement from Gaza. The Palestinians would be handed most of their state on a platter and could then simply wait until the president forced the Israelis to give way on Jerusalem and refugees, too.

So, why would Israel sign on to such a disaster-in-the-making? The answer is that they won’t, and won’t have to. While Obama’s negotiating strategy leaves room for Palestinians and Israelis to agree on refugees and Jerusalem, it pointedly does not assume that any such agreement will be reached—only that a “foundation” for possible future agreement will be laid. What Obama anticipates, then, is that an agreement probably won’t be reached, in which case the Israelis will withdraw from most of the West Bank, where the Palestinians will establish a sovereign and non-militarized state. As that happens, the Israelis will continue to hold onto Jerusalem, and the Palestinians will continue to refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and demand the right of return. In fact, both sides are likely to harden their respective positions—the Israelis in the face of national trauma, and the Palestinians in the face of short-term triumph.

What Obama has very cleverly done therefore is to appropriate the Israeli proposal to establish a Palestinian state with interim borders—albeit on terms that the Israelis don’t particularly like. Yet each side stands to gain something very real from an interim arrangement that they would be unlikely to gain from an actual peace deal: The Palestinians would receive almost all of the territory they claim for an interim state—except Jerusalem—while holding on to their national dream of one day reclaiming all of Palestine from the Zionists. The Israelis, meanwhile, get a U.S.-sponsored end to the tar-baby of occupation and boatloads of shiny new weapons while holding on to major settlement blocs and an undivided Jerusalem. Hamas doesn’t have to sign a peace deal with the Israelis, and the Israelis don’t have to sign a peace deal with Hamas. America will benefit by having followed through on its promise—made by George W. Bush and repeated by Obama—to establish a Palestinian state. The millstone of Israeli occupation will be removed from around the necks of America and Israel, both of which will presumably find it easier to make friends in the Middle East.

All that is missing from this vision, of course, is the Jimmy Carter-era peace-treaty-signing ceremony photo-op on the White House lawn, whose chances of happening anytime in the near-to-intermediate future are close to zero. Unlike Bill Clinton, whose appetite for grand gestures often resulted in stalemates, or worse—including the nightmare of the Second Intifada—Obama the pragmatist may in fact view the signing of a symbolic peace treaty as negative for both sides. Eschewing symbolic triumphs for the creation of a new set of facts on the ground is a strategy that may not move fast enough for Obama to reap credit during his term in office, but—if it works—history will place victory at his feet. The Israeli occupation would, for the most part, be over; Hamas might take over the West Bank six months later, but the Israelis will have a recognized border and plenty of rockets, which will help them keep the peace just as well or badly as they do on Israel’s other borders, with less international fuss. Once the last Palestinian refugee dies in 2049, maybe someone will have the bright idea of trading some part of East Jerusalem and the Muslim quarter of the Old City for an end to ancient refugee claims and formal recognition of Israel as a Jewish State. By then, the president of the United States will probably have other problems to juggle. And if he needs a refresher course, he might just look back to Obama’s performance this past week.

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Binyamin in O says:

As a critic of Israel, I must say this article is one of the most clear-eyed and cogent analyses I have read of the entire Mid-East conflict, not just Obama’s speech and Bibi’s reply. It’s brilliant, Mr. Samuels. And wrong.

The central thesis is that Israel will, by withdrawing some settlers, be creating a de facto “Palestinian state.” What it will actually be creating is a guilded ghetto. Just as Gaza today is more intimately tied to Israel than it ever was in the past, so to will the West Bank bantustans. An Israeli bureaucrat decides one a dialy basis, how much humus a Gazan child will eat. Gaza today is a prison camp in which the inmates control the distribution of food and medicine delivered by the jailers (and paid for by U.S. and European taxpayers). Israel can let the normal 800 trucks per day through Eretz, half that number or zero. It’s currently a pretty well-supplied prison for sure, but it’s a prison nonetheless. It’s Warsaw in the early days of the ghetto, before the shortages and the transports.

The Gazification of the West Bank? That’s your solution to the conflict? Dream on bubalah. The Palestinians will not accept dhimmitude. And America will not accept an apartheid regime, no matter how “nice” you treat the ghetto residents. It is true that, unlike the Africaaners, Israel’s Jews are not dependent on semi-slave labor to grow their economy. But apartheid will work no better for them than it did for South Africa. In the long run, Israel must accept the right of the Palestinians to exist — as a free and equal part of the society that has emerged between the river and the sea.

Binyamin in O says:

Allow me to anticipate the knee-jerk response to my post above: “Binny, No Rockets, No Gazification. It’s all Hamas’ fault!”

I doubt that is anything but a pretext for de facto annexation. My reasons? The facts on the ground are as follows. Prior to June 1967, the total number of Jewish residents of the West Bank (inclusive of E. JLem) was zero. Today it is nearly 600,000 or 10% of Israel’s Jewish population. I doubt any Israeli government can remove even one percent of them. When Arik removed 6000 from Gaza, he had to split from the Likud to do it.

It’s a fiction to believe, as Mr. Samuels apparently does, that any Israeli government can gain consensus for “withdrawing from most of the West Bank.” At best, it will be a few isolated outposts over which there will be much strum und dang. At the end of the day, the settlers stay, and if they do, Gazafication of Judea and Samaria, that is, isolating the Arabs in ghettoes, is the only way to control it.

Very smart read on this. During a time in which it is hard to understand what anyone is saying.

Is there a rhetorician in the house?

Jay says:

“Israel can let the normal 800 trucks per day through Eretz, half that number or zero.” Entirely true-Israel can decide what trucks go through Israel, what people are allowed to enter to Israel, and similar sorts of things. It is the distinct right of any sovereign country to decide what trucks and goods move through its territory and who is allowed to enter its territory. Israel isn’t creating a prison, geography is. Name any other nation that is expected to allow another territory/nation/group to move goods through it by some matter of right?

Substitute “Gaza” for “the West Bank”, and this article could have been written in 2005, just before the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. At the time, all sorts of people were predicting the manifold benefits of the impending unilateral withdrawal–an end to an unpleasant and painful occupation, renewed international credit and respect for Israel, and new freedom and opportunity for residents of Gaza. A few scattered pessimists–myself included–predicted that Israel’s departure would in fact render Gaza poorer, more violent and more dangerous, and Israel more vilified and less secure. But we were ignored.

Of course, at the time, there was no precedent for such a bold unilateral move, so perhaps its advocates can be forgiven for letting their naive optimism get the better of them. This time around, David Samuels has no such excuse.

davelnaf says:

The Old Media is in full spin mode for Obama. And no one should be shy about joining that pack. Oh, well, I suppose you just did. Nice spin for the Bamster, though. Try the wash and rinse cycle next time.

David says:

Never underestimate liberal Jew’s slavishness to the Democratic party and it’s current head, almost no matter how he behaves.

Don’t forget that when FDR turned down Jewish refugees in WWII, some of his most aggressive advisers pushing for rejection were Jews. Some of them openly told him to ‘ignore the Jews’.

We should learn from our own history.

Interesting take. The only slightly odd part is the tenuous link of Obama’s views to having grown up partly in Muslim Indonesia. It’s fairly clear that the Indonesia Obama knew from 67-71 was more complex than simply “Muslim,” not to mention that he spent most of his time during those years (ages 6-10) as (appropriately) a kid, not a student of politics.

Gene says:

Can anyone explain to me how this “vision” is different from the “Oslo accords”?

Indeed. Israel could have a lot to gain by signing on to Obama’s so-called “vision.” Thousands of newly-filled graves.

How much Jewish blood still needs to be spilled before the Jewish Atlee’s, Neville Chamberlain’s and other appeasers recognize that they are naive and are the pawns of mass-murderers.

How much Jewish money will be wasted printing this kind of self-hatred, giving succor to Israel’s would-be destroyers?

How can you tell when a politician is lying? When his lips are moving.

When has the so-called diplomacy being advocated here yielded any useful result? For Israel or elsewhere in history?

On matters of life and death it is better to take a clear stand.
Pussyfooting serves no purpose.

Shamir said it plainly. “Not on my watch.”
The Arabas did not like it, but they accepted it. And there was peace.

Begin said it plainly.
We enjoyed peace.

Arabs understand and respect truth even if they don’t appreciate hearing it. Only Jews have unlimited capacity for self-deception and the silly, irresponsible, and doomed-to-failure need for the whole world to love us, prompting the kind of self-flagellation, self-hatred, and ultimately suicidal approach advocated here.

Arabs won’t ever like us. They won’t ever “accept us.” When forced to, they will behave.

Leftist who feel compelled to justify the unjustifiable, and to conflate the aggressor and the victim will have to answer to the Jewish mothers, wives, and orphaned children whose lives were destroyed defending Israel because their dangerous rhetoric encourages more jihad, murder, and terrorism.

Strong words.
I admit.

But someone has to tell it like it is, even if it hurts to hear it.

daisy says:

The only prisoner in Gaza is Gilad Shalit

Garry says:

HaaretZ and Tablet are trying to move heaven and earth to outdo the 78% Jewish vote for Obama in 2008. You have a lot of work and brainwashing to do. Keep it up. The links between the Jewish community and the Democratic party are strong. You can always mention abortion, medicare and social security. That will seal the deal with the liberal Jews and Tikkin Olomers who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Be careful what you wish for. In a second term, Obama will have no restraints as he won’t face another election again.

Obama has to deal with a lot of people working from the implicit assumptions of most of these commenters: That an eternal occupation/apartheid or mass expulsion/transfer will be politically and practically sustainable, since those are the only alternatives to separation, whether negotiated or forced.

Samuels seems to be saying that Obama has effectively signed on to Soffer/Morris/Sharon realism. Yes, it’s like Gaza, but serious proponents, as opposed to propagandists, never thought that leaving Gaza would create sweetness and light. Soffer in particular has been called a “fascist” for his hard-nosed (and excessively inhumane) comments about what geographic and demographic reality as he saw it would require – continued violence. The WB is not Gaza, however. It’s a better consolation prize, though probably not independently viable. That means that it will be up to the international community and Israel as well to help make it viable enough, and to prevent it from becoming a terror state, until perhaps a new generation of leaders, and peoples, are ready and able to think and act beyond what’s currently on offer for all concerned.

kirk says:

An absolutely spot on view of this situation. Many thanks from the formerly befuddled.

Gene says:

I wonder how many times can someone come with the same idea and try it again in the stupid hope that this time it will work? I mean, how many times would you try to jump from an airplane without parachute? And liberal media every time would call such jump “a great idea”.
Nothing will change without drastic change on the ground. The real problem, the most important reason why peace agreement has not been achieved so far, after so many years, is the presence of “impartial broker”. The “broker” should not be impartial. The broker should be strongly on the side of democracy, civil liberties and equal rights against barbarism, hatred and disrespect to human life. Only then things could change and peace could be achieved.

Why a Palestinian state? Wouldn’t it be better for freedom and liberty to be part of Israel period? I am not Jewish but I am pro-Zionism.

Frankly, form all I have read this issue has been such a scapegoat by the Arab Street and wannabe Saladins.

One day there will be a wise President who will tell the Arab Street that Israel is a democratic ally so hands off, period. Muslim nations lost after trying so many times in different ways.

I like the fact that Netanyahu told Paddy Obummer (Now he says Ireland is an old home since his great, great grandfather was from there) go fly a kite in lightning storm. Something like that.

theMoja says:

Arrghhh. Ya know, life on earth does not have to be this aggravatingly complicated & violent-prone. It’s nobody’s national public policy, but we actually could, each one of us, actively embrace & teach peace, compassion & lovingkindness. We could, each one of us, make it a personal & global priority.

I encourage everyone of every nationality, religious or political persuasion to step away from all the self-serving ranting & rhetoric, just for a few minutes, to relax, take a few deep breaths, & and simply imagine–imagine–the world as a welcoming, forgiving, loving & joyful place.

Oh what an incredibly naive, probably delusional fool I must be! Right?

Listen to me. If ideas created from religious, political & other ideological constructs can successfully & repeatedly hypnotize humans into acting individually & en masse against their own best interests–you know: war, greed, racism, power-mongering & conquest, to name but a fraction of our bad habits–then believe this: We can stop STOP seeing & treating each other as the Other.

First, make the decision. Second, make the commitment. Then go & figure out how to make it happen.

There are many, many ancient traditions that offer guidance for achieving peace & compassion. Seek them out.

Remember: there were many strains of early hominids that did not make a critical evolutionary leap, & they eventually died out. If we fail to evolve ourselves from the violent propensities that are rushing us headlong toward self-extinction, we will certainly & soon join our ancient cousins, australopithecus, homo habilis et al. at the dead end branches of the hominid family tree.

Namaste, Shalom & b’ahava,
Amoja Three Rivers

arcaneone says:

Ron Radosh
The Strange and Contradictory Perceptions of the Obama Speech on Israel: What did the President Really Say?
May 23, 2011 – 11:26 am – by Ron Radosh
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The different responses to President Barack Obama’s speech from the mainstream media show something very revealing: everyone still projects their own assumptions about what Obama means and believes onto the president. Even when all sides quoted his own words in the speech he gave to AIPAC, they still put forth their own beliefs and projected them onto Obama.

Let us look at the report by Helene Cooper that appears in the New York Times. Her article — really an editorial — presents the case that Barack Obama, contrary to the assertions of other observers, did not move one iota from the position he took when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a few days earlier at the White House. Take the following two paragraphs:

In his speech, Mr. Obama did not directly confront Mr. Netanyahu, who, while seated next to him at the White House last Friday, rejected the proposal Mr. Obama made a day earlier that negotiations use Israel’s 1967 borders as a starting point.

Mr. Obama’s decision to stick to his position, albeit with strong reassurances about America’s lasting bond with Israel, is a risky one politically. Mr. Obama is just starting a re-election campaign, and Republicans are doing what they can to present themselves to Jewish voters as more reliable protectors of Israel than the Democrats.

The key words are that she says Obama decided “to stick to his position,” which means that contrary to what Progressive Policy Institute Senior Fellow Josh Block said — which I quoted in my own blog and which today’s Washington Post also cites. Block said:

“[The Obama speech was a] strong re

arcaneone says:


“[The Obama speech was a] strong reaffirmation of the U.S.-Israel relationship and represented an important and positive change” from his remarks Thursday. “By adding a whole section to the speech that was missing on Thursday, President Obama put himself in line with presidents since Lyndon Johnson who have said again and again, Israel cannot go back to the 1949/1967 lines,” Block said. ‘This is an important and crucial change from what he said last week.”

What is important is that, according to the Post report by Joby Warrick:

While the president’s core message differed little, Obama appeared to have succeeded in easing the concerns of some Israelis who had sharply criticized his speech Thursday.

So, either the president did or did not change his core message. But in any case, the purpose of the speech was to make it appear that by mouthing pro-Israeli platitudes he would give the appearance of having changed his position, so that some Israelis — and more importantly, American supporters of Israel — would now think he is on their side!

arcaneone says:

Obama has described as his “gift” the ability to make people of radically different positions each believe he supports their respective views. In the above posts, you see this dangerous tendency at work. His guarantees are worthless ; his entire ME strategy so far has been based on pressuring Israel.
An Israeli withdrawal without explicit guarantees of non-violence from Hamas assures only more conflict.

Lou Adams says:

Obama has now on more than one occasion attempted to lock Bibi into a position that could put Israel in a more vulnerable position than a friend who is concerned about their survival ever would.
I am not looking for Jews who want Israel to surrender, I am looking for Jews who want Israel to survive.
Why the far left feels the need to negotiate for Israel concerns me, they have nothing on the line and have a run from danger mantality, something Israel can’t do.
Speaking of Jewish blood, Israelis have first hand experience with their enemies, not of the best places to buy good wine or coffee on the Upper East Side or Brentwood. Let’s get your buddy B O to negiotiate for Indonesia or Pakistan, places he has experience with and an affinity for. Let’s support Israel’s elected government to negiotiate for them.

Stanley Revich says:

It is amazing the intellectual knots some people like David Samuels can tie themselves into in their efforts to propagate the myth that their saviour, that intellectual giant who refuses to release any of his student marks and essay from his affirmative-action attendance at Columbia and Harvard, is a man unlike the rest of we mere mortals. His mistakes are really masterpieces of subtle political maneuvering. His words are wisdom incarnate.
It is obvious that the left just cannot admit to themselves that they chose and elected to the presidency a manufactured puppet who is now way in over his head. Mr. Samuels maintains that Obama’s incoherent inconsistencies are deliberate obfuscations designed to reach some predetermined goal that will solve all problems. Dream on Mr. Samuels. You have elected Pinnochio. The only difference between the puppet of Disney fame is that when Obama lies, his ears grow longer instead of his nose.
Those Jews who cannot give up their almost fetishistic adoration of the One are traitors to their people. They are Jews for whom an outdated fascistic ideology is more important than honesty, truth and loyalty. They are Jews for whom naked self-interest is more important than faith and peoplehood. They are kapos, no more, no less.

Hamas Sees Obama’s ’67 Borders and Raises Him: ’48 Borders

Like clever unionists looking for a pay rise for their members some groups will go in “high” to increase their chance of getting the right outcome. i.e. Ask for $70,000 per annum and if you get $60,000 we will be happy. I’m a little old fashioned and think that people shouldn’t start with ridiculous negotiating positions. But to close a deal when you know the buyer wants the car and after the salesman has done his job sometimes the buyer actually enjoys the negotiation. (Think “The Haggle” market sequence in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”.) The key is to keep everyone at the table. I want everyone to “buy” the divinely mandated plan for the Temple Mount, Old City, Holy Land, Middle East and Planet Earth. A bit selfish I know but my boss also wants me to get the deal.

A global population target of 8 billion by 2050 is realistic. Current global GDP is approx. $60 Trillion in real terms. At a 5% compound interest growth rate this would equate to $383 Trillion by 2050. If 5% sounds high think Africa and South America. The collective GDP of Israel, Gaza, The West Bank/Judea and Samaria, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia is only $1.6. Trillion. By 2050 the average GDP per capita globally would be $47,875. If violence had well and truly been eradicated and there were no nuclear weapons hanging like a Sword of Damocles over the world then you could almost call it Ganeden.

So World Peace by 2050 is not just an esoteric idea.
Founded April 2000

I don’t know if Obama is a magician or groping in the dark. More likely groping in the dark. Yet the scenario described here is essentially what Sharon and Olmert were advocating a few years back, and what a majority of Israelis might be cajoled to accept: leave (most of) the West Bank, get some sort of international recognition, and then hunker down. Peace is impossible in any case, so once the occupation is essentially over, we’ll hold on with greater ease for the next few generations until the world changes. We’ll control Jerusalem, and there won’t be any return of 5th generation descendants of refugees. Sounds pretty good. Within 10 years most Palestinians in Jerusalem will be Israeli citizens and won’t want to be “divided out” anyway.

The one – very major problem – is that the Palestinians will shoot from the WB as they did when Israel did a pilot project in Gaza. And no American security promises will help: the moment we begin to defend ourselves we’ll be damned to high heavans, only this time without control of the WB. I see no solution to this, sadly; otherwise, I’m all in favor of the idea, as most Israelis are.

Gerald Gregory says:

When obama looks for a vp for next run, surely it will be you david. all you birds can flock together.

How astonishing of Mr. Samuels, who brags of having reviewed his “notes of conversations with all of Arafat’s key political advisers and security chiefs”, to have never bothered checking if there is such a thing as a “right of return” in the first place. If he had, he would have discovered that it has no basis whatsoever in international law, and therefore it has no place in the so-called “core issues”. It simply does NOT EXIST and must tossed off the table altogether. The clever myth, invented out of thin air by the Palestinians, is based on the word “Right”, which to a Western mind implicitly indicates that there is a rule somewhere that gives it legal force. Well, there isn’t. Show me the international law treaty that says the Palestinians have a “Right of Return”. Where is it? You won’t find it. And please don’t bother mentioning Resolution 194. As a UN General Assembly resolution, it has no legal force and is therefore not part of international law. Additionally, it stated only that some refugees (without specifying whether they were Arab or Jewish) could be allowed back “if they accepted to live in peace with their neighbors”, something the Palestinians have proven incapable of. And finally – talk of chutzpah – all the Arab states at the time voted against that resolution! We could also add that if it is to be applied for the benefit of Palestinian refugees, it should be applied equally to the 800,000 Jewish refugees from Arab lands kicked out of their ancestral homes after 1948, and who should be compensated as well since all their possessions were simply stolen by the countries who evicted them (notably Iraq, Egypt and Morocco).

Intriguing article. It differs from most other comments and articles I’ve read after Obama’s State Dept speech in that it attempts to understand Obama’s motives from his position as president of the U.S., not as a politician trying to look good to all voters. Indeed his State Dept. speech did nothing to gain friends.
Outraged as I was after Obama’s State Department speech, after more careful analysis, I am of the opinion that Obama the “pragmatist” is more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian. He has more to talk about with Bibi than with all the P.A. leaders combined. On his European tour he has repeatedly come out on Israel’s side.
The juggling act may work out fine if the Israelis realize that is an act and don’t start conceding territory before the Palestinians are ready to negotiate – which, according to recent announcements, won’t happen any time soon.
There are still things that bother me about Obama’s rhetoric. He may be practical and genuinely concerned with Israel’s security. What bothers me is that he is not true to the history of the region. He buys the Palestinian narrative of “suffering the humiliation of occupation;” two non-starters. There is no “occupation” of foreign land. There was no Palestinian state in this area before the Jews declared statehood. There was no Palestinian state from which Israel took over the West Bank or Jerusalem. The only humiliation that was suffered was that Jews won the wars that they were supposed to lose. The only humiliation is that Jews, the dhimmi of all time, control their own country. There is just something odd about the president of the U.S. uttering “humiliation of occupation” as if there were some truth behind it.
Overall, good article.

Ian kay says:

I think that the analysis, though very cogent, and accurate does nothing to explain the root causes of this conflict. All this punditry does is to obfuscate the real issue. This is a religious conflict between Islam and Christianity, with Hindus next in line for the wrath of Islamists. I’m not going to elaborate, for I believe that you are all intelligent people, who understand the reality of the situation, but like all pundits, are afraid to voice it in public. Israel is merely the “thumb in the dike,” and several million Jew are insignificant in the scheme of things as far as Islamist are concerned. Come on guys, start telling it like it is. You can start by using your influence to have info directed to the Palestinians in order to keep the message up front, that they have become the Iranian proxy, the “tip of the spear” if you will, for their drive to create the caliphate. Why should the Iranians blow themselves up, when they have the Palestinians duped into believing that they are doing Gds will for the cause. This message should be thrust at the populace ad nauseam, until it sinks in that they are being duped and used by the Persians. Yes, I said Persians, not Iranians. They are the most insular of human beings. Even in the Jewish community, they don’t mingle to freely with others. They have a pompous outlook toward other being of any stripe. Don’t dare call Iranians Arabs. To them Arabs are an inferior. The Arabs will do their bidding, because they Persians are a superior race, and the Arabs have not seen through their motives. We need to direct all our PR toward this task of separating the Arabs from their Persian/Iranian overlords. All discussions of Obama’s motives won’t help Israel. We Jews are on our own. Get used to it, and support them in their hour of need.
Ian Kay

Beatrix says:

The problem with Samuels’ reasoning (and it’s Samuels not Obama’s) is that Abbas was quoted in Al Jazeera as saying during the 2008 negotiations that the “right of return” was not realistic, which Abbas later denied. And Bibi implied in one of the Jewish papers that he might consider ceding East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, which he has also denied.

If Abbas admits he will give up the “right of return” he’ll be shot. If Bibi cedes Jerusalem, he won’t make it to the parking lot. They need to negotiate privately not in front of the TV camera, and they need to present hard truths to their people only after getting significant concessions from the other side. Obama needs to stay out of it.

If Obama had diplomatic ability, he would have said, “of course we’ll negotiate from 1967, not from 1948,” and both Bibi and Abbas would have been happy. It’s the same result, but the phrasing makes all the difference. It’s the difference between being called old and being called mature.

Ann says:

I don’t know how long I can continue to read the liberal clap-trap of this publication.

Steve says:

Funny how most of the anti-Obama comments are ad-hominem and have no real intellectual content.

Haim says:

“Hamas might take over the West Bank six months later, but the Israelis will have a recognized border and plenty of rockets”.

How can one write in the apparently Jewish publication and be so callous of Jewish lives, I have no idea.

Beatrix says:


You’re absolutely right. Samuels is a teacher, so let’s let him grade all our submissions. And when did he become a spokesman for Obama? I didn’t see that listed under his credentials. All I pointed out was that we’re getting Samuels’ arguments and not Obamas, and I don’t agree with Samuels’ arguments.

I’m not a college professor, but I am descended from the prophets and my prophesy is that Obama will be a one term President and it will be a long, long time before you lefty “intellectuals” sic another lefty college professor on us by trying to convince us that pontificating in the classroom qualifies anyone for the presidency.

My partner and I absolutely love your blog and find most of your post’s to be exactly I’m looking for. Would you offer guest writers to write content available for you? I wouldn’t mind composing a post or elaborating on a number of the subjects you write about here. Again, awesome website!

nutflipped says:

I never understood why a religious state in the middle east like Israel, with no oil and no strategic significance ever mattered so much to the sole superpower in the world. Why is black Obama not as concerned with Liberia, for example?

EricWeed44 says:

Obama should take care of the legalization of marijuana…..Marijuana Seeds


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