Frankly, President Obama has had a bit, though not a lot, of a raw deal. Concerning his speech about the Middle East, that is.
All he really did was to reiterate, albeit more explicitly and loudly, the policy of the last four presidents of the United States. He didn’t demand that Israel withdraw to its 1967 borders, but mentioned this as part of the greater context of peace discussions.
The problem is, unlike with Bill Clinton or George W. Bush, many supporters of Israel don’t trust the new president. His friendships with radical anti-Zionists, his far too broad understanding of “colonialism,” his apparent obsession with placating the Arab world and his startlingly rude treatment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a previous visit to Washington have all combined to make him a figure of suspicion to many.
This is probably a little, though not substantially, unfair. While hardly an Israel-hater, only the most liberal and credulous of people would believe that Obama has the same visceral, genuine support for Israel as his predecessor, or the same intimate regard for the Jewish people as Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. He also seems almost naive on the issue, as was illustrated when he visited the Middle East and appeared to misunderstand the political geography of the place.
There are some basic facts here, ones that people often choose to ignore, or simply have never known. The Palestinians only came to the negotiating table, only requested peace and only recognized Israel in any form whatsoever after decades of violence and fruitless attempts to destroy the Jewish state, kill Israelis and urge Arab armies to wipe the nation off of the map. They put down the gun out of desperation and failure, not ideology and commitment.
Israel has given back 90% of all the land it won in the repeated wars launched by its neighbours to destroy the Jewish state. This is almost unprecedented for any nation-state and has severely compromised the country’s security. For peace, however, Israel will make such leaps of faith. Indeed, when the West Bank was won in 1967, it was immediately offered back to Jordan, whose leader replied, “No, you keep it. Now it’s your problem.”
The 1967 borders were not the original boundaries of the country, but neither were the 1948 borders. The newly reborn state was invaded by all of the Arab powers around it, and lost much land and many people. Unlike Syria, which has repeatedly invaded neighbours and taken territory, unlike Iran, Iraq and Turkey which have done the same, unlike Jordan which was given enormous areas of Saudi Arabia, Israel is tiny and always severely vulnerable.
Anybody who knows Israel beyond the racist caricatures of Arab and European media, or the extremism of leftist anti-Zionism, will know a country willing to do almost anything for a genuine and guaranteed peace.
But only a fool, or someone who is suicidal, would give safety away based on an empty promise or a token gesture. While Hamas weeps for bin Laden, Teheran builds its nuclear arsenal and Islamic fundamentalism sweeps the region, forgive the Jews for being more concerned with their children’s lives than with Barack Obama’s rhetoric.