Unwise options

Israel is perhaps the only country across the bitterly contested politics of the United States that enjoys bipartisan support.

Unwise options

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Israel is perhaps the only country across the bitterly contested politics of the United States that enjoys bipartisan support. Irrespective of the interchanging dispensations, Israel remains the largest recipient of US foreign aid and managed to secure the crucial ‘veto’ vote (on resolutions condemning Israel) in the United Nations Security Council, on 42 of the 83 occasions that Washington invoked this power.

From avowed Democrats like John F Kennedy to hawkish Republicans like Ronald Reagan, each administration has offered unqualified support to Israel. A supposedly pacifist Democrat like President Joe Biden is solidly behind Israel as it goes about pummeling the Gaza Strip with little or no concern for the international outcry.

A brazenly ‘Redneck’ President like Donald Trump would have his own resonance; as a left-leaning Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, once noted ~ if Israel were to be a US State, then it would be the ‘reddest state in the Union’! However, there was one US President who did subtly but surely, put a question to the blind fawning and following of Israeli actions, and that was Barack Obama.
False innuendoes about Obama’s purported personal faith determining his antipathy towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in effect that he was biased owing to his Kenyan father’s religion, is factually wrong. Obama is a practicing Protestant Christian and more importantly had secured an overwhelming 78 and 69 per cent of the total Jewish votes cast in his two successful Presidential bids, even when the total national vote in his favour had been 53 and 51 per cent, respectively.


The key difference in the outlooks of Obama and Netanyahu was not religious or even about the sovereign idea of Israel ~ but about the ideological difference on how to address the Israel-Palestine issue, as also other concerns like Iran. In fact, the Obama administration had sanctioned more aid for Israel’s defense than any administration before his, but the natural tensions between an ultra-liberal President and an ultra-conservative Prime Minister were inevitable, practically. In the impatient and baiting eyes of Netanyahu, Obama sought and demanded too many concessions and compromises from his allies (read, Israel), as opposed to from enemies ~ except, that Obama did not see Palestinians or their cause as ‘enemy’, but only the likes of Hamas or Hezbollah.

Obama’s instinct and drift towards rapprochement and peace moves had led to the unprecedented engagement with Iran, to the discomfiture of Netanyahu. Obama believed in the power of constant engagement with the proverbial ‘other’ in an argument, as opposed to sabrerattling and warmongering. The net result was the signing of the Iran Nuclear Deal, which he described in his farewell address as having managed to “shut down Iran’s nuclear program without firing a shot”! Netanyahu was left fuming, saying that it was a “historic mistake”.

It took Netanyahu’s likeminded Trump to unilaterally renege on the Iran Nuclear Deal (which Iran was fully complying with, as per the watchdog agency IAEA) and took more provocative steps to endear himself to the Israeli leader like moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, thereby negating the possibilities of making East Jerusalem the capital of an independent Palestinian State. Clearly, Obama was not a chest-thumper like Trump or Netanyahu, as he recognised the long-term threats in dishonoring and diminishing the TwoState Solution imperatives, that were officially agreed to by all, including Israel.

Obama had supported strengthening Israel’s defense and the right to exist, whilst slamming all extremist forces like the Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaida, Taliban etc. during his tenure. But unlike Obama, Netanyahu persisted only with the ‘scorched earth’ policy, without consideration for Palestinian sensitivities. In a prophetic speech in Jerusalem on 21 March 2013, Obama reiterated sovereign Israel as an “idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own” and then went on to make significant cautionary notes.

He insisted, “the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine”, a thought that might not have pleased the Israeli hardliners. Obama proceeded to warn on something that recently came true, “Israel needs to reverse an undertow of isolation.

And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people over the long term is through the absence of war. Because no wall is high enough and no Iron Dome is strong enough or perfect enough to stop every enemy that is intent on doing so from inflicting harm”. Facts bear out that as thawing measures were not explored in the last decade, the enemy did pierce the Israeli wherewithal.

Obama had also alluded to the tinderbox of frustrations that was brewing, “Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own”, and the dam did eventually burst. Obama presciently shared, “Negotiations will be necessary, but there’s little secret about where they must lead ~ two states for two peoples.” And then repeated for good measure, “Two states for two peoples”! Days before demitting office, Obama hoped to send a desperate message to Netanyahu when his administration decided to ‘abstain’ from voting on a UNSC resolution that demanded Israel stop settlement construction on occupied Palestinian lands.

Netanyahu was expectedly livid and blamed Obama singularly. Netanyahu hen did everything possible to muzzle the Palestinian perspective over the next decade, and he had an able ally in Trump and now, Biden. The Iran Nuclear Deal was never revived (as initially promised by Biden in his Presidential bid) and basically Netanyahu had a free run to ride roughshod on all Palestinian demands and aspirations ~ soon he openly pooh poohed the Two-State Solution.

All along, the unvented Palestinian frustrations were getting fanned, ignored (even by Arab Sheikhdoms who started normalising relations with Israel) and then the despicable terror attack by Hamas on 7 October happened. Rightfully the terror attack was slammed and condemned by all right-thinking people but the run-up to the same in the form of amoral denialism and humiliation that was inflicted, before and after this attack, on the hapless Palestinians, remains underreported and underappreciated.

How Netanyahu’s ‘scorched earth’ approach will help the cause of security for Israel is something only time will tell ~ history and wise counsel from those like Obama (as opposed to the likes of Trump) will still suggest that besides strengthening defenses, dialogue and compromise is the only way forward as envisioned by the still best idea of a Two-State Solution.

(The writer is Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), and former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry)