Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Obama is good for Israel

Contrary to the views of the various conservative blogs out there on the internet, I am of the strong belief that Obama is by far a better candidate for Israel then McCain.

The basic problem with the conservative critique of Obama's position on Israel and the middle east is that they assume that the lack of involvement of the US in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and a lack of a critical eye towards Israel is a good thing. This is stupid reasoning. The last seven years under the Bush's approach to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has been a disaster. Only a President who is truly engaged and more importantly, is an honest broker, can be effective in assisting to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I believe an Obama-Democrat administration will be far more engaged in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and more critical of Israel then the current administration. Contrary to Obama's recent performance at the AIPAC conference where he claimed that "Jerusalem should remain undivided", I believe that in reality Obama will be more sensitive to Palestinian interests then the Bush administration has been. His choice of advisors (such as Dan Kurtzer and Rob Malley) and personal friendship with Rashid Khaldi are suggestive of this. As I said, this is a good thing for both Israelis and Palestinians.

So why is it good?

As noted by Aaron Miller in his recent book, the most effective administrations in achieving peace between Israel and its neighbours, have been those that took a more critical line against Israel. In particular, Aaron Miller cites the Carter administration (who achieved a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt) and the first Bush administration (who started the Madrid process). In both cases, the administration was willing to take Israel on and not only was successful, but in the long-term, it was in Israel's best interests that they did. The problem with the Clinton peace team, headed by Dennis Ross, as Aaron Miller has noted, was that they were too often "Israel's lawyers". Dennis Ross, in particular, failed as a negotiator to take an honest and objective view of the conflict and was far more receptive to the sensitivites of Israeli political constraints then Palestinians.

In order to be an effective broker, the US needs to be fair. It further needs to be willing to "flex its muscle" when a party is acting inconsistent with a peaceful resolution of the conflict. On the Palestinian side, this certainly means taking a strong line against terrorism or unprovoked attacks against Israeli civilians. For the Israelis, this also means taking a hard line - for example, taking a genuine strong stance against settlement construction, not some perfunctory condemnation by a state department official. Further, it means pushing Israel to make necessary concessions - whether it means reducing the number of road blocks in the West Bank or pushing Israel to make concessions on final status issues.

Ultimately, being more critical of Israeli action may mean that the US administration comes into conflict with the Israeli government and AIPAC. So be it.

The contours of a final status deal are well known. Ultimately - a solution along the lines proposed in Taba or Geneva or some similar solution will form the basis of a resolution. Governments, both Israeli and Palestinians may try and avoid moving in this direction - both unprepared to make the necessary concessions. The US have an important role in setting out the contours of what a final deal should be - indeed the Clinton Parameters set out in December 2000 are an excellent example of what those contours should be. It is up to the US to play an effective role as mediators in this conflict - which requires being honest and fair - to both Israelis and Palestinians.

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