One of the consequences of the Arab Spring is that now Israel’s situation is potentially more precarious. Surrounded by unfriendly nations with the Arab world for the most part taking sides with the Palestinians, Israel has traditionally held on to its position by maintaining a show of bristling militancy and small territory grabs, turning time after time to its only significant friend and ally the US. What has changed is that as opposition to Israel has gathered intensity it has been increasingly difficult for the US to muster the required support. The military aid for Israel is one thing, but in itself would be insufficient, which is why the military aid to Egypt’s Army in return for a reluctant moderating force in the region was seen as necessary to hold the other perceived wolves at bay. Now with the Arab Spring revolution Egyptian version moving to the political reorganisation stage, it has become increasingly clear that if any form of democracy is to be restored, the Egyptian army will have to surrender its controlling role. With Mubarak gone and all the polls showing a strong Egyptian distrust of both the US and Israel it is hard to see Egypt continuing its old moderating role.
President Obama is taking a huge gamble in his latest gambit in the Palestinian/Israel peace initiatives. By making the pro Palestinian statement about returning the boundaries to the pre 1967 position, there will be an immediate positive reaction from the Palestinian camp. Hopefully this would then translate to a reduction of tension and even the possibility that a smaller proportion of a diminishing US budget might therefore need to be spent in holding the line for Israel. The fact that the politicians have responded to the lobbyists by blocking Obama’s proposed aid package to Egypt seems to put more pressure on Obama to find an alternative way of placating the Arab nations regarding the Palestinians. To remove the likelyhood of Egypt continuing to act as a moderating influence by denying the aid package, while at the same time ignoring the growing Arab resentment of Israel’s attitude to the Palestinians doesn’t seem a viable or wise option. Unfortunately the subtlety appears to have escaped the Israelis who are pursuing a business as usual line. There may however be an unpalatable direct cost to the Obama’s administration. The contribution of the Jewish financial support in past US elections is critical, and since the support was mainly earlier directed to the Democratic Party the prospect of closed chequebooks must be daunting. While it is true that under the previous Bush administration, the hawkish policies in the Middle East had some of the Jewish financial backers jumping ship and backing the Republicans, the prospect of entering another election without the Jewish vote would be daunting for the now be-leaguered Democrats. Thus far the signs are not good. Flat statements from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu about the Obama proposition making it impossible to hold a defensive line if it were implemented may not be true in practice but there is no doubt that there would be many who believe it to be true amongst the US Jewish community.
It is equally true that past policies have not won a peace and that the growing cost of continuing the old policy in the changed envirnoment of the Arab Spring, the likely difficulties ahead without the cooperation of Egypt, and the urgent need to reduce the US expenditure on military ventures in the Middle East combine to make any new initiatives worth considering. Two questions then.
Is Barack Obama right in changing the US position on the Palestinian/Israeli peace initiatives, and if not what else might he have done?