by Kenneth Levin
In his recent hour-long White House interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, President Obama once more unleashed a biased, dishonest attack on Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Goldberg, like all too many high-profile writers and commentators, gave the president a pass on his anti-Israel riff and even seconded it. A striking contrast, demonstrating incisive, reality-based coverage of Obama’s anti-Israel slant and its inevitable negative consequences, has been provided over the past five years by the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl.
Goldberg’s interview received wide attention for the president’s warnings to Netanyahu that he must quickly reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians or Israel could face dire consequences from a world impatient with the Jewish state’s supposed foot-dragging in ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, now in the tenth year of a four-year term, the president had only positive things to say, including definitively characterizing him as ready for a peace deal.
The Goldberg interview, broadcast on Bloomberg News, was wide-ranging, touching extensively on Iran and Syria as well as Israel, and Goldberg has been praised by some for his handling of the hour. Elliot Abrams, on The Weekly Standard website, wrote: “… kudos to Goldberg; he pressed Obama repeatedly, challenging vague formulations and seeking clarity. Goldberg pushed Obama hard, especially on Iran and Syria.
But on Israel Goldberg pushed Obama not at all, even when the president made assertions untethered from reality.
Abbas has said that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a recognition that Obama has himself acknowledged is necessary for any meaningful peace. Abbas has said he will not give up the so-called “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to Israel, a formula for the dissolution of the Jewish state. He has denied any Jewish connection to the land and insisted the Jews are mere colonial interlopers whose state is illegitimate. He has praised murderers of Israeli civilians as heroes who should be emulated and has overseen the naming of schools, sports teams, and other public entities in their honor. He has presided over an education system that teaches all of “Palestine” – meaning the West Bank, Gaza and Israel – properly belongs to the Palestinians and that Palestinian children must dedicate themselves to liberating it from the Jews and eradicating the Jewish state.
Yet when Obama declared, “I believe that President Abbas is sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist,” and offered other comments in the same vein, Goldberg mustered no question invoking the counter-evidence. On the contrary, he essentially endorsed the president’s ludicrous assessment and only raised the question of whether Abbas could deliver, despite his good intentions: “Abu Mazen [Abbas] – all these things you say are true, but he is also the leader of a weak, corrupt and divided Palestinian entity… Do you think he can deliver more than a framework agreement?”
In contrast to Goldberg’s meekly echoing the president’s distortions, Washington Post editor and columnist Jackson Diehl has repeatedly offered clear-eyed assessments of Obama’s anti-Israel bias and misguided views on the path to peace.
In May, 2009, in an op-ed entitled “Abbas’s Waiting Game,” Diehl observed, “[President Obama] has revived a long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud.” To Diehl, the president’s tack was obviously wrong-headed and counter-productive.
At the time, the Obama administration was already focusing on a settlement freeze as the key to moving the peace process forward. In subsequent weeks, the administration ratcheted up this demand, and defined the insisted upon “freeze” in all-inclusive terms that were unprecedented either for any American administration or in the context of any previous Israeli-Arab or Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In addition, Obama did so without mention of need for a single concession on the part of the Palestinians.
Once again Diehl was direct and clear, in an article written a month after the previous piece and entitled “End the Spat with Israel.” Diehl points out how unprecedented the demands regarding settlements were, and how unnecessary given previously agreed upon limitations to settlement growth, limitations to which the Israelis were adhering. He also notes concessions Netanyahu had made in recent weeks, including for the first time agreeing to Palestinian statehood. He reiterates that Obama’s stance was allowing the Palestinians, and the Arabs more broadly, to avoid making any necessary concessions of their own. His point once more was how Obama’s anti-Israel approach, if left unmodified, was doomed to fail.
Yet again, two years later, in a May, 2011 op-ed entitled “Mahmoud Abbas’s Formula for War,” Diehl takes Obama to task for his ongoing, wrong-headed bias. He notes the president was still focusing on pressuring Israel, while “short shrift is given, as usual, to Netanyahu’s putative partner. Yet the leader of the Palestinian ‘moderate’ branch, Mahmoud Abbas, is not only refusing to make any concessions of his own but is also turning his back on American diplomacy – and methodically setting the stage for another Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Diehl goes on to cite Abbas’s recent public commitment to seek a UN General Assembly vote on Palestinian statehood the following fall. Diehl quotes Abbas to the effect that, rather than pursuing a state through a negotiated peace with Israel, “Palestine would then be negotiating from the position of one United Nations member whose territory is militarily occupied by another.”
This tack is consistent with what had always been Yasser Arafat’s intent. Arafat was never going to sign an “end-of-conflict” agreement, and neither will his long-time friend and ally Abbas. It was because such an agreement was demanded of them in return for the far-reaching Israeli territorial concessions offered by Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton in 2000 and 2001 and by Ehud Olmert in 2008 that Arafat walked away from the former and Abbas from the latter. Arafat then launched his terror war and at the same time sought international recognition of “Palestine” without committing to a final status agreement and without closing the door to ongoing pursuit of Israel’s annihilation. Abbas is intent on following the same playbook.
Diehl, writing in 2011, notes that “the Obama administration and its allies appear suitably alarmed by [Abbas’s UN strategy]. But their principal reaction so far might be summed up as, ‘Now we really have to put the screws to Netanyahu.’”
In the context of giving Secretary of State Kerry his requested nine months to solve the conflict, Abbas agreed to forego returning to the UN last fall to seek additional trappings of nationhood there. But he is clearly determined to continue avoiding concessions to, and an end-of-conflict agreement with, Israel, and instead to seek international recognition of statehood in all of the West Bank and Gaza and the freedom to use those territories for pursuing Israel’s destruction.
President Obama, in his Jeffrey Goldberg interview, has now essentially legitimized the Arafat strategy. Abbas, Obama insists, is committed to an agreement with Israel. The problem is the settlements built in support of Israeli claims to areas of the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. If Israel fails to meet Palestinian demands, Obama continues, it is hard to see how the United States can go on protecting Israel from anti-Israel measures taken by, for example, the United Nations and the European Union.
In a subsequent interview with talk show host Charlie Rose, Goldberg said he took Obama’s comments “…to be a little bit of a veiled threat, to be honest… It’s almost up there with, you know, nice little Jewish state you got there, I’d hate to see something happen to it.”
But when it counted, during the interview, Goldberg did not challenge Obama on his threat. Nor did he raise the issue of Israel’s legitimate security concerns and its right to claim in negotiations strategic areas of the West Bank, as acknowledged, for example, in UN Security Council Resolution 242. Nor did he refer to the Palestinians’ continuing refusal to recognize Israel’s legitimacy within any borders, or their indoctrinating their children to wage war on Israel until it is annihilated. No; he essentially let Obama’s biased attack on Israel and apologetics for the Palestinians stand unchallenged.
There are many more Jeffrey Goldbergs than Jackson Diehls among Middle East commentators inside the Beltway. Their obsequiousness to Obama and to his hostility vis-a-vis Israel helps assure that, in the administration’s remaining three years, the Jewish state will endure additional besiegement and the prospect for genuine peace will only recede further.
Kenneth Levin is a psychiatrist and historian and author of “The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege.”
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