“I am ready to sign on this speech with both hands,” said Israel’s racist, revanchist foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who opposes not only peace with the Palestinians but equal rights for Israeli Arabs, after Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations opposing Palestinian statehood.
“Listening to [Obama], you would think it was the Palestinians who occupy Israel,” added Hanan Ashrawi, the extremely moderate Palestinian politician and frequent peace negotiator. Remember when Obama began his presidency, ready to take on the rejectionists like Lieberman on both sides and offer US support to those, like Ashrawi, arguing for the necessity of making compromises for peace? Well, welcome to our world, one in which, given enough time, the president can be depended on to adopt the arguments of adversaries and ignore—when he does not mock—the concerns of his supporters and allies.
This tendency is unmistakable regarding the Middle East. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not only frustrated every attempt by Obama to push the two sides toward peace; he and his government have gone to great lengths to humiliate the president while doing so. Recall Vice President Joe Biden’s March 2010 visit to Israel, when he was greeted with an announcement that Israel was expanding its illegal building program in East Jerusalem.
Next came Netanyahu’s May 2011 address to a joint session of Congress, at the invitation of the Republicans. There, not only did the Israeli leader repudiate—at least rhetorically—longstanding mutual understandings that peace between Israel and a future Palestinian state would be based on Israel’s return to its 1967 borders “with mutually agreed [land] swaps”; he also pretended that Obama had not even mentioned the land swaps but had insisted that Israel return to its original borders with no adjustments at all. Even worse, during an Oval Office photo opportunity, Netanyahu lectured the president on live television for nearly eight minutes, and again ignored his words for the purpose of ginning up phony outrage among Israelis and “pro-Israel” American Jews. How did Obama respond? By giving a speech at the UN that even Lieberman admired, and offering the Palestinians the back of his hand.
The Israelis sure knew their man. This is, after all, the same president who ran as an environmentalist but who—following two years of Republicans’ know-nothingism regarding almost all forms of science—ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its pursuit of new curbs on emissions that worsen disease-causing smog in US cities. He did so despite the fact that, as Al Gore explained, the all-but-certain result would be “increased medical bills for seniors with lung disease, more children developing asthma, and the continued degradation of our air quality.”