Friday, August 28, 2009

Understanding Israeli public opinion and President Barack Obama

Bookmark and Share

A recent poll in Israel reports that only 4 percent of Israelis there believe President Barack Obama is "pro-Israel" and that more than 51 percent believe he is "pro-Palestinian." Although the question is a little misleading. It is do you believe Obama is "more" pro-Palestinian or "more" pro-Israeli.

When you ask it like that, the question numbers go in the direction the pollsters want. But then, what does "more" really mean?

In this case, it could mean we finally have a president who looks at the issues rather than the campaign war chest and fundraising and the votes. Maybe Obama really is interested in pushing both the Palestinians and Israelis to reach an agreement.

Why would Israelis think Obama is "more" pro-Palestinian than pro-Israeli?

Well, maybe some thought that he was Israeli since he shares his first name with Israel's foreign minister and former prime minister Ehud Barak. They just assume anyone with that name is going to be "more" pro-Israel.

On the other hand, if you look at the issues, Obama has asked Israel to abide by international law and stop the expansion of the illegal settlements, which is not something that is "too much" to ask, although his insistence on asking Israel to abide by Israeli law is "more" substantive than his weak-minded predecessor George W. Bush who went along with whatever the Israeli lobby put on his tiny plate.

Asking Israel to "compromise" in exchange for peace with the Palestinians does put President Obama in a special place.

Putting the interests of the United States above the interests of Israel or any other foreign country, does make President Obama different from any of his predecessors.

Making fairness a criteria in the Palestine-Israeli peace process does make President Obama "more" special than any of his predecessors, including President Bill Clinton who during negotiations in 2000 between Ehud Barak and the late President Yasir Arafat pretended to be Israeli and pushed his own agenda.

President Obama is not pushing his own agenda. He's not in anyone's back pocket. The Israeli lobby in the United States must be besides itself wondering what the heck is going on.

But if being fair, just and dedicated to genuine peace means that "more" people might think you are not on their side, then maybe that's the price someone in this country should finally pay if the United States is going to continue to insist on being the sole arbiter of the so-far elusive Middle East Peace.

-- Ray Hanania

No comments: