Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Obama's "Israel" Problem?

In the last few days the GOP's Presidential contenders have decided to revert to a seemingly easy fallback attack on President Obama: his foreign policies concerning Israel have been naive at best and un-American at worst.

So why have this old attack resurfaced? It's likely because of the upcoming attempt by the Palestinian Authority to submit their bid for statehood to the United Nations in a week or so. President Obama has promised to veto any such bid for statehood should it come to a vote in the UN Security Council and has been trying to prevent the vote from even happening (though rather clumsily IMO). And as such, many of the President's supporters have pointed to this as proof of the President's unwavering support of Israel, not that the GOP contenders care. As far as they and others are concerned, the decision to veto a Palestinian bid for statehood unilaterally is a no-brainer. And I would have to agree at least on that part. However the President's decision to veto such an attempt should not necessarily be taken for granted. Regardless of differences the President has had with the Israeli government as of late, his stand against the PA's unilateral attempt at statehood proves that at heart he is a true supporter of Israel or else he could have used the situation to get some kind of concession from the Israelis (say, we will veto only if you agree to halt settlement expansion or something similar), but he didn't.

However the GOP's gripe with Obama's Israel policies are older than this recent vote. They largely stem from Obama's attempt to revive the peace talks last year and his statement this year that any serious negotiation should start with pre-1967 borders of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Now personally, I saw no problem with what the President stated then because that has always been the policy of the US government. All previous attempts at peace between the Palestinians and Israelis used the pre-1967 borders (also referred to as the 1949 Armistice Line), the only thing the President did differently was he actually said such OUTLOUD. And contrary to what most of the GOP contenders will claim, the President never said Israel should fall back to the pre-1967 borders, he merely stated that any future border between an independent Palestine and Israel should back from the pre-1967 borders. This only makes sense since if you look up the "West Bank" anywhere online you will be given a map that is based on the pre-1967 border between Jordan and Israel (Jordan was at the time called 'Transjordan' since it's territory covered both sides of the Jordan river, hence the name "West Bank").

Rightly, the Israelis were a bit nervous when the President stated this starting point out loud for all the world to hear and were quick to condemn that language publicly. And IF the President had called on Israel to pull back to the pre-1967 borders, Israel would have some real concerns. Before the 1967 war, TransJordan was able to shell Israeli towns at will, even reaching as far as Tel Aviv. As such, the Israelis were prefer to prevent such a "closeness" with a possible future enemy. This was the primary reason for the very first Israeli settlements decades ago. They were there to act as a "bufferzone" between the occupied territories and the Israeli populace.

And not shockingly, the GOP as a whole pounced on this opportunity to paint the President as being Anti-Israeli and claimed the President was trying to make the Israelis morally equivalent to the Palestinians.

It's actually similar to how the GOP attacked President Obama in his early years for being "soft" on terrorism because of public statements he made and internal memos that were creating a more politically correct War on Terrorism. However even then, while many in the GOP decried these actions, few could argue with the President's actions against terrorism. The President has been an aggressive supporter of the use of drones to kill terrorists wherever they are, even more so then President Bush in terms of the number of strikes performed. So in that case, the President's actions spoke more true than his words.

And I believe the same is true with the President's policies concerning Israel. Publicly, the President and his administration have had a very strained relationship with Israel with the Israeli government seemingly embarrassing and 'talking down' to President Obama's administration (including the President, Vice President, and apparently form Def. Sec. Robert Gates). This is further evidenced by the reports that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated the Israelis as a whole were 'ungrateful' for the actual support the President gave Israel. And what was this support exactly?

1. Foreign Aid- For the 2011 fiscal year, President Obama requested $3 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Israel

2. F-35- In 2010, Israel finally finalized an order for 20 F-35 fighters at a price of $2.75 billion, which would be paid for entirely with the afore-mentioned FMF. In other words, WE are fitting the bill for these advanced aircraft and giving them to Israel for FREE.

3. Iron Dome- This is Israel's defense against rockets/mortars fire from Palestinian terrorist grounds (was well as countering the rocket threat from Hezbollah in Lebanon). For the 2011 fiscal year the President requested $205 million to support the development and deployment of this defense system (which has been plagued with cost overruns and questions about it's abilities).

4. Israeli Defense Products- As part of the F-35 deal, the US also agreed to purchase $4 billion worth of Israeli produced military equipment. So now only are we giving Israel advanced fighters for free, we are also agree to spend $4 billion on buying their military equipment and therefore we are giving a total of over $7 billion to Israel in combined aid and guaranteed reciprocal arms purchases.

5. Missile Defense- In addition to the aid for the Iron Dome system, the Obama administration requested $202 million in aid to other Israeli missile defense programs in the 2010 fiscal year including the Arrow II/III and the David's Sling system and a further $122 million for the 2011 fiscal year

Source: FAS.org


So clearly to anyone with eyes and half a brain, President Obama's administration was been very supportive of Israel's continued security concerns since he came into office with no evidence of that support weakening anytime soon.

Then this the issue of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. I won't get too much in depth about the legality of the settlements other than to state that since they were first built the US government has always referred to them as illegal and in the last 20 years has used financial pressure to try and get the Israelis to halt or slow their construction.

Now last year there was talk the US was weighing various options to try and pressure Israel into halting construction of the settlements in the West Bank and one of those options was lowering the amount of US Guaranteed Loans to Israel. As expected, the GOP and others in Congress (including many Democrats) decried such ideas as being against the alliance between the US and Israel..Except it has bee done several times before. Now by federal law, no US funds can be used to pay for Israeli settlements since the government considers them illegal. As such, both Presidents Clinton and Bush would reduce the US guaranteed loans to Israel relative to the amount of money it was estimated Israel spent on settlements that particular year. President Bush did so twice during his administration (2003 and 2005) in an attempt to make the Israelis a bit more cooperative in talks with the Palestinians. So while it was OK for President Bush to do this twice during his administration, it is suddenly not OK that President Obama's administration to even MENTION such a tactic. In the end the President has yet to actually pursue such a tactic even after the high tensions between the US and Israel last year and early this year.

So for all this talk about Obama not treating Israel like the close ally that it is, the President's actions concerning Israel have been nothing but extensive and faithful to the close alliance between our two nations. So when you read a story or hear Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, or any other GOP Presidential contender claim that the President has put Israel in danger, you can call out their crap and know the facts. While Obama may have public disagreements with Israel, his support for Israel's security has never waivered.

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