Despite what promises to be a big week for Middle East diplomacy at the White House, President Obama appears nearly oblivious to the mortal threats facing Israel and the US, which have only increased in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” and the Hamas-Fatah unity agreement signed in Cairo last week.
Three major events will occur this week in Washington that will impact US relations with the Arab world and the state of Israel: a visit by King Abdullah of Jordan on Monday and Tuesday, another “outreach” speech by President Obama glorifying the Arab Spring on Thursday, and the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a White House visit on Friday. Netanyahu will address the AIPAC conference on Monday night and follow that up with an address to a Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday.
Overshadowing all of these events is the uncertainty brought about by the marriage of Hamas and Fatah, the continuing rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the surprise announcement that the president’s Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, has resigned.
But what seems like an opportunity to begin repairing relations with Israel, denouncing the alliance between Hamas and Fatah, warning the Arab world about the influence of Islamists in their nascent democracy movements, and speaking some hard truths about despotic regimes like Syria and Yemen, will not be seized upon by the Obama administration. Instead, we are likely to hear some blindly optimistic twaddle that acknowledges nothing and proves that the president and his advisors are foolishly placing their hopes on a series of foreign mirages that bear little resemblance to what is really occurring in the Middle East.
One need look no further than the Palestinian unity agreement that has ended years of conflict between Hamas and Fatah to see the myopic outlook of this administration. Incredibly, as Caroline Glick reports in her Jerusalem Post column, the administration actually believes that the agreement will “moderate” Hamas, forcing them to agree to the three principles of legitimacy set by the Quartet (US, Russia, EU, and the UN) in 2007. Those principles are extremely mild, and require Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist, agree to respect existing agreements with Israel, and renounce terrorism.
But Hamas has flatly refused to abide by those requirements. So what did the Obama administration do about that? They lowered the bar by pointing out that Hamas, by signing the unity agreement, had made “major concessions” in agreeing to form a government of “technocrats” instead of terrorists, and that they had accepted a 2009 agreement with Fatah brokered by Egyptian President Mubarak, which they had rejected two years ago. That agreement demanded that Hamas not join the army in Judea and Samaria – a stipulation they never agreed to in this most recent treaty.
Glick calls this notion of Hamas meeting any conditions “ridiculous” and rightly asks, “[W]ho does the Obama administration think will control these ‘technocrats?’”
There is no doubt that the unity agreement has killed off any possibility of direct talks with the Palestinians. Recognizing this, and treating it as the last straw, George Mitchell shocked the White House by handing in his resignation as Middle East envoy. In fact, some observers believe that Mitchell’s tenure ended months ago, as he became frustrated with what he perceived as both sides “moving the goal posts” every time he offered concessions.
There was also Mitchell’s frustration with shifting policy at the White House. The Obama administration’s incoherence in its Israeli policy was being driven as much by the political necessity of having to support the Jewish State as it was by their desire to bring about an historic peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians by forcing radical concessions on land and settlements from Tel Aviv. Mitchell was caught in the middle and resigned in disgust.
While Mitchell’s departure is something of an embarrassment for the administration and their Middle East policy, the talks held with Jordan’s King Abdullah previews some of the themes the president’s Arab outreach address will highlight on Thursday. Abdullah’s brush with his own Arab Spring demonstrations was handled deftly with serious dialogue between the government and the protesters, and some minor concessions on political liberty were granted by the government.
The president will no doubt hold Jordan up as a model of how governments in the Middle East should address the call for democracy in the streets. What he won’t do is talk about the danger of Islamic extremists like the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) hijacking the revolutions and installing terrorist governments.
The progress of the Brotherhood in Egypt toward gaining control of both the parliament and the presidency in the upcoming elections should be setting off alarm bells throughout the Western world, especially Washington. The fact that it is not speaks volumes about the curious detachment of the Obama administration from the reality of what the Brotherhood is and what it represents.
Although the MB has declared it will not appoint a presidential candidate, recently resigned executive committee member Dr. Abdel Moneim Abul Futouh has announced his candidacy and is widely seen as the Brotherhood’s stalking horse. While Futouh’s statements have been full of sweetness and light – such as when he proclaims his dedication to human rights and freedom – others who know the Brotherhood are unconvinced. Nawla Darwiche, president of the New Woman Foundation, a women’s rights organization, says that Futouh is the “best the Brotherhood has,” but also says “they’re all liars.” She is referring to the constantly changing political agenda of the MB and their stated desire to impose a more doctrinal version of Sharia law on the country.
The administration appears not only sanguine about the possibility of a government dominated by terrorists, but more or less resigned to this fact. It also does not seem particularly alarmed about the turn of events in Yemen, Libya, and Bahrain where extremists have joined the street demonstrations. It is in this context that Barack Obama will address the Arab world on Thursday.
No doubt, the president’s speech will be full of uplifting sentiments about democracy and peace. The Wall Street Journal notes that the president will use the death of Osama bin Laden as evidence that his brand of Islamism is not the road to follow to achieve what the protestors are seeking. The Journal reports that the president will say that the Arab world is at a “crossroads” and that “bin Laden represented a failed approach of the past while populist movements brewing in the Middle East and North Africa represent the future.”
The latter remains to be seen, although the prospect is not very optimistic. But the attraction of young Muslim men to extremism does not appear to be abating, raising the question as to why the president doesn’t address the need for reform within Islam. Or the danger that extremists might co-opt the Arab protest movement. What good is outreach if only half truths are presented, while the hard facts of the Islamic world are ignored?
By contrast, Prime Minister Netanyahu, in his speech before a Joint Session of Congress next Tuesday, will almost certainly offer a more realistic assessment of the state of affairs in the Middle East. The PM gave a preview of his remarks at the opening of the summer session of the Knesset on Monday. There, he outlined several well known conditions for peace with the Palestinians, including defensible borders, no right of return, and Jerusalem as the undivided capitol of the Jewish state.
“We must stop blaming ourselves,” Netanyahu stated, referring to the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist and how some left-wing Israelis see this as their own fault. But Netanyahu will likely not offer any bold new peace initiatives – especially now that Hamas has joined with Fatah. And while it was initially thought that President Obama would put the Israeli prime minister on the spot by trying to force more concessions on him during his Arab outreach speech, later reports indicate that there will be no new efforts by the president to restart talks anytime soon.
Several golden opportunities are being missed by the administration this week. He might have told the Arab world what they needed to hear and not what they want to hear. He might have thrown his support one hundred percent behind the Israelis as they deal with the new reality of a united terrorist entity on their borders.
Instead, there is no vision, no acknowledgment of the peril inherent in extremists gaining influence because of the “Arab spring,” and a failure to stand by our ally Israel as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the terrorist regime in Iran threaten war to achieve their goal of wiping the Jewish state off the face of the earth.
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