Sunday, July 13, 2014

Substance over symbolism

April 05. 2013 7:30AM
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One of the sore spots in the foreign policy of U.S. President Barack Obama has been his relationship with Israel. The special relationship between Washington and Tel Aviv has been one of the cornerstones of U.S. diplomacy, a lodestar for U.S. presidents since the founding of the state of Israel.

The strength of that relationship reflects Israel’s status as the first and strongest democracy in the Middle East, the alliance with the U.S. and, to the consternation of some, the power of the Israeli lobby in Washington.

Since taking office, Obama has been accused of ignoring Israel and showing favoritism toward the Palestinians. In one of his first overseas trips as president, he went to Egypt to deliver a speech that aimed to re-establish the U.S. relationship with the Arab and Islamic world.

Ever since, critics have charged that Obama is less than committed to the defense of Israel, pointing to his criticism of Israeli settlements and statements that endorsed returning to borders that existed before the 1967 Arab-Israel war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made common cause with those critics to increase his leverage in negotiations with Obama. The result has been considerable tension between the two men.

In truth, Obama’s commitment to the defense of Israel has not wavered.

By almost all accounts, he succeeded. From the moment he landed in Israel, Obama told Israelis they are not alone and that their alliance with the U.S. remains strong. In a speech in Jerusalem on March 21, he planted himself firmly on the side of the Israeli people, and then made an impassioned plea to see the world from a Palestinian perspective. It was a masterful performance, the high point of the trip, and one that won over his audience.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is set to return to both Israel and Palestine to press for the resumption of peace talks. Deep engagement by Kerry will be one sign that Obama is now committed to substance rather than symbolism when approaching this intractable problem.

The Japan Times

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