Time for a Jerusalem Speech?

Apparently, President Obama has started to alienate Israelis, and I’m not talking about the crazed few who now lead the Israeli government.  I mean, the common folk.

A survey from late-June found that just 6% of the Israeli public believes Obama is on their side, and a whopping 50% think he is pro-Palestinian.  36% say he’s neutral.   If those numbers don’t make your jaw drop for a number of reasons, then I’d stop reading.

But first a little perspective.  The same survey asked respondents about Obama’s predecessor.  88% found him to be pro-Israeli, 7% said neutral, and 2% said pro-Palestinian.  Apparently, Bush found the way to their hearts by calling their country a mess too complex for him to deal with then rushing for some souvenir photo-ops in his final two years in office.  But let’s not go there now.

And here’s the real kicker: just in May, survey results showed 31% believing Obama to be pro-Israel, while 40% said neutral and just 14% said pro-Palestinian.

Here’s a link to the survey.

So clearly, there’s been some commotion recently in the career-tarnishing, chaotic nexus of Washington-Holy Land relations.  And a report released this month by the Center for American Progress argues this needs to change.

In the report, one of many policy recommendations for the Obama administration is to reach out more effectively to Israelis through “more active public diplomacy” in order “to reassure Israel that it will continue to support its security and work to maintain a close bilateral relationship….”

I assume their thinking is that standing in Cairo before a Muslim world largely hostile to such a relationship and saying this–

America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known.  This bond is unbreakable.

–just doesn’t quite do the trick.  But broadly speaking, this argument is completely illogical.  The reason why a window of opportunity for a peace settlement exists is precisely because President Obama has been willing to depart from the tradition of, well, whatever it is that gets an American president an 88% approval rating in Israel.  The idea is to show the Palestinians that the U.S. is a more neutral powerbroker.  And nothing will get Palestinians and their regional allies thinking like upset Israelis.

Moreover, the object of Obama’s diplomacy is not mere showmanship for the sake of Muslims.  He’s trying to bring Israelis to the negotiating table with a real chance for success.  Now, it would be one thing if the Israeli public was obstinate in its ways and unworried about American policies.  But they’re not.

Another survey demonstrates the real potential of this shift in Israeli opinion.  On the issue of settlements, according to a June survey, 42% of Israelis oppose settlement expansion. Fine.  But an additional 41% support expansion but oppose it if it leads to a “confrontation with the United States.”

That’s a big deal, and it’s why Obama’s diplomatic efforts are working.  Clearly, Israelis not only have taken note of the changes in Washington but also are receptive to change to maintain relations with the U.S., or perhaps more optimistically, to advance the peace process.

I realize pressure on Israel isn’t something Americans, especially Washington policymakes, have seen for a long time.  So for the authors of the recent report and any other naysayers out there: take note; this is what diplomacy looks like.

For more:

Where I found the idea for this. Ben Smith’s blog at Politico is usually what I skim for trashy excerpts from press releases, but today a real find.

Stephen Walt’s input on the settlement issue, and where I found the second survey. I’ll be back sometime soon with more assessing Walt’s defense of his Israel Lobby argument.

And just in case you want to relive it, Obama’s Cairo speech in full.


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