Losing Faith in the Messiah

Nevertheless, Obama continues to stand alone on the world stage, seemingly without a goal and oceans removed from achieving a solution to the toxic Middle East conflict. US historian Walter Russell Mead recently wrote of Obama in the journal Foreign Relations that "the conflicting impulses influencing how this young leader thinks about the world threaten to tear his presidency apart -- and, in the worst scenario, turn him into a new Jimmy Carter."

Such words could be a death sentence in US politics. Carter is seen as a likeable failure, a president no one took seriously.

But in the Middle East, of all places, Carter is still ahead of Obama. He managed to bring the Israelis and Egyptians to one table and, in 1979, celebrated the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords. As a result, Israel withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, which it had occupied since 1967, and evacuated its settlements there.

Slim Chances of Success in Israel and Palestine

Obama's chances of achieving a similar success between the Israelis and Palestinians today are far from promising. The Palestinians no longer trust him, and the Israelis don't take him seriously, as Prime Minister Netanyahu's "apology" to Vice President Biden demonstrated last week. Netanyahu said that he regretted the "unfortunate timing" of the settlement announcement. Netanyahu's spokesman claimed that the premier had not known about the settlement plans -- one of the biggest construction projects in Jerusalem.

It isn't as if the US government had no leverage to convince Israel to at least make minor changes to its settlement policy. The Jewish state receives about $2.5 billion (€1.8 billion) in annual military aid alone from Washington. Some of Obama's predecessors had no qualms about threatening Israel with cuts in aid. President Gerald Ford did it in 1975, because he felt that the Israelis were too inflexible in negotiations with Egypt. President George H.W. Bush held back $10 billion in US government loan guarantees until Israel agreed to participate in the planned Madrid peace conference. Even his son, President George W. Bush, froze some of the loan guarantees in 2003, when Israel began building a "security fence" that penetrated deeply into Palestinian territory.

Obama, on the other hand, has shied away from setting tough conditions for Israel. Many of his critics blame that stance on his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, 50.

In Washington, every Democrat who would like to but doesn't dare to criticize the president is turning against Emanuel. They see him as a dark Rasputin exerting his virtually hypnotic control over Obama.

In Arab countries, many believe Emanuel is an Israel agent, and they cite his background as proof. The son of a Zionist underground fighter, he served in the Israeli army as a civilian volunteer, despite being an American citizen.

Obama's many mistakes in the Middle East are reflected in the low opinion of Emanuel held among Prime Minister Netanyahu's staff members, who see him as a despicable figure. In their view, it was Emanuel who incited Obama against Israel and was responsible for Jerusalem's and Washington's troubles with the settlements.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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