Barack Obama was one of the least qualified presidents when it came to knowledge of foreign policy, and that ignorance was reflected in his policymaking. This was especially true in the Middle East, where his policies toward Israel, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Iraq and Saudi Arabia were disastrous. In the case of Israel, his lack of knowledge was compounded by receiving terrible advice from most of his advisers.
If you want insight into why Obama adopted the hostile positions he did, read Chapter 25 of A Promised Land—the first of two planned volumes of his memoirs—in which he provides his understanding, or more accurately, misunderstanding of Israeli history.
He starts out by dating the Arab-Jewish conflict to the Balfour Declaration when, in fact, it preceded that by centuries. It began with Muslims treating Jews as dhimmis and escalated from the time Jews began to return to their homeland at the end of the 19th century.
He says this was followed by “a surge of Jewish migration to Palestine and organized highly trained armed forces to defend their settlements.” Jewish immigration was actually severely limited by the British while it was the Arabs whose immigration to Palestine grew exponentially. “Trained armed forces” makes the small number of mostly ill-trained, poorly armed underground fighters sound like a mighty army. Most telling is the lack of any mention of how Arabs terrorized the Jews throughout the British Mandate period.
Parroting the far-left version of history he intimates Arab opposition to partition was a result of their “just emerging from colonial rule,” rather than anti-Semitism and a desire among neighboring leaders to carve up Palestine for themselves. The real whopper follows: “As Britain withdrew, the two sides quickly fell into war.”
In fact, the Arabs had threatened to massacre the Jews before the vote on partition; they began to attack immediately after the vote, and four Arab nations invaded when the British left. People fall in love; they don’t fall into war.
Continuing his recitation of the Palestinian narrative masquerading as history, Obama writes that roughly 700,000 Palestinians “found themselves stateless and driven from their lands.” Once again, he portrays the Arabs as passive when most of the Palestinians—nowhere near 700,000—left their homes because they expected the Arab armies to drive the Jews into the sea and wanted to avoid being caught in the crossfire. Wealthy Palestinians left before the war even began. Obama even uses the Palestinian description of the event, referring to it as the nakba—the “disaster” or “catastrophe.”
Indicative of Obama’s view that Israel is the villain, he states that “Israel would engage in a succession of conflicts with its Arab neighbors.” Apparently, there were no decades of terrorism, no blockade of the Straits of Tiran, no threats of driving the Jews into the sea. Not surprisingly, he considers the most significant war the Six-Day War because it resulted in the seizure of the West Bank. Once again, no reference to the Arab threats and buildup before the war. Obama doesn’t even find the no less significant 1973 Yom Kippur War worth mentioning, perhaps because he could not blame Israel for a war that began with Egypt and Syria’s surprise attack on the most sacred of Jewish holidays.
Obama says the Palestinians in the “occupied territories, mostly in refugee camps, found themselves governed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), with their movements and economic activity severely restricted, prompting calls for armed resistance and resulting in the rise of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).”
Put aside the argument as to whether the territories are occupied (they’re not), and that most Palestinians in the West Bank were not refugees and did not live in camps, what is astounding is his total ignorance of the history of the PLO, formed in 1964 by the Arab League and had been engaged in terror attacks years before there was any “occupation.”
Obama’s belief in spontaneous combustion is repeated in his description of the Second Intifada, which takes place while Ariel Sharon is Israeli prime minister. No mention that the violence was instigated by PLO chief Yasser Arafat after he rejected Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state. He does mention Palestinian suicide bombers and Hamas rockets, but his main focus is on Israel’s response—“tear gas and rubber bullets,” “IDF retaliatory raids and the indiscriminate arrest of thousands of Palestinians,” and “U.S.-supplied Israeli Apache helicopters leveling entire neighborhoods.”
You need only read that paragraph to recognize how hostile Obama felt toward Israel before he set foot in the White House.
But there’s more.
He says that Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza. True, but he should also know that it would be meaningless if Egypt did not impose its own blockade.
In another example of his minimizing the terror threat, he writes, “Every so often, rocket fire from Gaza still endangered those living in Israeli border towns.” Let’s see, in 2006, there were 974 rockets, 783 in 2007, 2,084 in 2008, 158 in 2009 and 103 in 2010. His first year in office there were 375 and, the following year, 1,632. In 2014, more than 4,000 rockets were launched into Israel. How would he have reacted if the United States was bombarded by thousands of rockets?
Advisers have the most influence when they reinforce the preconceived notions of the president. Not surprisingly, the Arabists succeeded in leading him astray because he already held similar beliefs about Israel’s supposed negative impact on U.S. interests. “The Israeli occupation continued to inflame the Arab community,” he wrote, for example, “and feed anti-American sentiment across the Muslim world. In other words, the absence of peace between Israel and the Palestinians made America less safe.”
This overlooks the hostility toward America that would exist if Israel disappeared and, as he did throughout his presidency, ignores radical Islam’s war on the West. He even contradicts what he wrote earlier about the Arabs losing interest in the Palestinian issue because they were more concerned with Iran.
Like other supporters of the Palestinians, he also couldn’t care less about Palestinian human rights outside of how they were impacted by the Israeli “occupation.” He mentions Palestinians lacking “the basic rights that even citizens of non-democratic nations enjoyed.” Well, yes, because the Palestinian Authority is not a democracy and denies Palestinians their civil and human rights.
He also dehumanizes Israelis, referring to Palestinians being subject to “the suspicions of every blank-faced, rifle-carrying soldier demanding to see their papers at each checkpoint they passed.”
I’m pretty sure Obama never visited a checkpoint. If he did, he would find soldiers alert and armed to defend the country against a terrorist trying to infiltrate with a bomb. Whatever suspicions they have are based on the history of Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks.
Jimmy Carter left office resentful over the Jews’ abandonment of him in 1980, which he partially blamed for his re-election loss. Obama apparently has similar bitterness. He complains about AIPAC and a “whisper campaign” by Jews who didn’t think he was pro-Israel enough. Even after acknowledging he got more than 70 percent of the Jewish vote (his share dropped from 78 percent to 69 percent in 2012 in large measure because of his hostile policies towards Israel), he said many AIPAC board members still suspected him of “divided loyalties” and didn’t believe he had a strong feeling for Israel “in his kishkes.”
Another hint to the failure of his Middle East policy is his belief that P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas unequivocally recognized Israel and renounced violence, all evidence to the contrary. Obama said he needed a way to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas to negotiate, and he relied on “a talented group of diplomats” who proved to be anything but, as evident by his decision to call for a settlement freeze, a concession the Palestinians never demanded. Abbas said later, “If America says it and Europe says it and the whole world says it, you want me not to say it?”
Obama only asked Abbas to end incitement and violence, but a few paragraphs before he had claimed that Abbas had renounced violence. The Palestinians promised this in 1993, but never did and never would. Showing again what was in his kishkes, Obama said: “It was reasonable to ask the stronger party to take a bigger first step in the direction of peace.”
Obama mentions his Cairo speech in passing. What he doesn’t acknowledge is how that set his policy off on the wrong foot from his very first foreign trip. First, it set the tone for his unwillingness to acknowledge the threat of radical Islam. Second, his refusal to visit Israel reinforced the skepticism about his kishkes. Third, he doesn’t mention the stop in Saudi Arabia on the way, where the king told him he wouldn’t cooperate with his peace initiative helping to doom it from the outset.
Obama says that Abbas was upset because Netanyahu didn’t freeze settlement construction in eastern Jerusalem, but this was a result of Obama’s blunder. By calling for the freeze, Obama alienated the Israelis and, by failing to force Israel to include Jerusalem, convinced the Palestinians that he didn’t have the will to do what they expected after he had given them the impression he would force Israel to capitulate to their demands.
There is one statement worth mentioning unrelated to Israel. Obama writes: “What if a government starts massacring not hundreds of its citizens but thousands and the United States has the power to stop it. Then what?”
He provided the answer by doing nothing for most of his four years because, as he explained, he was afraid there was no telling where the obligation would end.
We’ll have to wait for the second volume to read how Obama justifies the catastrophic Iran nuclear deal, his failure to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons and his attacks on the Israeli government.
Carter was the most anti-Israel president in history. His enmity—some would even say anti-Semitism—became even more evident when he was out of office. Obama’s hostility toward Israel rivals Carter’s, and his memoir helps us understand why. What is more disturbing, however, is that many of the advisers who contributed to Obama’s disastrous policies have been appointed by President Joe Biden to key positions. We can only hope they learned from their mistakes. The early returns are not encouraging.
Source: Mitchell Bard, “For Obama, Israel was ‘No Promised Land,’” JNS, (February 2, 2021)