Opinion

The Great Debate

Can Obama inspire youth vote in Israel?

President Barack Obama’s message to Israel last week was both powerful and urgent: You can’t go on like this. The status quo is not a viable option.

That is a direct challenge to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who acts like Israel can go on like this for the foreseeable future. Many Israelis are strongly tempted to believe, with Netanyahu, that the threat of terrorism and the occupation of the West Bank are manageable problems.

“It can be tempting,” Obama said when addressing an audience of Israeli students in Jerusalem, “to put aside the frustrations and sacrifices that come with the pursuit of peace, particularly when Iron Dome repels rockets, barriers keep out suicide bombers [and] there are so many other pressing issues that demand your attention.”

The president’s warning: Don’t be tempted. “Peace is the only path to true security,” he said. “The only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

Israel has three options. None is good.

The status quo means continued Israeli control of a hostile population. “It is not fair,” Obama told Israelis, “that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own, living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls their movements.”

U.S. aid, Israel and wishful thinking

In June 1980, when an American president, Jimmy Carter, objected to Jewish settlements in Israeli-occupied territories, the Israeli government responded by announcing plans for new settlements. At the time, settlers numbered fewer than 50,000.

In 2010, another American president, Barack Obama, is calling for an end to settlements he considers obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Israeli authorities responded by announcing new ones, illegal under international law. Settlers now number close to half a million.

In the three decades between 1980 and 2010, there have been multiple U.S.-Israeli spats over the issue and they often fell into something of a pattern, spelt out in 1991 by James Baker, President George H W Bush’s secretary of state: “Every time I have gone to Israel in connection with the peace process … I have been met with an announcement of new settlement activities. It substantially weakens our hand in trying to bring about a peace process.” That is as true now as it was then.

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