American-Israeli Relations and Policy: The Obama Bush (Dis?)Continuity

A recent theme in American-Israeli relations has been the supposed breakdown of a long history of trust with the election and policies of the Obama administration. A salient example of this is at

The article is insightful for a number of reasons, not all intentional. The sources of the quotes in the article almost all come from the Israeli political and foreign policy establishment (the exception is a block of five sentences on page 5 of the article that reports the opinions of two Palestinian leaders). So if we accept that caveat, the premise of the article, "View from the Middle East: President Obama Is A Problem," becomes instead, "View from the Israeli Government: President Obama Is A Problem," and which seems fairly accurate.

There is a significant break between politicians and the public on the wide range of crucial issues. A poll of Israeli attitudes from April 2010 exemplifies this break:

The first table in particular demonstrates that a large majority of Israelis would trade not only settlement expansion, but most of the settlements, for peace, while only a minority believes that most Israelis would agree with that position. So the current Israeli policy is far to the right of Israeli public opinion, and, unsurprisingly, we see that the Israeli government is undemocratic. Furthermore, settling one's civilian population on occupied territory is itself a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, Article 49:

Remember that this law were enshrined after World War II in order to prevent the worst atrocities of Nazi Germany and imperial Japan; therefore, it should greatly concern the United States when its closest ally is breaking this law.

One should also note that the aforementioned opinions are in accord with the consensus both internationally and within Israel and occupied Palestine as to how to solve the conflict. See page 16 of this report:

To quote the relevant sections:

"Establishing a viable, sovereign state is the top priority for Palestinians, and the proposal “two states for two peoples – Israel and Palestine” is widely accepted by both publics. This option was found satisfactory by about three-fifths of both Palestinians (63%) and Israelis (61%) and unacceptable by about one-fifth of each public
(Peace Polls, 2/09 – see Table 4.1).3 Recently, a Truman Institute survey (3/1-14/10) found a
larger majority of Israelis (71%) than Palestinians (57%) support the “two-state solution” based
on “the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.” Surveys by the Institute for
National Security Studies have found that Israeli support for the “two states for two peoples”
concept (64% in 5/09) has run about 10 points higher than support for “the establishment of a
Palestinian state” (53% in 5/09). Two-thirds of Palestinians (68%) support going to the U.N. to
gain recognition for an “independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders” (AWRAD,

Peace Polls (2/09) found much less support among Israelis and Palestinians for a single “binational
federal state in which Israelis and Palestinians share power.” This option was found
unacceptable by 59 percent of Palestinians and 66 percent of Israelis (Table 4.1). Truman
Institute surveys (3/10) found two-thirds or more of both Palestinians (69%) and Israelis (70%)
oppose a “one-state solution for two peoples” in which Palestinians and Israelis would have
equal rights."

So, the factual "View from the Middle East" is that people of both countries want a two-state solution along the lines of UN Resolution 242, the dominant framework since 1967.

Bringing the discussion back to the main topic of this post, what is notable is the extent to which Obama's policies have mirrored those of GW Bush while media outlets (the Politico article is emblematic) seem to accept the premise that Israeli-American relations are much weaker now due to Obama's missteps. The current paradigm is GW Bush's Road Map to Peace, an agreement reached during his administration that stipulates:

"As first steps, Israel must immediately dismantle what are called settlement "outposts," extensions of Israeli colonies built in the Palestinian territories, and Palestinian leaders must immediately curb terrorism and take steps toward a democratic, accountable government." (

Please note both that this language is democratic insofar as it is in line with global public opinion and significantly to the left of Obama's actual actions, which are mentioned in the Politico article.

Why then would Obama be perceived as harming Israeli-American relations compared to GW Bush, who was ostensibly much more at odds with the Israeli positions advocated in this article.

Israeli policies may have themselves become more untenable. There is an excellent analysis in the book "This Time We Went Too Far," about the Gaza War and its ramifications, including the Goldstone Report. It is a quick read (<200 pages) that I highly recommend. I think it is wrong to note that Obama's domestic politics or party affiliation (e.g., "Republicans are the party of national security") cause this putative change in media coverage, considering the orgasm of adulation greeting Clinton's various efforts in Israel-Palestine and Obama's even better command of the media and global public opinion just two years ago.

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