Wednesday, 3 June 2009

President Obama is Israel's true friend

I had the pleasure of being interviewed on BBC Radio Wales alongside Sir Andrew Green, former Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, who seemed relatively upbeat about the start made by President Barack Obama with respect to the Middle East. His point that any attack on Iran would engulf the entire region in flames is absolutely right and the points he made about tone and diplomacy mattering were equally well made.

The link is here and our interview commences about 2 hrs 35 mins into the show. (note: BBC- isn't it about time to provided embedded content?)

One thing that has been heartening over the past week is the more assertive line that the president has taken towards Israel. The Bush administration got this spectacularly wrong. Israel- to protect its own security and interests- must surely adopt a different approach towards the Palestinians. Where President Bush went wrong was to provide a protective canopy for Israel to act in the most impulsive and destructive ways. The demand that Israel cease the construction of new settlements in the West Bank or even expand existing settlements is a assertive policy that communicates to the new Israeli government that, while the US is still its friend and ally, it will no longer be uncritical on issues of Palestinian-Arab-Israeli reconciliation.

Of course, the Israel can do no wrong, the Palestinians are perfidious lobby in both the US and the UK are up in arms. Melanie Phillips is typical with a selective take on international law (to say the least). But my feeling is that it is President Obama who remains a true friend to Israel rather than more unquestioning voices.

There is a deal on the table as a starting point- the Arab Peace Initiative- which involves Israel returning to the 1967 borders amongst other things in exchange for peace and acceptance. That's a good deal and it is where Israel will end up anyway whether it is now or after more years of bloodshed. Apparently, the Obama administration tactic is to bring down the Netanyahu government. I very much doubt this- it is a recalibration of US foreign policy to a more balanced and open position. However, if that is the effect of the 'settlements gambit' then so be it. Prime Minister Netanyahu is hardly beneficial to either the Middle East or Israel itself.

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