Obama: More pro-Israel than any other US president

Obama: More pro-Israel than any other US president
Comment: For all his commitment to the Jewish state, it is bewildering that US President Barack Obama should be seen in Israel as an antagonist, writes Usaid Saddiqui
6 min read
19 Sep, 2016
Obama meets Netanyahu at the Oval Office of the White House [Getty]

On Wednesday September 14th, the Obama White House pledged the largest military aid package to any country in US history. Over the next 10 years, Israel is set to receive $38 billion, up from the $31 billion guaranteed for the period 2007-2017.

The Obama administration's relationship with the Israeli state and its megalomaniacal Prime Minister has arguably been at its worst since the two countries established relations when the Israeli state was established in 1948.

The Netanyahu government never misses an opportunity to undercut Obama; yet the US president has only bolstered support to Israel much to the detriment of the Palestinian people who once hoped he would be different.

The 'worst US president for Israel'

In a poll conducted in February of this year, Obama was ranked by Jewish Israelis as the worst president in the past 30 years. Much of this is a symptom of the tense relationship the Netanyahu led government has had with the incumbent President over the past 8 years.

Obama's insistence early in his presidency on reigniting a dead peace process and on halting settlement building in occupied West Bank and Jerusalem, did not down well with the Israeli government. While Netanyahu and his cohorts pretended to heed Obama's demands, they were actually largely ignored, and at times harshly admonished by Israel over the past seven years.

Despite repeated condemnations, Israel's settlement projects in the West Bank and Jerusalem continued at an alarming rate. Recent data obtained by the Associated Press showed that settlement expansion during Obama's term was similar, and even exceeded in some cases then under his predecessors. While sporadic periods of settlement freezes have been implemented during the past seven years, Obama for the most part turned the other cheek.

Obama was ranked by Jewish Israelis as the worst president in the past 30 years

In addition to defying the Obama administration on policy, the Israeli government never missed an occasion to publically humiliate him. Netanyahu's Oval office visit in May 2011, during which he derided the President - the single most powerful man in the world - on national television for advocating peace negotiations based on pre-1967 borders (as stipulated by international law), was a defining moment in an increasingly difficult relationship between the two leaders. Netanyahu described the proposal as "indefensible” and as something he would never accept.

Relations between the two countries hit rock bottom as Obama pushed for a peace agreement with Iran. Netanyahu's congressional address months before the deal was finalised was a coordinated attempt to openly insult the President in his own backyard as he sought to achieve a key foreign policy goal to solidify his legacy. Nancy Pelosi, former speaker of the House and ardent Israel supporter, said the episode left her in tears and called the speech an "insult to the intelligence of the United States".

Such a public challenge to a US president would have been unfathomable had the incumbent been a Reagan, Bush or even Clinton; whose dislike for the current Israeli Prime Minister's antics and bullying is no secret.

Rewarding Israel, enabling occupation

For most of his presidency, Obama has kept his disdain for the Netanyahu government largely under wraps, ever careful to not offend Israelis or Israel's enablers at home, the powerful Israel lobby. Nevertheless, it is perplexing that with every rebuke and chastening action directed towards him, Obama has always sought to reward the Israelis with more arms, financial capital and rhetorical support. There have been very few consequences for such behaviour, enabling them to further solidify their oppression of Palestinians.

In 2010, to pressure Israel to halt settlement activity for a mere 90 days, the Obama administration promised to do Israel's bidding on the international stage while promising 20 advanced jets to further buttress their already resourceful military - all this to demand Israel meet what is its international obligation and a widely accepted violation of international law, one that it has been breaking since 1967.

Obama has always sought to reward the Israelis with more arms, financial capital and rhetorical support

In contrast, his predecessor George W. Bush, seen mostly favorably by regular Israelis, threatened to withhold aid from Israel in 2003, in opposition to the West Bank wall built fundamentally to segregate the Palestinians and annex more of their land.

While the move hardly caused a dent into Israel's future plans, in retrospect, it seemed a more a stern policy directive than anything the current administration has had to offer.

If there was any doubt about Obama's commitment to Israel, his steadfast support for Israel as it waged devastating wars on the blockaded Gaza strip during his presidency was enough to remove any qualms anyone may have had about which side he stood on.

While the international community overwhelmingly condemnened Israel's criminal bombardment in 2014, a war that lasted for 51 days and killed nearly 1,500 civilians, Obama's response was to repeat the age old mantra of Israel's right to defend itself, while mostly glossing over the disproportionate number of deaths on the Palestinian side.

Even when it would occasionally show concern over the rising death toll, the White House would simultaneously defend its decision to resupply Israel with ammunition and other military sales.

Obama had a golden opportunity to redefine the American-Israeli nexus

Adding insult to injury, at an Iftar dinner during the 2014 Gaza war, Obama reiterated to a gathering of American Arab and Muslim leaders (including Palestinians) that "We've been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself against what I consider to be inexcusable attacks from Hamas".

The dinner which functions as an event to celebrate America's Muslims, was the last place one would expect the President to make such a declaration, that too in the presence of Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer - who once espoused the belief that a "culture tendency towards belligerency" existed in the Arab world and Islam. 

For all the change and hope Obama promised in Cairo in 2009 - a speech intended to signal his enthusiasm for mending relationships with Muslim and Arab world after the Bush era - Palestinians have certainly not experienced much of this. At a time when public opinion in the US is becoming far more critical of Israeli policy, Obama had a golden opportunity to redefine the American-Israeli nexus that would not only strike a more balanced approach to the decades old conflict in the Middle East, but put American interests before those of Israel.

This latest deal is just another measure of how miserably Obama and has failed to achieve either goal; as the $38 billion will not only serve to destroy more Palestinian lives and homes, but keep the Americans immersed in a political relationship that has been for far too long, a one way affair.

Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.