Obama’s whirlwind tour of Israel is completed, and I find that readers are seeking comments on that visit. He did it all right while here: Visiting Yad VaShem (the Holocaust Memorial — required stop for all visiting dignitaries), Sderot, the Kotel — making appropriate comments in each place, and meeting with top leaders.
If there was any concern I had, it was that Obama saw fit to pay a visit to Ramallah and meet with Abbas and Fayyad — something McCain opted not to do when he was here. There was no press conference from Ramallah — it is my impression that he was seeking to keep this low key.
From Aaron Klein at WorldNetDaily comes a report from someone who attended Obama’s meeting with Abbas. Obama reportedly assured PA leadership that there was a “misunderstanding” with regard to his statement about an undivided Jerusalem — a mistake he corrected immediately. This PA official said Obama told them he supports a negotiated settlement that would give the Palestinians territory in Jerusalem. He also expressed “full understanding” regarding the need for Israel to halt “settlement activity.”
Israeli historian Dr. Michael Oren recently provided an analysis of the positions of the two candidates with regard to Israel, and I would like to share highlights here. There are genuine differences:
— “While McCain has avoided criticizing Israel’s settlement policy and balked at delineating the contours of ‘Palestine,’ Obama has impugned the settlements and taken up Bush’s call for a ‘contiguous’ Palestinian state free of Israeli roadblocks and joined by West Bank-to-Gaza routes.
— “McCain… has emphasized the Palestinian Authority’s duty to clamp down on terror in accordance with the Road Map. ‘We must ensure that Israel’s people can live in safety until there is a Palestinian leadership willing and able to deliver peace,’ he stated. Obama, by contrast, has refrained from mentioning the PA’s responsibility in suppressing terror.
— “Obama has expressed strong reservations about the Israeli right, complaining to American Jewish leaders that ‘there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel then you’re anti-Israel.’ He has also welcomed the renewal of peace talks between Israel and Syria… McCain, however, has not revealed a preference for one Israeli party over another and has withheld comment on the Syria-Israeli discussions.
— the Democratic contender seems less adamant than his Republican rival in opposing all communications with Hamas. Obama waited five days before distancing himself from former President Jimmy Carter’s meetings with Hamas officials; McCain condemned them instantly. And while McCain withheld comment on Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas, Obama greeted it as an opportunity to ‘bring calm to the people of southern Israel, improve life for Palestinians in Gaza, and lead to the release of [captured Israeli corporal] Gilad Shalit.'”
As to Dr. Oren’s predictions for the path each candidate would take as president:
“While both aspirants will honor Bush’s pro-Israel legacy and actively pursue peace, McCain would be less prone than Obama to pressure Israel for concessions and more inclined to take the Palestinian Authority to task for its Road Map infractions. Obama may prove more flexible than McCain in admitting some role for Hamas in negotiations and recognizing Palestinian claims to Jerusalem. McCain would preserve and Obama would renounce much of his predecessor’s policies on preemption and the war on terror…
“McCain is unlikely to ratchet up pressure on Israel, to oppose Israeli claims to Jerusalem, or to link the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with any of the region’s manifold struggles. He will not deal with Hamas, even in context of the national unity government that the organization is currently considering with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
“An Obama presidency, however, may well launch an entirely new initiative, one based on zero tolerance for Israeli settlement-building and checkpoints, as well as on the belief that the road to Baghdad and Teheran runs through Bethlehem and Nablus. Obama might be expected to show deeper sympathy for the Palestinian demand for a capital in Jerusalem and greater flexibility in including Hamas in negotiations, if only indirectly, through the national unity coalition with Abbas.”
You might also want to see an article entitled, “Where Does Obama’s Foreign Policy Take Us,” by Kory Bardash and Abraham Katsman: “The candidates… differ on the core issue of whether the Israeli-Palestinian [conflict] is the cause of the rest of the region’s woes, or vice ‘infect(s) all of our foreign policy’ and ‘provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists.’ That is a formulation that suggests heavy Israeli concessions to achieve ‘peace’ at any cost.
“McCain, on the other hand, sees the opposite — that Islamic fanaticism is the obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace: ‘f the Israeli-Palestinian issue were decided tomorrow, we would still face the enormous threat of radical Islamic extremism.’ According to Dr. Oren, neither McCain nor any of his advisors have indicated a readiness to apply greater pressure on Israel.”
And I will say forthrightly that it is McCain’s conceptualization that is correct.