Published in The Jerusalem Post  and (in truncated form) Israel Hayom , November 11, 2016.
Rejection leads to projection. In his final days, Obama will act to unilaterally move the markers where he still can, including a drive towards Palestinian statehood. Israel should make it clear, both as a threat and as a policy principle to be put into action, that unilateral action (against Israel) will beget unilateral Israeli action in response. If Obama moves the markers, Israel will move the markers…
For some time, it has been our assessment that President Barack Hussein Obama was likely to move dangerously on Israeli-Palestinian issues during his 72-day lame duck period between the November presidential election and the January 2017 inauguration of his successor.
The ruckus he could cause in this danger zone even earned a name: The December Surprise.
After being resoundingly repudiated this week, Obama became an even more dangerous politician.
Obama was trashed and trounced by the American public, on ideological grounds – which indubitably makes him bitter and determined to get his way; out for revenge in his dying days.
Consider: The election of Donald J. Trump as the next president of the United States is the ultimate slap down of Obama. It is a searing personal defeat. After all, Obama made it clear that this election was a referendum on his “legacy.”
He explicitly warned voters that unless Hillary Clinton was elected president, “everything” that he stood for and every policy he worked for would be washed down the drain. Obama literally said that the “fate of the nation” hangs in the balance.
Last Friday, the outgoing president told MSNBC that “If you supported me in ‘08, if you supported me in ‘12, if you think that I’ve done a good job, if you believe that Michelle has done a good job — everything that we’ve done over the last eight years will be reversed with a Trump presidency. And everything will be sustained and built on with a Hillary Clinton presidency.”
Well, there isn’t going to be a Hillary Clinton presidency, and it’s not just because she was a flawed candidate. It’s because half of all Americans rejected the notion that Obama has “done a good job,” and they weren’t interested in “sustaining” his policies. They didn’t want another four or eight years of Obama.
They didn’t buy the Democratic message that everything was swell in America, and that all that was needed was a competent Democrat to advance Obama’s superior approach.
They were offended by Obama’s smug assurances of omnipotent everything: That he possessed exceptional insight on every issue, and that he had executed the most-outstanding economic, social and foreign policy. And that Hillary was the repository of this unique wellspring of near-prophetic and superhuman wisdom.
It was time to take Obama dully down. And so they did, those middle-of-the-road Americans. They weren’t swayed by the crooning of Jay-Z, Beyonce and Springsteen alongside Obama (and Hillary), or the endorsements of Hollywood and high academia.
They whipped and whopped Obama. Oh, this must sting.
REJECTION LEADS TO PROJECTION. A man as ideologically arrogant and unrepentant as Obama is sure to double-down on, not back away from, those things that he most believes in and has yet still to achieve.
It is therefore more likely than ever that in his final weeks in office, Obama will unilaterally act to impose his worldview and move the policy markers wherever he still can.
He will sneer at the aides who tell him that his time has passed, and that he shouldn’t rock the boat. He will reject advisors who assert that he should focus merely on protecting his “achievements” like Obamacare and the Iran deal. He will rebuff activists who are concerned about the state of his camp; he doesn’t give a damn about the fortunes of the Democratic Party.
Instead, Obama will strike-out to make a lasting mark, and strike at those he resents most.
And this means seeking to impose Palestinian statehood, and punishing Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Remember that from Day One in office, Obama prioritized the push towards Palestinian statehood. His very first acts were to appoint George Mitchell as Mideast peace negotiator and squeeze Netanyahu over settlements. Even as Mahmoud Abbas slid precipitously from purported peace partner to out-and-out fomenter of violence and hangman of Israel in international fora – Obama hasn’t wavered in his coddling of Abbas or his commitment to the “urgent necessity” of Palestinian statehood.
If anything, Obama has ramped-up his rhetoric over the past year about the need for “justice” in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He has repeatedly insisted that Israel’s best interests – about which is an expert and to which he is deeply committed – lie in the rapid establishment of a Palestinian state. Even if it is a runaway state that hasn’t settled its central grievances with Israel.
That’s what Obama was saying in his speech at the funeral on Mt. Herzl for Shimon Peres, when he spoke about Peres’ “moral vision” and passion for “justice”; about the “dehumanizing” and “unfinished business” of peacemaking with Palestinians; and about security that can come only from “true peacemaking,” and by ending Israel’s “slave”-like rule over the Palestinians.
I immediately understood Obama’s speech as a warning of “tough love” that can yet be expected of him in the waning days of his presidency, and beyond; of determined action in support of “justice” for the Palestinians (– yes, there is that word again!) that Obama will yet dish out while citing the legacy of Peres as cover.
In other words, the ghost of Peres is a new cudgel to be wielded against Prime Minister Netanyahu and anybody that runs afoul of Obama’s impatient drive towards statehood-now for the Palestinians. I fully expect Obama to hurl forth, no matter how deleterious this may be to real peacemaking or to American positioning in the Mideast.
WHAT CAN ISRAEL DO to counter Obama’s expected foray, probably at the UN Security Council, into the Palestinian morass? Israel should make it clear, both as a threat and as a policy principle to be put into action, that unilateral action (against Israel) will beget unilateral Israeli action in response. If they move the markers, Israel will move the markers.
If the US violates decades of commitments to Israel and acts to prejudge the outcome of direct negotiations between the parties by imposing parameters for a “solution” – say, by recognizing Palestinian statehood, or by articulating border lines, or by criminalizing settlements – Israel should act to shore-up its core interests in Jerusalem and the settlement blocks. That means significant new building in these areas (long overdue!) and even annexation.
Israel’s policy in this regard should be coordinated, if possible, with the incoming Trump administration, but not be dependent on any so-called American green light.