I’m hopeful about President Obama’s Middle East policy. Yesterday he even referred obliquely to Palestinian suffering. Call me naive, but I think he has the unique ability to triangulate the pro-Israel crowd with the pro-Palestinian crowd, and end that bloody dialectic in the world’s story.
That said, the pool report on Obama’s visit to Ramallah to meet for an our with the Palestinian prime minister and his foreign minister suggested that he is surrounded by a wall of Jewish flesh: Obama was accompanied by advisers Dennis Ross, Jim Steinberg, Dan Shapiro. Susan Rice, Dan Kurtzer. Rice is black. Ross and Kurtzer are Jewish, I’m betting Steinberg and Shapiro are too. Ross, Kurtzer and Steinberg all served Clinton. This looks like further evidence of the ways that the Israel lobby–in htis case, Obama’s fears about losing Jewish financial support if he seeks to be evenhanded–has crippled policymaking in the Middle East.
Ambassador Kurtzer agrees with me. In his recent book Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, he said what I am saying in diplomatic terms: “The Clinton team could have benefited from greater regional and cross-cultural expertise….the absence of Arab expertise was handicapping U.S. diplomacy…’There was no expert on our team on Islam or on Muslim perspectives,’ said a former Clinton Administration official.”
Then later: “both Clinton and Bush 43 failed to argue strongly against Israeli policies that… contradicted U.S. policies or interest, such as settlement expansion and certain occupation practices.”
I’m not talking about color-bars here,and I’m sure one or two of these guys is enlightened. I’m talking about a little cultural diversity. As I argue to Dan Fleshler below, having both feet in the Jewish community is a recipe for nonaction. We won’t get out of this swamp till non-Jews are encouraged to play a real role in these overtures.