Culture, Israel, Justice, Politics

What does Cuba tell us about Obama and the Middle East?

Guest post by Dr. David Albert, PhD, Austin, TX, professor and foreign policy analyst.
The Jewish community is actively discussing the likelihood of the Obama administration pressing Israel on the peace process. So far, the administration has sent some signals by appointing Mitchell and such, but they haven’t done much to press the new Netanyahu government.
I think their decision to begin a process towards lowering barriers with Cuba is certainly a signal of their approach to foreign policy. It is particularly important, because they are challenging the Cuban American Foundation’s long-standing opposition to an opening to Cuba and the Castros. Their role on Cuba policy is the closest parallel we have to AIPAC’s role on Israel policy. Obama is taking them on. His actions so far are relatively small and basically non-controversial. Even Sen. Mel Martinez is supporting his actions. But they seem to suggest the beginning of a gradual process to overturn a foreign policy taboo. The timing is important, too. Obama took this act in the lead-up to a Latin American trip. This suggests to me that it is possible that Obama may be planning to take some actions to pressure Bibi on the peace process in the lead up to the rumored June Israel trip.
There are some big differences between Israel and Cuba policy. There are significant indications of generational change in the Cuban community on this issue. I see much less of that in the Jewish community. There are significant indications of real change in a positive direction from the Cuban government. Israel has just elected a more recalcitrant government. Also, the Cuban community has long been a Republican stronghold. Obama doesn’t need them to win Florida and doesn’t need Florida to be re-elected. Conversely, the Jewish community is a staunch Democratic group that voted for him overwelmingly (and donated to him in large numbers) and helped him win in several key states. He faces greater political risk challenging AIPAC than he does the Cuban American Lobby. Jimmy Carter and Bush Sr. took significant re-election hits by challenging the Jewish community on the peace process and Obama knows that as well. Obama seems to have some bipartisan support for Sen. Dick Lugar among others for shifting Cuba policy while he is likely to meet stiff resistance from most Republicans and the Christian Zionists to changes in Israel policy. Also, the Cuba policy shift is more of an economic shift and there is support from various farmers and trade lobbysts for changing Cuba policy. There is little in the way of obvious economic lobbies to change US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I think Cuba offers us an indication that Obama’s instincts are to challenge foreign policy taboos and try to resolve decades old conflicts through diplomacy and compromise. But he will do so cautiously, graudally, and strategically. He will challenge influencial foreign policy interest groups if the political costs are not too high. Of course, we don’t know how far he will go. But clearly, the issues around Mideast policy are more entrenched than those around Cuba.

18 thoughts on “What does Cuba tell us about Obama and the Middle East?

  1. How is it always forgotten that President Clinton put all types of pressure–both public and private–on the Netanyahu govt. of ’96-’99, yet he never felt the wrath of AIPAC?
    President Bush I stared down AIPAC, and he completed intimidated them in two sentences in one press conference: “I heard today there was something like a thousand lobbyists on the Hill working the other side of the question. We get one lonely little guy down here doing it.” Do we really think that Bush lost the ’92 election over intimidating those lobbysits, and not because of a recession?
    Have we become so arragont that we really think that AIPAC–and those few brave Jewish souls who fight againt the evil empire–really have so much infulence?
    For better or worse, the people in Israel decide its future–certainly not American Jews.

  2. The current process of pre-stressing the US-Israeli relationship prior to actual negotiations is comical.
    On the one hand, we are told that Israel is a sovereign nation that doesn’t need American protection and can take care of itself. On the other, it must adhere to American demands or face American wrath in the form of withdrawal of exactly that protection.
    On the one hand, if Israel does not do exactly as we say it is damaging its own standing. On the other, if Israel does exactly what we say it will be reduced to a third world sliver of a country under intensifying assault, no longer of consequence to American interests in the region.
    On the one hand, our policy of long supporting Arab dictators and despots is denounced. On the other hand, speak to any Palestinian, Abbas and Fayyad are the quintessential Arab despots, ruling without mandate, sending their goons to break up any discontent by knocking heads, with America helping to build up their personal armies and demanding they stay in power.
    On the one hand, Israel is not allowed to be a “Jewish” country – for that would be racist – but a country of all its citizens. On the other hand, the PA constitution openly calls for an Arab and Muslim country, as does the basic document of every other Arab/Muslim state.
    On the one hand, Israeli settlement is denounced. On the other hand, forty years of unauthorized Palestinian construction in east Jerusalem – which is no less creating “facts on the ground” – is overlooked by the West and encouraged by the PLO/PA.
    On the one hand, the Israel Lobby is seen as an insidious saboteur of policy. On the other hand, it is unclear which lobby has been more successful – the occupation/oppression narrative has been adopted even by the Israeli leadership.
    On the one hand, we are told the Israeli military is capable of defending the country without strategic depth in West Bank and Golan. On the other hand, the IDF has just been embarrassed twice by rag tag armies, in the span of four years, and forced to disengage combat without achieving a single declared objective.
    On the one hand, Israeli concessions grow with every single agreement. On the other hand, the Palestinians have not compromised on A SINGLE DEMAND in 40 years!
    Anti-Israel advocates speak of an imbalance of power that necessarily makes Israel the focus of pressure. An imbalance of power means nothing if that power is left idle. What exists is an imbalance of will, and this deficit is one that no imbalance in power can mitigate.

  3. Firouz, I would say the entire premise of your argument is ridiculous, and would address them point-by point. However, I am busy writing a paper that may very well determine my future.
    All I can say is, the only point with which I agree is on Abu Mazen being no different than your garden-variety Arab dictator.

  4. Firouz, you’re obviously not a historian of any kind. As just one concession among many, during the Oslo Accords the PLO recognized the state of Israel. That was about ten years ago, yes?
    Get your facts straight.

  5. To open another can of worms..I.t’s correct that the PLO recognized Israel, for all intents and purposes, in 1988–five years before Oslo.
    Anwar Sadat gave a speech to his own parliment about peace with Israel and then actually flew to Jerusalem and openly embraced Menachem Begin and Golda Meir–two years before the Eypty-Israel treaty.
    The ’94 treaty with Jordan codified a de facto arrangment that had existed for decades.
    To all of those who advocate for engaging with and thereby strengthening Hamas: Where is the analogy that Hamas will/can ever do business with Israel?

  6. Recognition is a concession for children. What did they get for their one act of recognition (of a nation they decided they could not, at this time, destroy through violence), half the land? Here’s Erakat had to say about the Temple Mount just days ago.
    All they had to do mere months ago in negotiations with Olmert, to stop the war, to stop the bloodshed, to create permanent peace is “recognize” that the Jewish Temple once stood, period. That’s it, really. Olmert gave everything else back! He was willing to ethnically cleanse a hundred thousand Jews from Judea and Samaria, to relinquish Jewish rights and sovereignty in our own home, if only the Arabs “recognized” that we Jews had a Temple 2000 years ago!
    For the sake of peace, a Jewish leader relinquished the right of Jews to pray at the Temple Mount – which is what ’67 borders mean – if only the Arabs accepted we once had a Temple there.
    AND. THEY. DIDN’T!
    They rip through our Temple Mount with bulldozers, and we beg for recognition.
    What? What can you say to that? What more will you offer them? Will you say, you’re right, we don’t have a Temple there? You’re right, we don’t have a right to pray there? Take it all! Take the Temple, our mountain, all of it. Take Jerusalem, our city. Just recognize that there is a Jewish state. Ok, I’m sorry, there isn’t a Jewish state either. Just take it, take it. Take everything. Just recognize we are human beings and put us on a ship back to Europe and you can have everything.

  7. “He was willing to ethnically cleanse a hundred thousand Jews from Judea and Samaria, to relinquish Jewish rights and sovereignty in our own home…”
    But we need to ethnically cleanse most, if not all, Jews from Judea and Samaria in order to save the state of Israel.

  8. KFJ, that sounds ludicrous, right? Read the transcript of the interview with the senior Palestinian negotiator for yourself. What I believe is of no consequence to what Olmert offered them just this last fall, and the ground under which his offer was rejected.
    Jonathan, when did YOU first realize this?

  9. Jonathan, what is the problem?
    It’s a simple question, and there is no hidden agenda.
    When did you first realize that, we need to ethnically cleanse most, if not all, Jews from Judea and Samaria in order to save the state of Israel.
    Was it last year? Last month? 1996?
    When was this “Aha!” moment for you?

  10. I don’t know how to answer you about this because it wasn’t an “Aha” moment. It’s a judgement derived after many years of living in and/or thinking about the state of Israel and the future of the Zionist moment.
    Again, I would think that this realization become crystal clear to most people beginning in 1987…
    except for the honest Right (which talks about Moshiach coming soon or expelling the Palestinians)….
    and the dishonest Right (which talks about political autonomy and neo-demographics–so that we can sleep easier knowing that the Palestinians make up “only” 40% of the people here.)

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