2016 was a year of pain and loss. The list of household names who passed is staggering: Scalia, Peres, Wiesel, Reagan, Ali, Palmer, Wilder, Shandling, Prince, Bowie, Cohen, and Safer, right up to the end of the year with the deaths of daughter Carrie Fisher and mother Debbie Reynolds on consecutive days.
Our sense of domestic security was shaken, particularly with the Orlando nightclub shooting in which 50 people were murdered, and at home with bombings in Manhattan, Seaside Park, and Elizabeth. And we lost the hope that we felt eight years ago that we were ushering in a post-racial era.
But for American Jews, 2016 may be best remembered — OK, other than the presidential election — as the year that we lost the sense, once and for all, that the U.S. would always stand with Israel. Outgoing Secretary of State’s John Kerry’s 80-minute soliloquy on why Israel is the greatest obstacle to Mideast peace — that was the implication even if he didn’t use that language — was not the unkindest cut of all. After all, we had already witnessed Kerry push forward with the Iranian nuclear deal despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vehement objections, and heard his veiled threats of boycotts in 2014 should Israel and the Palestinians fail to reach a peaceful solution.
No, the true betrayal falls at the feet of Kerry’s boss, President Barack Obama, who orchestrated this petty, personal hit-and-run against Netanyahu.
True, Israel is not blameless in the fraying of this relationship. It was disrespectful for the Israeli government to announce 1,600 new housing units during the 2010 visit of longtime supporter Vice President Joe Biden; Israel was caught spying on the United States during the Iran negotiations; and Netanyahu inappropriately tried to insert himself into the 2012 presidential election by praising Republican challenger Mitt Romney. Most importantly, in 2014 he accepted a Republican invitation to address Congress, which he used to attack Obama’s Iran deal.
But Obama’s decision to abstain on a one-sided UN Security Council resolution on settlements could have a profound, negative impact for Israel. To be clear on a cloudy subject, the West Bank is “disputed territory” rather than “occupied Palestinian territory.” The difference is far more than semantics: If land is disputed, both parties have a claim to it, which affects the tenor and substance of all subsequent negotiations. Occupied territory on the other hand, must be returned, plain and simple. Calling the West Bank “occupied” territory is a malicious fiction.
Moreover, including East Jerusalem in the resolution denies all Jewish connection with the capital and heartland of our historic homeland.
One can still question whether expanding settlements at this time is politically sound, knowing that it can be seen as precluding a contiguous Palestinian state. But suggesting that settlement construction is the primary impediment to a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a gross misreading of the complex reality on the ground, and a basic distortion of history.
The lasting significance of the resolution is that Israel saw its best friend stand aside as the UN proved itself again to be an unapologetically bigoted international body, determined to punish the Jewish state while ignoring the genocide in Syria and other countries committing unmistakable human rights violations.
I disagree with Obama on several of his key foreign policy positions, including his insistence on a categorical freeze on settlements, and an Iranian nuclear deal that could have been far tougher on Tehran. But I still believe the president is a decent, intelligent man who feels he has the best interests of the Israelis and Palestinians at heart. Indeed, it is widely reported that military and strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel was at its highest level during Obama’s tenure.
But I was stunned to see that the calm, calculated president would take such a parting shot at his rival, Netanyahu, on his way out the door. It’s the political equivalent of a kid picking up his bat and ball and going home. We expected better, especially with Israel that much more isolated now in a chaotic hotspot, and the chances for peace that much further removed.