Obama Struggles against Backlash on Israel

The 2012 American presidential race is already beginning to heat up with attacks aimed at Barack Obama's Israel-PA policies.

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Chana Ya'ar, | updated: 16:01

US President Barack Obama - on the defense?
US President Barack Obama - on the defense?
Israel news photo: (archive)

The 2012 American presidential race is already beginning to heat up with attacks aimed at incumbent President Barack Obama's Israel-Palestinian Authority policies. Pro-Israel groups have launched television ad and telephone campaigns targeting the president's May 19 Middle East policy speech.

Obama called for Israel to agree to a final status deal with the PA, based on the 1949-1967 Armistice lines with land swaps. He also called on the PA to recognize Israel as a Jewish state with a need for secure borders, and offered billions in aid to Egypt, where an interim government is still in place and no one yet knows what kind of leaders will guide Israel's southern neighbor.

The American president added that the agreement should be concluded without a final settlement on Jerusalem or the issue of the so-called "right of return" of Arab refugees, both central points of contention which he alleged could be left for “later.” However, since Jerusalem is the reunited capital of Israel and the Jewish People, and the Palestinian Authority insists on taking nearly half of it for the capital of any country it would create, a final status agreement on such a basis would be essentially impossible.

The Republican Jewish Coalition -- which took a dim view of Obama's policy -- is already gearing up for the race, which may be a tight one. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the organization is conducting a massive automatic telephone campaign that calls on the president to “retract his statements and support secure and defensible borders for Israel.”

The Emergency Committee for Israel meanwhile is thanking Congressional Democrats in a television ad to be broadcast on cable news networks, according to a post on that organization's website. The ad tells viewers that the Democrats in Congress “stood with Israel” while Obama “sided with the Palestinians.”

The White House is hitting back, having posted a statement Friday on its official website. “President Obama: Advancing Israel's Security and Supporting Peace”, which claims the president's policy speech “stated frankly what everyone knows.”

The piece reiterates the president's vision that “a lasting peace will involve two states for peoples” – not an original thought, as it was previously “envisioned” by former President George W. Bush as well – “Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self determination, mutual recognition and peace.”

Former Florida Congressman Robert Wexler also wrote a defense of the president in an op-ed for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel – an important move, since Florida is usually a swing state in presidential elections. In the coming year, it may become an especially pivotal state, inasmuch as Florida has a large “snowbird” population as well – the term for senior citizens who fly south for the winter, many of whom are Jewish. 

In addition, newly-elected Chicago Mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel wrote a pro-Obama op-ed in the weekend Washington Post.