Alan Dershowitz: Israelis Waiting on Obama's Visit

Tuesday, 26 Feb 2013 03:35 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio's trip to Israel was important, but the country is really waiting for President Barack Obama's long-anticipated visit, Alan Dershowitz tells Newsmax.

While Rubio, as a potential presidential candidate, was greeted with open arms, it is still Obama that the country wants to see, Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, Newsmax contributor, and a highly respected defender of Israel, said.

“Rubio is getting the treatment that any potential nominee for president might get, whether it be a Democrat or a Republican,” he said.

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Obama is due to visit the Jewish state next month, the first time since he entered the White House in January 2008. “It’s about time,” said Dershowitz.

“The president should have gone earlier when he went to Cairo. He made a mistake not going to Israel. But he can easily make up for it and it’s important that the president speak directly to the Israeli people.” He said in other Middle East countries where a king or dictator wields power, a visiting president has few opportunities to speak to the man and woman in the street.

“In Israel, we have a government that may not be a particularly strong government; we don’t know what it will even look like by the time the president gets there,” he said. “Who will be in the government? The people really do rule in Israel so the president has some credibility building to do among the Israeli people.”

Obama will do “a good job” if he speaks to Israelis, Dershowitz said. “He’s very likeable,” he said.

However, Obama 's “popularity ratings are not particularly high in Israeli. They’re going up but they’re not particularly high and he has a job to do. He has to persuade the Israelis that a compromised peace with the Palestinians is in the best interest of the Israelis, if he believes that to be true.”

While Rubio made a point to identify Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv as the capital of Israel, Dershowitz said that won't boost his ratings much among Israelis, most of whom do not know who he is.

“Every person who’s not president says that and once they’re president they don’t do anything about it, whether Republican or Democrat,” he said. “Every candidate says they’re going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which ought to be done. It’s a city of close to 1 million people and it’s the capital. It’s where the Supreme Court is, it’s where the Knesset is, it’s where the president’s house is.”

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Meanwhile, Obama's visit is very important in terms of U.S.-Israeli relations and how the countries will move forward on Iran, Dershowitz said.

“I was in Israel some several months ago and President Obama called me on the phone because I had just spoken with President (Benjamin) Netanyahu,” said Dershowitz. “He said to me, 'Alan, what are the three things Israelis are talking about most?' And I said, 'Let me tell you, in the order in which they’re speaking about them: Iran is number one, Iran is number two, Iran is number three. You want to know four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10?'”

Dershowitz said Israelis aren't particularly worried about “Hezbollah or Hamas or the Palestinian authority,” as they would like to make peace and move on — but Iran is different. And the debate is everywhere.

“Should Israel take unilateral action? Should it try to destroy the Iranian nuclear reactor? Should it depend on the United States? Have the Iranians crossed the threshold? What is the threshold? Does Israel have the capacity to do it alone? What if it fails? What if we can only partially destroy it?”

He expects Obama to come with a private and discreet message about the Israeli problem with Iran, and that message will be “to the prime minister and to the other people who will make the decision, the small cabinet, and it may very well be, look we have your back. We will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons.”

Israelis will want to know, though, why Obama nominated former Sen. Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.

“He certainly doesn’t seem to have Israel’s back,” Dershowitz said. “He talked about containment, he talked about being opposed to unilateral sanctions. Nobody is going to raise the Hagel issue overtly in Israel, but it will certainly be a behind the scenes concern that the Israelis have about whether or not President Obama is as committed to Israel’s security as he says he is.”

Dershowitz said Obama will not “use his credibility and his limited amount of time and resources to accomplish things to try to move the peace process forward unless there’s a realistic possibility it will happen.” That, he says, is frustrating.

But the making peace in the Middle East is not easy, he accepts. “President Clinton came very close,” he said. “He offered the Palestinians virtually everything they ever asked for and Arafat turned him down. If not for Arafat’s untimely death — I say untimely because if he’d only died four years earlier, there might be peace today in the Middle East and there might be a Palestinian state.”

However, he said, Arafat “said no to the best offer the Palestinians will ever get,” Dershowitz said.

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However, peace is still on the distant horizon, he added.

“The appointment of Tzipi Livni to be minister of justice is a step toward peace, because she wants to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and she’s been appointed as the negotiator in that process.”

It will all depend on who else comes into Netanyahu's coalition, he said. "Nobody wants the Israelis to make sacrifices or concessions regarding their security. That’s off the table.”





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