Daniel Pipes

Why does Barack Obama focus so much on Israel and its struggle with the Arabs?

It's not just that he's spending days in Israel this week, but his disproportionate four-year search to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict. His first full day as president in 2009 saw him appointing George Mitchell as special envoy for the Middle East and also telephoning the leaders of Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority. The White House press secretary justified this surprising emphasis by saying that Obama used his first day in office "to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term." A few days later, Obama granted his first formal interview as president to Al-Arabiya television channel.

Nor did he subsequently let up. In June 2009, Obama announced that "The moment is now for us to act" to ease tensions between Israel and its neighbors and declared "I want to have a sense of movement and progress. … I'm confident that if we stick with it, having started early, that we can make some serious progress this year." In May 2011 he announced impatience with regard to Arab-Israeli diplomacy: "we can't afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades to achieve peace." The new secretary of state, John Kerry, repeated these sentiments in his Jan. 2013 confirmation hearing: "We need to try to find a way forward." Why this fixation on the Arab-Israeli conflict, which ranks only 49th in fatalities since World War II? Because of a strange belief on the Left, rarely stated overtly, that this issue is key not just to the Middle East but to world problems.

For an unusually frank statement of this viewpoint, note the spontaneous, awkward comments of James L. Jones, then Obama's national security adviser, in Oct. 2009. Addressing J Street, he mentioned "pursuing peace between Israel and her neighbors" and continued:


Daniel Pipes

Daniel Pipes is president of the Middle East Forum.