Which American president said this? “You know, when I hear the Europeans talk about Israel, they just sound anti-Semitic.” No prizes for guessing that this is not Barack Obama speaking, but his predecessor: the once derided, now unmentionable George W. Bush. The remark is quoted by Elliott Abrams in his memoir Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (Cambridge University Press, £18.99). Abrams was the man the president trusted to run his Middle East policy and his book offers a unique insight into the White House of the Bush era.
Having spent several years observing the struggles between Bush and his two secretaries of state, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Abrams comes down firmly on the president’s side: “Bush understood that his goal of ‘no daylight’ between the United States and Israel would maximise his leverage there . . . Given the amount of anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel, any suggestion that the Unites States is distancing itself and less inclined to defend Israel has an immediate impact: there are more expressions of anti-Jewish sentiment and of hostility to Israel.”
This applies not only to the Muslim world but to Europe, too. Ever since Obama adopted the State Department’s doctrine that America’s role in the Middle East is to force Israel to make concessions, we have witnessed a rapid rise in anti-Semitism and hostility to Israel not only in continental Europe but in Britain. The latest examples — the “blood libel” cartoon by Gerald Scarfe in the Sunday Times and the remarks by David Ward (a Liberal Democrat MP in Bradford, which is 25 per cent Muslim) accusing “the Jews” of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians . . . on a daily basis” — were treated as cases of bad taste around Holocaust Memorial Day, to be dealt with by an apology. But neither Scarfe nor Ward grasped that they had been perpetrating a monstrous lie.
Elliott Abrams should be required reading for all Europeans interested in the “peace process”, because his personal experience of that process gives the lie to so much of what is taken for granted in the chancelleries of Europe. Bush grasped, as his predecessors had not, that Yasser Arafat would never make peace with Israel, and so demanded reform from the Palestinians as the price of statehood. Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, allowed limited reform, but in 2009 he too rejected peace. “I thought then and still believe that Abbas will never sign any deal,” writes Abrams. But he still believes in peace: “When President Bush defied conventional wisdom, he was at his most effective, and the United States brought peace closer.” What Abrams means by “conventional wisdom” here is what has been defined as such in Europe. By throwing in his lot with the Europeans, Obama has already set back the cause of peace. The President’s first visit to Israel this month is unlikely to alter that fatal impression — indeed, he may reinforce it.
Back in 2001, Ariel Sharon dismayed even his friends in the White House by warning: “Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense — this is unacceptable to us. Israel will not be Czechoslovakia.” Abrams points out that what triggered this reference to Munich was a call from the then German foreign minister Joschka Fischer, quoting Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in support for his demand: “You have to make concessions to the Palestinians.” As long as Israel fears that Europe, now using the President of the United States as its proxy, is trying to appease the Arabs at Jewish expense, there will be no peace. “There is hope,” Abrams writes, “but no chance.”