An Uphill Battle

According to a man in the know, the odds are less than 50-50 that Sisyphus will get the boulder up the hill this time. Before getting depressed by these “cup-more-than-half-empty odds,” remember that since the fabrication of the myth of Sisyphus 2,500 years ago, not once has he gotten that boulder to the mountain top. To mix my metaphors, the “boulder” he is referring to is unraveling the Gordian knot between Israel and the Palestinian Authority with a peace agreement. Who is this individual? I am of course referring to none other than Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of the United States, Barack Obama. The president believes the world stands today at a critical juncture in time and faces an uphill challenge with a less than 50-50 chance of successfully resolving the three major regional issues with final treaties: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iranian nuclear program, and the Syrian civil war.

President Obama gave these odds during an interview last week with a major American magazine. He said that “in all three circumstances we may be able to push the boulder partway up the hill and maybe stabilize it so it doesn’t roll back on us. And all three are connected. I do believe that the region is going through rapid change and inexorable change. Some of it is demographics; some of it is technology; some of it is economics. And the old order, the old equilibrium, is no longer tenable. The question then becomes, what’s next?”

By using the “royal we” in reference to pushing the boulder, it is Obama who makes this unintentionally telling analogy between himself and Sisyphus. Most people are familiar with the basic idea of the myth, which has Sisyphus pushing an immense boulder up a mountain only to watch it roll back down to the base just as it reaches the summit, over and over again for eternity, few remember why he is being punished. He is being punished for the crime of chronic deceitfulness. This comparison Obama makes is well-deserved when considering the three situations individually. In each case the president prevaricated.

Of the three cases, President Obama has arguably been least deceitful concerning Israel: He has an open antipathy both to the state and its head, Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Sisypean deceitfulness has been performed by the president’s proxy, Secretary of State John Kerry. Case in point was Kerry’s handling of the negotiation for the release of the 104 Palestinian terrorists. The number, a demand made by Palestinian Authority President Abbas, was never agreed to by Netanyahu yet never corrected by Kerry when he returned to Abbas, instead giving tacit approval.

The deceit concerning the Iranian nuclear negotiations is legend at this point. The United States conducted secret negotiations with the Iranians since last March, unbeknownst to any of its allies, then coerced them to jump on board when most of the feeble treaty was already agreed upon. Israel, the country most threatened by a nuclear Iran, was blindsided completely when the United States, after numerous denials, admitted to the ongoing negotiations.

The deal, widely criticized, was touted by Obama as a major accomplishment. Almost immediately it was shown to be riddled with loopholes and is already being exploited with numerous multi-billion dollar contracts with Iran, even prior to Iran’s compliance with the accord.

There’s a “red line” running through both Syria and Iran. For each country, Obama made a public declaration that under no circumstance would the crossing of an inviolable “red line” be permitted. In the case of Iran it was achieving nuclear power — which, despite the Geneva agreement is now imminent. In the case of Syria, Obama said most dramatically that any use of chemical weapons would not be permitted and would precipitate swift and thorough retribution. President Assad of Syria gassed his own people, killing more than 1400. The punishment never came, nor will it. Obama’s “red line” speech was just another example of his assurances having no meaning and thereby bearing deceit.

Admittedly, I do not have a crystal ball to read the future. Nor have I earned a Nobel Prize honoring past contributions to peace or, like the president, for presumed future contributions. Addressing the president’s presumably rhetorical question, my best advice after examining recent United States involvement in the Middle East and the chazakah of cases discussed above is to consider the recommendations of President Obama and his overly sanguine sidekick Secretary of State John Kerry — and do the opposite.


Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at

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