April 12, 2010

Obama’s Peace Process: No Process, No Peace

by Hal Gershowitz

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The first foreboding came during President Obama’s inaugural address when he announced to the Muslim world, “…we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect…we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”  Who can quarrel with such a goal? But with the benefit of 15 months of hindsight, those words were an early warning signal to Israel the sole steadfast American ally in the region surrounded by Muslim nations essentially sworn to its destruction.

There was also, of course, the much heralded Cairo speech which was loaded with good-sounding, even pseudo-historic, platitudinous remarks but which lacked the one statement that mattered…that both sides agree to enter peace talks, the publically avowed purpose of which would be to reach a settlement that would end the Israel-Palestinian dispute once and for all, a settlement that would mean no new demands directed by one party against the other.

Israel has been paraded, often reluctantly, to center stage by a succession of American Administrations to perform much like a dancing bear for a variety of Presidents who wanted to add “peacemaker” to their legacy and who demanded of Israel a succession of concessions each of which was called a “confidence building measure” to show the Arab nations Israel’s good faith intentions.

Since its inception as a Jewish state in 1948, the only one by the way, effectively created by the United Nations (many of the remainder of which being creations of British map drawing after World War I), Israel has been the only true democracy and a steadfast ally of the United States.  It has enjoyed the support, in varying degrees, of American governments from Truman through Bush, including even Jimmy Carter while he was president.

Barack Obama is different.  Notwithstanding his campaign rhetoric about America’s unshakeable friendship with Israel when he speaks at public forums or before Jewish audiences at his or fellow Democratic fundraising events, his actions once taking office have been ambiguous at best and downright hostile at worst.

He has visited the Mideast with visits to Egypt and Jordan, notably snubbing Israel.  Even before the recent trip by Vice President Biden to Israel, during which Israeli municipal authorities made a clumsy and poorly timed announcement of procedural progress in a long process toward further construction in Jerusalem, he has treated Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu like a pariah, a treatment he reinforced by his actions during Netanyahu’s recent visit to Washington.  It also appears clear in the aftermath of the Jerusalem construction imbroglio that Washington knew the ill-timed announcement was not of Netanyahu’s making and that it was, in fact, a calculated move by one of Israel’s 38 political parties to embarrass the Prime Minister. Nonetheless it provided an opportunity for the Administration to fire a gratuitous broadside salvo at a worthy ally.

A careful look at what passes for Obama policy reveals a desire to curry favor with the Islamic world, and if that means distancing America from Israel then so be it and damn the consequences.

The president seems to have adopted the view that the borders that emerged following the 1967 six-day war, and the so-called “settlements” in Jerusalem are the reason for the historic enmity the 22 Islamic countries of the Mideast have toward Israel.  If that were so, this dispute would have been settled long ago.  At both the middle-east summits hosted by President Clinton in 2000 and later by President Bush in 2007, Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, respectively, offered to return to essentially the 1967 borders (with some land swaps) and to share Jerusalem as the capital of two states.  On both occasions PLO Chairman Arafat in 2000 (to the amazement of Clinton’s principal Mideast advisor, Dennis Ross) and Palestinian Authority President Abbas in 2007 rejected the offers.

Arafat, who was offered these terms with the proviso that the Arab states would recognize Israel’s right to exist as a nation and that there would be no further future demands, was quoted as saying “if I agree to that, I will be signing my own death warrant.”  In contrast, not once since 1948 have the Arabs offered their outline of the terms of a permanent peace with Israel except upon conditions such as those in the so-called Saudi Plan that demanded the right of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants to return to the homes they fled, which would amount to the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

The position taken by almost all the Islamic nations regarding Israel, which is held to this day by Hezbollah, Hamas and even Fatah (the so-called moderate wing of the Palestinian Authority) is that Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Safed, Haifa, etc. are also occupied territory.  Even in the face of that uncompromising position, the United States and the European nations have persisted in pursuing, since the date of the Oslo accords in 1993, a so-called roadmap to peace also referred to as the “peace process.”  We know the results.

When Barack Obama became president, he tipped his hand in his Cairo address regarding his approach to this seemingly intractable dispute.  There, a careful reading made it clear that the United States would, in effect, stand on its head to placate world Islam.  And since then his outstretched hand to Islam has been spurned, and in the case of Iran, spat upon.  But, the president in his effort to restart peace negotiations imposed a condition only on Israel demanding that it stop building settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the eastern portion of which was conquered by Jordan in 1948 but annexed to Israel after the 1967 war.  Leave aside that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel (Obama said so himself many times) and building in one’s capital is hardly the building of settlements, the president has asked Israel to concede a principal point of contention in advance of negotiations even being restarted.  No preconditions have been imposed on the Palestinians.

Not surprisingly, every Arab nation jumped on this condition giving PA President Abbas an excuse not to negotiate until he “pockets” an Israeli concession.  This has never before been a precondition of the PA to negotiations, which, by the way, doesn’t even control Gaza, so it isn’t clear Abbas can even speak for the Palestinians in peace talks.  Hamas, which does control Gaza, has made clear time and again, that they will never come to a peace table or recognize Israel.  Why don’t we believe them?  Why wouldn’t the president ask Abbas, Hamas, and their Arab allies, as a precondition to full negotiations, to agree that upon resolution of border issues, they will recognize Israel as a Jewish nation living side by side with its neighbors?

Instead the President has laid down a requirement that asks only the Israelis for a gesture of good faith.  Never mind that Israel has released hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, many of whom engaged in violent acts of terrorism against it, eased West Bank roadblocks, and, in the greatest concession of all, dismantled settlements and withdrew unconditionally from Gaza (and southern Lebanon a few years earlier).  In return they were met with daily rocket bombardments from Gaza, war from Lebanon, and the continuous importation into those areas of weaponry to resume attacks.  Israel’s military invasion into Gaza in 2008 to eliminate this threat ended with condemnation by our craven European allies who were strangely silent during the daily rocket attacks.

As Charles Krauthammer noted in a recent column in the Washington Post:

“Under Obama, Netanyahu agreed to commit his center-right coalition to acceptance of a Palestinian state; took down dozens of anti-terror roadblocks and checkpoints to ease life for the Palestinians; assisted West Bank economic development to the point where its gross domestic product is growing at an astounding 7 percent a year; and agreed to the West Bank construction moratorium, a concession that Secretary Clinton herself called “’unprecedented.’”

What reciprocal gesture, let alone concession, has Abbas made during the Obama presidency?  Not one.

Indeed, long before the Biden incident, Abbas refused even to resume direct negotiations with Israel.  That’s why the Obama administration has to resort to “proximity talks” — a procedure that sets us back 35 years to before Anwar Sadat’s groundbreaking visit to Jerusalem.

And Clinton demands that Israel show its seriousness about peace?  Now that is an insult.

This brings us to another unyielding demand that Arab states have made of Israel — the so-called “right of return.”  In 1948 after the UN approved the partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel, Arab armies from all surrounding countries attacked the new nation.  Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled their homes, hoping to return once the Israelis had been swept into the sea, as promised by the invading Arab nations. This, as we know, did not come to pass and since then these Palestinians have been kept in refugee camps in the West Bank and Lebanon but not absorbed in any of the 22 Arab countries with 800 times the landmass of Israel.  Contrast this with the millions of displaced people all over Europe after World War II who were absorbed and resettled within three years.

The nations of the world, while crying crocodile tears for Palestinian refugees (keep in mind there has never been in recorded history a nation called Palestine) an estimated 800,000 to one million Jews were forced out of Arab countries after 1948 most of whom were absorbed by Israel.  But in every peace conference the Arabs have demanded the right of Palestinians to return to the land they abandoned in 1948 and a cash payment of compensation to boot.  The “World Organization of Jews from Arab Countries” estimates that the aggregate size of the real estate left by fleeing Jews was over 100,000 square kilometers (four times the size of Israel) and that the value of Jewish property then taken by the Arabs would be worth $300 billion today.  This fact is never mentioned in the mainstream press.  All we hear about is the plight of Palestinians still living in refugee camps.

And what about Jordan?  After the UN’s 1947 partition, the West Bank was captured by Jordan, which claimed sovereignty there in 1950 and extended citizenship to all its residents.

Jordan, however, severed its administrative ties to the West Bank and abandoned its claim of sovereignty in 1988.  Since that time, without a peep from the world press, Jordan has been systematically stripping citizenship from Palestinians rather than providing them shelter within its borders (land much larger than Israel) even though last year King Abdullah launched a housing initiative to build 120,000 housing units for low income Jordanians.

And while the Administration condemned Israel for its poorly timed announcement of building plans in Jerusalem during Vice President Biden’s visit (which the president knew was leaked by one of 38 parties comprising Israel’s Knesset legislature to try and embarrass Netanyahu) neither he nor the State Department has raised a word of protest over the ceremonies in which Mr. Abbas took part following the Biden visit to the West Bank honoring and glorifying Datal Mughrabi who was responsible for the 1978 massacre of 37 Israelis.

The Jerusalem Post said it well in its March 16, 2010 edition:

[President Obama’s] strategy of “engaging” Islamic rogue states has been disastrous.  The effort to prevent the nuclearization of Iran by appeasing the Iranian tyrants backfired with the ayatollahs literally mocking the US.  The response of Syrian President Bashar Assad to US groveling and the appointment of an ambassador to Damascus was to host a summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah terrorist leader Hassan Nasrallah and ridicule the US demand that he curtail his relationship with Iran.  President Obama did not consider this “insulting,” prompting the editor of the Lebanese The Daily Star to write that “the Obama administration these days provokes little confidence in its allies and even less fear in its adversaries.”

President Obama is traveling the road of appeasement to the Arabs.  He seems to believe that every grievance of Islam is attributable to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  This theory has been demonstrated to be wrong time and again.  Its adherents over the years have attributed everything from Soviet influence in the Mideast, the first Gulf War, the attacks on 9/11, the Ft. Hood attack, Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons … everything except Islam’s inability to build viable democratic nations which respect pluralism and human rights … to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  They believed, and continue to believe, that all Islamic grievances would vanish and Islam would truly be a religion of peace if only Israel would make one further concession after another.  This is a dangerous theory, for it only emboldens Arab states to demand more and more without giving anything in return.  How absurd this all is, as if peace would reign if only Israel stopped building apartments in its capital.

In short, Mr. Obama’s policy, previewed in the Cairo speech, amounts to nothing less than an effort to rehabilitate Islam’s image in the world.

Bret Stephens in a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal summarized the absurdity of this thinking:

“There may well be good reasons for Israel to dismantle … [settlements] assuming that such an act is met with reciprocal and credible Palestinian commitments to suppress terrorism and religious incitement, and accept Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.  But to imagine that the settlements account for even a fraction of the rage that has inhabited the radical Muslim mind … is fantasy.  The settlements are merely the latest politically convenient cover behind which lies a universe of hatred.”

The president’s approach to the Arab-Israeli question is consistent with his entire foreign policy, which can be summarized as follows:

* He makes nice to our sworn enemies.

* He dithers and delays taking any firm action against Iran, allowing their demented leaders further time to build nuclear weapons and a delivery system to threaten its neighbors and make good on its threat to wipe Israel off the map.  Nuclear weapons in Iran’s hands, said candidate Obama “would be a game changer.”  The momentum in this game has changed and not in our favor.

* He apologizes for our outrageous arrogance to the nations of Europe who owe their very existence to America.  Our allies like England, Poland, the Czech Republic, Columbia, Honduras and now Israel get slapped in the face.

* He claims America was embarrassed by Israel during Biden’s visit there.

If America was indeed embarrassed, it is nothing compared to what an embarrassment the policies of our president are to those who have been steadfast in their support of us.  They, and others are surely watching and wondering whether, if we treat our friends this way, what kind of a trusted ally will we be when push comes to shove.

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One response to “Obama’s Peace Process: No Process, No Peace”

  1. Rosemary Lenners says:

    As always, a thoughtful and factual analysis. Obama is an embarrassment to this nation, and it’s a wonder Mr. Netanyahu would even speak to him. Israel has made concession upon concession throughout it’s history and receives nothing in return except a slap in the face.
    The way I read history is that the Arab/Muslim world has hated Israel for centuries. Incompetents like Obama and Hillary Clinton aren’t going to change anyone’s mind.
    I would like to see Israel tell this current administration to stay out of it’s (Israel’s) business and then I would like to see Israel do whatever it takes to defend itself against the fanatics who surround them, including swift military action against Iran and it’s nuclear facilities.
    There is no such thing as a middle-east peace process, never has been. When will someone have the guts to say that some situations do not have a solution–Muslim nations hate Israel and all the talk in the world will never change that.
    All the poitically correct people who continue to blather about peace-loving Islamic people have buried their heads in the sand. Those statements are an oxymoron if I ever heard one.

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