FRONT PAGE CONTRIBUTOR
President Obama Again Demonstrates his Utter Ignorance of the Israel-Palestine Situation
President Obama addressed the nation – nay, the WORLD! – today on the subject of the “Arab Spring” events in the Middle East and North Africa, on the death of Osama bin Laden (has it yet been mentioned what a GutsyCall™ that was on Obama’s part?), and, above all, on the Israel-Palestine “peace process” that in reality is no such thing.
In his remarks on Israel-Palestine, the foreign affairs naif who currently occupies the White House clearly demonstrated his ignorance of the Levant’s geopolitics, its recent history, and the character, statements, and actions of some of its inhabitants. Let’s unpack this over the course of a few paragraphs, just to make sure we catch all the yummy goodness contained in Obama’s latest (perhaps intentional, perhaps not) direction to Israel that the Jewish State go stuff itself.
For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security, prosperity, and empowerment to ordinary people.
This is perhaps the most honest and accurate passage in Obama’s entire speech (I wonder who wrote this part for him). The second sentence is truer than most know; residents of southern Israel in particular have lived with the firing of unguided rockets in their direction from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as a direct result of the last land-for-peace agreement between Israel and a Palestinian neighbor. Under Ariel Sharon, Israel unilaterally withdrew to the borders of the town of Sderot, leaving the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip to their own devices (although with power still provided to the territory by a southern Israeli power plant). The result was daily rocket firings, sent in the direction of civilian towns, as well as toward the Israeli power plant which provides Gaza with electricity. Even the last “cease fire” agreed to between Israel and Hamas did not abate the rocket fire; over the course of its first year (from November 2006 to 2007), nearly 400 homemade Qassam rockets (fashioned from water pipes – was anybody wondering why Gaza has no infrastructure? – and rebar, and filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize casualties) were flung over Israel’s southern border.
Naturally, there has been little or no reporting of these dog-bites-man acts of war and aggression in Western media; only Israel’s responses are noted or condemned by the majority of news, nongovernmental, national, and international organizations.
Further, in June of 2006 a tunnel from the Strip to an outpost on the border was completed (a three-year project), which allowed Hamas terrorists to infiltrate IDF defenses and to kidnap Cpl. Gilad Shalit. Nearly four years later, Shalit is still being held captive — yet the president of the United States demands that Israel concede land and defense in good faith with the party which is still holding one of its soldiers, kidnapped from within Israel’s borders, captive.
My Administration has worked with the parties and the international community for over two years to end this conflict, yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on for decades, and sees a stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward.
I disagree. At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.
In other words, neither party is doing what President Obama wants, which means they must both be scolded. Ignoring the man whose Iowa Caucus victory made the oceans stop their rise and began the healing of our planet is not a wise move for anybody who doesn’t want to be scolded like a child by a man who apparently thinks his words alone are enough to move mountains.
For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.
This is a major key to the entire puzzle. As I noted in far-too-brief a passing yesterday, Fatah and Hamas have entered an alliance in preparation for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood this fall September. That declaration is expected to be made to the United Nations, the vast majority of whose individual states will recognize a nation of Palestine complete with self-declared borders that extend to the pre-1967 boundaries of Israel, thereby incorporating significant territory that Israel currently possesses. More will be said on why this is absolutely untenable below.
The rejection of Israel’s right to exist is often associated with the more extreme elements of the Muslim Brotherhood-spawned terrorist organization Hamas (and, in the north, Hezbollah). However, despite the lack of acknowledgment from political leaders and media alike, this is a standard position for all Palestinian leaders, as well as for significant populations within the states that make up the wider Arab world. Part of the reason this goes unnoticed or ignored may be the fact that many people see what they want to see with regard to Palestine and its people’s plight; however, a far greater part is the refusal by media outlets and government officials alike to take note of, and to report, statements made by Palestinian leaders in their own language, to their own people.
Additionally, the opposition to Israel’s existence and the glorification of martyrdom can be found in such obvious places as Palestinian schoolbooks and state television programming — if one is willing to look for it. The glorification of suicide bombers (or “martyrs”) and the veneration murdering Israelis as the ultimate goal to strive for in life – on children’s programming – is standard fare on both Hamas and Fatah-funded state television. The sermons and speeches aimed at adults are far worse. However, as long as these statements and demonizations are delivered in Arabic, and words of peace and pragmatism are uttered in English (or in Arabic to Western reporters’ interpreters), the latter is all that is reported, and the rest is summarily ignored.
As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.
The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.
And, with lip service having been paid to Palestinian “responsibilities,” we now arrive at the setup for the passage’s climax. “Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace” says Obama. Once again, an American president has fallen into the rut worn down by his predecessors, and is calling on Israel to take “bold” action for the cause of a phantom peace that its supposed negotiating partner wants no part of. Though he gave a nod to Hamas’s official stance that the “Zionist entity” has no right to exist (while selectively ignoring the fact that they’re not the only ones who believe that, but instead are just the ones who say it the loudest), Obama has invalidated that concern simply by giving the Palestinian leaders an equal seat at the table, and thereby conferring legitimacy upon their position, without setting the recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a precondition.
Unfortunately, Obama, like so many before him (albeit more cluelessly) is using his bully pulpit as de facto leader of the free world to issue ultimata to Israel. Rather than declaring that concessions must be made outright, Obama should have made clear that stipulating that Israel has a right to survival is a requirement for beginning any ‘peace process,’ rather than simply being yet another optional point of negotiation.
Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
Obama can say this until he is blue in the face; the facts are (1) he, like a long line of predecessors, is going to keep trying to “impose peace” upon these peoples, using whatever tools he can to exert influence on the one party in the “negotiation” whose leaders have any track record at all of caring for peace and of heeding the U.S.’s guidance; and (2) he ignorantly assumes that “peace” can have the same meaning to both sides (and that that meaning can include coexistence). As is his wont, the rigidly, reflexively ideological Obama never bothers to consider that the world can’t be molded to fit his own view – and that his words alone won’t result in that outcome. As such, he, like his predecessors, is beginning from a position of abject fantasy when he assumes that the Palestinians and their leaders, as well as the surrounding Arab (and Persian) nations, actually desire peace with Israel in the first place, when history – from 1948 to the present, from multinational attacks on the infant Israel to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh’s repeated declarations that the Zionist Entity would soon be utterly destroyed, to the state television programs run in the West Bank which talk of pushing Israel into the sea – clearly shows otherwise.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
And here we have the Climax. President Obama, who has no grasp of history, geopolitics, or military reality, has made his, and his administration’s, position official: Israel is to surrender its land to those Palestinians who regularly riot, gate-crash, fling rocks and rockets and soldiers and civilians alike, and carry out terrorist attacks in any part of Israel they can reach before being stopped.
A return to the pre-1967 borders would have major implications for Israel’s people and its security, and would be a major step toward the oft-repeated Palestinian goal of pushing the Jewish state entirely into the sea. This would require the abandonment of Judea and Samaria, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and East Jerusalem (including, most likely, the Temple Mount itself). This would immediately make the over 300,000 Israeli settlers living in the Territories into refugees. Yes, most Palestinians are refugees, in large part because of the unpublicized blockades on their other borders, with states like Jordan and Egypt which refuse to allow them admission. However, the fate of the new Jewish refugees, who would be stranded in Palestinian territory, would be far less positive (and far more gruesome) than that of the inhabitants of Gaza and the West Bank who receive massive aid shipments from Israel itself — let alone than that of the 1.2 million Arabs who live peacefully and prosperously inside Jewish Israel (with some even serving in the Knesset).
Even more importantly, such a reduction of Israeli territory would eliminate the security buffer currently created by the Territories, thereby deeply threatening the Jewish state’s security. In an era when Arab fighters are employing rockets (both homemade and imported) and other standoff weaponry, moving the border of an unregulated Palestinian state up to the border of Israel would not only endanger Israeli citizens living in those border areas, but would also put major coastal cities like Tel Aviv, which is a mere eleven miles (18 km) from what would be Palestinian land, well within range of Katyusha rockets.
In other words, pulling back altogether to the pre-1967 borders would leave Israel’s ability to protect and defend itself crippled. Unfortunately, Obama has chosen to ignore the lessons of the last 63 years (and, in particular, of 1948, 1967, and 2006), instead relying on his own narrow, uninformed worldview in which nations and nonstate actors do as he wishes, simply because he deigns to speak it aloud.
As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.
Leaving aside what “Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself” means (self-sufficiency or isolation?), Obama is continuing his trip through Fantasyland in this paragraph, continuing under the assumption that the Palestinians have any interest in being a peaceful neighbor of a reduced, but still extant, state whose complete destruction they call for daily. Further, the security forces expected to maintain peace within Palestine and between it and Israel, trained and funded in part by the U.S., have often been the culprits in sniper and terrorist attacks against the Jewish state – hardly a reason for confidence in their future performance.
These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.
Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.
Again, the ignorance of, or refusal to acknowledge, the fact that the refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist extends far beyond just Hamas is striking. I also wonder just what “credible answer” to that question Obama expects the Palestinian leaders to provide – and how he expects to enforce his demand, when there are 200+ nations ready to recognize a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state with no such precondition attached.
That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.
In other words: “Hope, Change, Yes We Can, and We Are The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For!” As usual, the history-challenged President ends this section of his speech on an utterly inaccurate note: the Cradle of Civilization is what was liberated under President Bush in 2003. Israel is the Holy Land. There’s only a difference if you care about little things like accuracy, detail, and fact.
Per usual, President Obama is above all that.