Published in The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
It seems obvious by now that President Obama seeks a clash and confrontation with Israel in order to improve U.S. relations with the Arab and Muslim world. Otherwise, how do you explain the fact that the U.S. president is picking a public fight with a supposed ally over the recycled and mostly mythical controversy that construction for natural growth inside already-existing Jewish settlements is the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East? But the warning signs indicate a much more dangerous scenario for Israel. It appears that President Obama’s public confrontation and dictates are not only to pressure Israel to withdraw to the suicidal borders of 1967, but he is attempting to change a 40-year-old pillar of U.S. foreign policy of supporting and allying with Israel in the Middle
President Obama seems to have adopted the point of view held for may years by those who are called “ Arabists” in the tradition of former President Carter, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and ex-Secretary of State James Baker, who believe that the reason there is no Middle East peace is that the United States has failed to become engaged in Middle East diplomacy and failed to pressure Israel to capitulate to Arab and Palestinians demands, including a settlement freeze and the two-state solution. Of course, those who are prone to take the Arab side have long believed that U.S. alliance with Israel is to blame for the conflict between the Arab/Muslim world and the U.S., resulting in anti-American hatred and terror. They advocate good relations with the strategically important, numerically superior, oil-rich Islamic nations of the Middle East at the expense of the United States’ special alliance with Israel.
Political sources close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and Obama’s senior political consultant, David Axelrod, are behind the clash between the administration and Israel. Israel historically has depended on the White House to balance the weight of the State and Defense departments, whose officials usually lean toward the Arab side. Israeli officials say that under Obama, the White House has become the main problem.
President Obama chose the settlement dispute because he perceived it as the weakest link in Congressional and American Jewish support for Israel, as both have been exposed for years to the Arab propaganda campaign of misinformation and historical revisionism.
In his Cairo speech, Obama claimed that the settlements are” not legitimate and undermine efforts to achieve peace.” This is the first and only administration since Carter to repeat the illegitimacy claim, which has no basis in international law.
In 1967, Israel entered the West Bank in a war of self-defense after being attacked by Jordan. This is why, when it adopted Resolution 242 in November 1967, the U.N. Security Council did not call Israel to withdraw from all territories it captured. Rather, 242 allows Israeli presence in some of the West Bank territories. The previous occupier of the West Bank had been Jordan, which conquered the area in 1949 in an aggressive conquest. Jordanian sovereignty in the territory was not recognized by the international community, apart from Pakistan and Britain.
Prior to the 1949, the governing document for legal rights in the West Bank was the 1922 League Of Nations Palestine Mandate, given to the British in order to establish a Jewish home in Palestine. There was never an Arab or Muslim state called Palestine or any other name in any area west of the Jordan River; only a Jewish one. Palestine was a geographic name for the area given by the Romans 2,000 years ago after they destroyed the Jewish state called Judea. It seems that, legally, Israel has a better title to the area than Jordan or any other future Palestinian entity.
The claim that settlement activity is an obstacle to peace because it will diminish the territory of a future Palestinian entity is baseless. First, the amount of territory taken up by the built-up area of all 121 settlements in the West Bank, with 245,000 residents, is estimated to be just 1.7 percent of the territory. Most of the settlements are located in major blocs, very close to the 1949 armistice line. Many of them are suburbs of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv , such as Gush Etzion, Maale Adumim and Ariel. The argument that a settlement will undermine a future territorial compromise lost much of it force after Israel dismantled settlements in the Sinai in 1982 as part of its peace treaty with Egypt and unilaterally withdrew 9,000 Israeli settlers and dismantled all settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Moreover, for the last five years, since the advent of the “Road Map” international peace plan, all Israeli governments, including the present one, have adhered to guidelines that were discussed with President Bush but never formally adopted: that there would be no new settlements; no Palestinian-owned land would be expropriated or otherwise seized for the purpose of expanding exiting settlements; public funds would not be earmarked for encouraging settlements; no new outposts would be built; and construction would be confined to within the boundaries of existing settlements for “natural growth.”
So the public fight initiated by the Obama administration with a democratic ally was not over physical expansion of settlements into disputed territories but over a negligible issue such as construction for “natural growth” inside existing settlements for a population growth, This encompasses things like adding a room to a house or a floor to a house when a baby is born, or adding another classroom to a school or kindergarten. For the last five years, the major settlement blocs are becoming more populated, but not geographically larger, which does not affect Palestinian life, interfere with Palestinian mobility or agricultural activity and does not take land that Palestinians owned or used.
It has been understood in the last decade by both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush that, in any final peace treaty, Israel will keep the major close-in blocs of settlements and compensate the Palestinian accordingly with land swaps from within Israel itself. President Clinton agreed to that in 2000 at Camp David and in 2001 at Taba, Egypt. President Bush agreed to this principle in a 2004 letter to then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Stating that “in light of new realities on the ground … it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949.”
The two-state solution
In his Cairo speech, Obama’s reiterated his position that the only solution to the Middle East conflict is the so-called two-state solution. But in fact, whenever an Israel government has offered the Palestinians a sovereign, Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, Palestinian Authority leaders rejected the offer and never even made a counteroffer. In 2001 in Taba, Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered to Arafat — in the presence of President Clinton— an independent Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 97 percent of the West Bank with a divided Jerusalem. Arafat rejected the offer and started the second intifada, a campaign of terror which resulted in the death of over 1,000 Israelis.
In December, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, made Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — in the presence of President Bush — an unprecedented peace proposal in which Israel would retain only 6.5 percent of the West Bank, and, in return, the Palestinians would receive full territorial compensation from inside Israel. Jerusalem would be divided on a demographic basis, with the Palestinians having sovereignty over the Christian and Muslim quarters in the Old City, with the Temple Mount — the holiest site of the Jews — to be entrusted to a special international regime. Olmert also accepted the principle of a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants, and offered to settle thousands within Israel. But the so-called moderate Palestinian leader rejected this offer to end the “occupation” and achieve a two-state solution.
It seems the Arab world still has only a one-state solution for the Middle East. It is a “final solution” that eliminates Israel altogether.
Pressure will intensify
Now, even though Netanyahu has explicitly agreed to the concept of a Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state, a true and secure peace for Israel will not occur under Obama’s watch. Instead, unfair pressure, public confrontations, dictates and blame will intensify against Israel. An imposed “two-state solution” might appease the Arab/Muslim world, but it will endanger Israel’s security and survival.
In a recent poll, just 6 percent of Jewish Israelis consider the views of President Obama to be pro-Israel while 50 percent considered the policies of Obama to be more pro-Palestinian. Eventually, the majority of Jews in the U.S., who voted for Obama, will have to decide who they need and support more — Israel and its people, or Obama.