Back to the Drawing Board

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Much of the media is abuzz with the story of how the Palestinians are feeling sidelined by U.S. ‎President Donald Trump’s embrace of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The reality is that ‎after the past eight years of the bitterly cold treatment Israel received at the hands of the ‎Obama administration, this is a necessary, but by no means sufficient, course corrective.‎

In fact, in May 2009, early in President Barack Obama’s first term, Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post ‎interviewed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas just as he was about to meet with Obama. Diehl’s opening line was “Mahmoud Abbas says there is nothing for him to do. … On Wednesday afternoon, as he prepared for the White House meeting in a suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Pentagon City, Abbas insisted that his only role was to wait.”‎

Diehl wrote that what was interesting about “Abbas’ hard-line position, however, is what it ‎says about the message that Obama’s first Middle East steps have sent to Palestinians and Arab ‎governments.” He said the previous president, George W. Bush, had made it clear that the onus was on the ‎Palestinians, saying that “until they put an end to terrorism, established a democratic government and accepted ‎the basic parameters for a settlement, the United States was not going to expect major concessions ‎from Israel.”‎

Diehl continued: “Obama, in contrast, has repeatedly and publicly stressed the need for a West Bank ‎settlement freeze, with no exceptions. In so doing he has shifted the focus to Israel. He has revived a ‎long-dormant Palestinian fantasy: that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical ‎concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and ‎applaud. … ‘The Americans are the leaders of the world,’ Abbas told me and Post ‎Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt. ‘They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ‎ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, “You have to comply with the ‎conditions.” ‘ “‎

We see here a rather predictable pattern. Obama entered office as the anti-Bush, and now we see ‎Trump entering the White House as the anti-Obama. ‎

Dennis Ross, who has been a chief Middle Eastern policy adviser for both Republican and Democratic ‎administrations, writes in his recent book, “Doomed to Succeed”: “That the president’s distancing from ‎Israel was deliberate and tied to the desire to reach out to the Muslims was revealed in a meeting ‎Obama held with Jewish leaders on July 13, 2009. Malcolm Hoenlein, the longtime executive director ‎of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, expressed concern about the ‎administration’s position on Israel. He said, ‘If you want Israel to take risks, then its leaders must know ‎that the United States is right next to them.’ President Obama disagreed: ‘Look at the past eight years. ‎During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? ‎When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab ‎states.'”‎

Ever since the fateful meeting between Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia, ‎appeasing the Arab world has been a critical part of the State Department’s policy. Ross quotes William Eddy, America’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the Roosevelt ‎administration, who wroten to the president that the king had warned, “If America should choose in favor of the ‎Jews, who are accursed in the Quran as enemies of the Muslims until the end of the world, it will ‎indicate to us that America has repudiated her friendship with us.”‎

The Arab world has constantly used the threat of violence to intimidate America in its resolve to ‎support the one true democracy in the volatile Middle East. And America, for various reasons (including the Cold War, access to oil, or erroneously regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as ‎the root cause for all of the violence in the Middle East), has continuously engaged in a policy of ‎appeasement with the Arab and Muslim worlds.‎

As Ross writes, “State Department officials constantly spoke of ‘an aroused Arab world’ — aroused ‎against us if they see us siding with the Jews. This theme became a mantra for them. If there was a ‎core assumption that shaped their mindset, this was it — and, as we will see, it has endured in the ‎national security establishment even when actual behaviors belied predictions of the consequences of ‎taking steps to aid or support Israel.”‎

The implacable position of much of the Arab and Muslim worlds, and the flexible position of Israel in ‎terms of trying to accommodate to their wishes through adopting proposals such as the Oslo Accords, ‎has made it all too easy for the international community and the United States to constantly put the ‎squeeze on Israel. ‎

The Muslim and Arab worlds have now had almost 70 years to adjust to Israel’s existence, and ‎among some — most notably, Egypt and Jordan — there has been a significant thawing of relations. (The ‎greatest cause for improvement of these relations was inadvertently given by Obama through his ‎reckless Iranian nuclear deal, which caused the Sunni nations to acknowledge that they shared a ‎greater enemy in the neighborhood.)‎

As Ross writes, “In none of these instances [when the U.S. stood with the Arab and Muslim worlds] do we ‎actually gain any benefit to our position in the region. Our influence does not increase; our ties with ‎the conservative Arab monarchies do not improve. Neither is there any decline in those relationships ‎during those administrations that are putatively seen as being close to Israel.”‎

When America is seen as supportive of Israel, the dire consequences that the State Department ‎establishment predicted as inevitable never come to pass.‎

Israel has gone through the internally gut-wrenching exercise of giving up land in the hope of gaining peace, several ‎times: in Gaza, Sinai, South Lebanon, and parts of Judea and Samaria. All those domestically divisive episodes have merely resulted in more missiles, more terrorism, and ‎less peace.‎

It is time to impose a little reality therapy on the Arab and Muslim worlds. Israel is here to stay, and it ‎cannot be negotiated down to indefensible borders. The sooner that message is communicated with ‎certitude by a great power like the United States, the more likely it is to be accepted — particularly now, ‎when the moderate Sunni world fears the Iranian nuclear bomb and is deeply troubled by the rise of ‎Islamism.‎

It is also time to impose some reality therapy on the policymakers in the State Department. ‎The Oslo paradigm of land for peace has been tried over and over again. Israel has given up the land ‎in good faith, and there is still no peace. With each land withdrawal, there has just been an ‎entrenchment of the mindsets of those who wish to destroy the Jewish state, and a determination to ‎use that land as a base for launching missiles.

Any objective observer with an ounce of intellectual integrity would come to the conclusion ‎that the premises of this paradigm are fundamentally flawed, and that it is finally time to go back to the ‎drawing board.‎

Originally published at Israel Hayom:

Photo credit: Reuters

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About the Author

Sarah Stern
Sarah Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

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