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: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=18391
Photo credit: Reuters
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