Matters of Trust

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“To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved”
—George MacDonald

From the commitments exchanged between a man and his wife, to those that are exchanged between nations, trust is the cement that adheres all human relationships together. When assurances are given in good faith, the most valuable currency that could bind any commitment is not a signature on a paper, but a handshake, a look in the eye and a feeling of mutual respect and of trust.

Nations are simply aggregates of people, and what holds for any human relationship certainly holds for international relationships.

That is why I have been so profoundly dismayed to hear of comments by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which appear to run counter to the commitments that have been given to Israel under the Bush administration. These commitments were meant to reassure a loyal friend, a friend who has the most parallel voting record to that of the United States within the entire United Nations, a friend who lives in a very dangerous neighborhood, and a friend who was about to take an enormous and politically divisive risk for peace. When that friend, Israel, wanted to break the impasse in the negotiations with the Palestinians which had been a result of Israel’s unprecedentedly far-reaching offer that was made to the Palestinians on July 25, 2000 at Camp David II. Rather than saying either “yes” or “no”, Chairman Arafat simply walked away from the negotiating table. His response arrived the following September with a renewed round of violence, the second Intifada, which resulting in the loss of over one thousand innocent civilian lives, on both sides.

In the absence of a negotiating partner, in order to put an end to the violence once and for all, and to break the deadlock in the negotiations, Israel, at the end of 2003,arrived at the internally gut wrenching decision of unilaterally removing every last Israeli soldier and civilian from the Gaza Strip. In the summer of 2005, Israel made good on that politically explosive and brutally conflict-ridden decision. At the suggestion of the United States, Israel also removed some West Bank settlements and gave up her occupation of the Philadelphi Strip, a segment of land that sits between Egypt and Gaza, which has proven to be quite costly for her, in terms of Israeli lives, due to the huge network of underground tunnels and the smuggling operation between Egypt and Hamas.

On April 14, 2004, President Bush wrote a now famous letter to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The following are excerpts from that letter:

“The United States appreciates the risks such an undertaking represents. I therefore want to reassure you on several points.

First the United States remains committed to my vision and to its implementation as described by the roadmap, The United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan. Under the roadmap, Palestinians must undertake an immediate cessation of armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere, and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere, and all official Palestinian institutions must end incitement against Israel. The Palestinian leadership must act decisively against terror, including sustained, targeted, and effective operations to stop terrorism and dismantle terrorist capabilities and infrastructure. Palestinians must undertake a comprehensive and fundamental political reform that includes strong parliamentary democracy and an empowered prime minister.

Second, there will be no security for Israelis or Palestinians until they and all states, in the region and beyond join together to fight terrorism and dismantle terrorist organizations. The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible, borders and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or combination of threats.

The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well being as a Jewish state.

In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, 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, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.

President Bush closed his letter stating, “Mr. Prime Minister, you have described a bold and historic initiative, (i.e. the Gaza withdrawal), that can make an important contribution to peace. I commend your efforts and your courageous decision which I support. As a close friend and ally, the United States intends to work closely with you to help make it a success.”

In an editorial, in the Wall Street Journal on June 25, 2009, Elliott Abrams, Director of Middle East Affairs for President George W. Bush’s National Security Council from 2001 to 2009, writes, “On settlements we also agreed on principles that would permit some natural growth. Mr Sharon stated these clearly in a major policy speech in December 2003: “Israel will meet all of its obligations with regard to construction in the settlements. There will be no construction beyond the existing construction line, no expropriation of land for construction, no special economic incentives and no construction of new settlements.”

Continues Mr. Abrams, “Ariel Sharon did not invent those four principles. They emerged from discussions with American officials and were discussed by Messrs. Sharon and Bush at their Aqaba meeting in June 2003.” And, “Stories in the press also made it clear that there were indeed ‘agreed upon principles’. On August 21, 2004, the New York Times reported that “the Bush administration…now supports construction of new apartments in areas already built up in some settlements, as long as the expansion does not extend outward .”

Yet, Secretary of State Clinton stated on June 17 that “in looking at the history of the Bush administration, there were no informal or oral enforceable agreements. That has been verified by the official record of the administration and by the personnel in the positions of responsibility.”

One might do well to ask who might be in a greater position of responsibility within the Bush administration, other than the Director of his Middle Eastern Affairs of the National Security Council.

But beyond that, why is there such an emphasis on the responsibilities that were incurred upon Israel, when according to the Roadmap there were two parties with two distinct sets of responsibilities? The critically important set of tasks that were placed upon the Palestinians do not appear to receive equal emphasis from the Secretary of State. It clearly states in the Roadmap that the “Palestinian leadership issues unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist n peace and security and calling for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire to end armed activity and all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere. All official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.”

This past week, I was on Capitol Hill with Eve Harow, a woman who lives in Efrat, a Jerusalem suburb just over the green line, who stated, “Whether or not thirty children were born five years ago in my community, and we will now need to have a kindergarten built for them, is not the critical factor that stands between us and a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

Normal growth of a community does not kill. Incitement and terrorism does.

The critical factor that does stand between a real peace that will endure for generations, and one that will simply fade away as soon as the ink on the paper is dry, is the issue of incitement to hate and to kill. This is an issue that according to Phase One of the Roadmap, the Palestinian leadership was supposed to have taken care of long ago. Ideas precede conduct. No one is born wanting to strap a belt of dynamite around his waist and become a suicide bomber. That is counter-Darwinian. Palestinian children, have been exposed to a steady diet of incitement to hate and to kill, through the media, the textbooks, the sermons on the mosques, through every means of communication available. As President John F Kennedy, “Peace is not built around signed documents and treaties alone, but in the hearts and minds of the people.”

Israel has been offering valuable tangible currency, land, in exchange for the intangible promise of peace. A necessary prerequisite for Israel to ever be able to have a durable peace is the end of incitement as well as the trust that she will not be offering more strategic sacrifices on the alter of peace when she can not trust her strongest ally to even remember the assurances given her. As the maxim goes, “It takes years to build trust, and only seconds to destroy it.”

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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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