President Obama’s Misconceptions About Peace, and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Reality Check

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President Barack Obama took the opportunity while speaking before a crowd of thousands at the AIPAC annual meeting this week to reiterate his Middle East policy as presented in an earlier speech to the State Department — a speech which raised serious concerns among the pro-Israel policy community.  The general message of his remarks was, “why such great concern? I said nothing to the State Department that isn’t ancient U.S. policy.” President Obama stated:

“And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option.  The status quo is unsustainable.  And that is why on Thursday I stated publicly [in the State Department speech] the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims — the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians since at least the Clinton administration.” [ed. Italics added]

This is simply not true. There might have been some news commentators and “Mideast experts” inside the beltway who have been saying this, but that does not make it established American policy.

The fact is that United Nations Resolution 242 which was drafted in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war has served as the core agreement for all treaties between Israel and her Arab neighbors.

United Nations Resolution 242 never said that Israel has to return to the “1967 lines with agreed upon land swaps.”  On June 19th, in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, in which Israel captured these territories in the process of fighting off attacks on every front, President Lyndon Johnson stated that the prewar 1967 “truce lines” had been “fragile and violated.” What was requires, in President Johnson’s view was now “recognized boundaries”, that would provide Israel with “security against terror, destruction and war.”[1]

Ambassador Joseph Cisco, who was then involved in the drafting of UN Resolution 242, commented a few years later on Meet the Press, “I was engaged in the negotiation for months of that resolution. That resolution did not say “total withdrawal”.[2]

The US government and the government of Britain worked together in drafting the resolution.  British Foreign Secretary George Brown, who had served in Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s government declared that, “The proposal said that ‘Israel will withdraw from territories that were occupied, not from the territories, which means that Israel will not withdraw from all of the territories.”[3]

President Richard Nixon, in 1973 in a private conversation with Secretary of State Henry Kissinger stated clearly, “You and I both know that the Israelis cannot go back to the other [prewar 1967] borders.”[4]

What was obvious to so many previous negotiators seems to have disappeared into thin air and has been replaced with a dangerously simplistic and totally foreign idea, “We all know what the final resolution of the borders will more or less look like, along the 1967 lines with a few land swaps…”

It appears that many wise people seem to have forgotten how utterly indefensible the 1949 armistice lines had been. These borders had kept Israel under constant attack by Arab armies and Arab terrorists from the founding of the state in 1948 until the 1967 war.

In a highly volatile and rapidly changing Middle East, there are certain geographic and topographic realities that no responsible person can ignore.  Seventy percent of Israel’s population and its industrial center is located within a coastal plain which is only nine miles wide in many places. This area includes Israel’s major highways, its technological infrastructure, and its one international airport.  Overlooking this coastal plain are the high mountain ridges of the West Bank. Any hostile military force that commands these high mountain ridges will pose a grave threat to the heartland of Israel and its vital infrastructure. The mountain ridge rises 3,000 feet at its apex and descends eastward to the Jordan Valley Rift, which is the lowest point on earth, dipping 1200 feet below sea level. This line of mountains and steep valleys provides the only natural line capable of defending the very center of Israel — a 4200 foot high barrier. In possession of the Palestinians on the other hand, an Arab attack launched from these mountains could quickly overrun the coastal plain and gravely risk the very existence of the state of Israel.

On May 24, 2011, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated clearly and forcefully during a speech before a Joint Session of the Houses of Congress (in which he was interrupted 50 times by applause and 29 times by standing ovations), “Israel needs defensible borders.”

In addition, the President’s plan to leave the highly volatile and emotional issues concerning the return of millions of Arab refugees and the status of Jerusalem until after the borders were agreed, would give the Palestinians a pretense, or cause to launch a new attack on Israel — but this time from their strategic mountain ridges against Israel’s narrow nine-mile neck — a move that could cut Israel in two.

It is not a prescription for peace — but rather a prescription for war.

What is even more dangerous, is that President Obama as well as previous American administrations, in their zeal to sign a historic peace treaty, have totally ignored all the obligations that the Palestinian agreed to but then refused to implement — while leaning heavily on Israel to make more and more concessions.  Obligations to stop their incitement to hate and to kill have been part of Phase One in every agreement since the Oslo Accords.  Yet absolutely nothing has been done — or even tried on the Palestinian side.  We all know that the Palestinian Authority uses every means possible to incite its citizens against Israel’s existence, instill hatred of the Jews and to glorify those who martyred themselves killing Israeli civilians.  They have taught their children to hate Jews and Christians, and that Israel will be erased and their lands will someday be theirs.  Where is the President’s insistence that the Palestinians lay the cultural and educational groundwork that will assure a peace that will endured for generations.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said it clearly and plainly in his speech to Congress, this conflict “is not about the establishment of a Palestinian state — it is about the [continued] existence of a Jewish state!” A state the Arabs and the Palestinians refuse to accept.

As President John F. Kennedy remarked, “Peace does not just exist in signed documents and charters alone, but in the hearts and minds of people.”

The real objection to President Obama’s remarks is that his position has failed to adapt to the sociological and societal factors of the region, even as those conditions have altered dramatically. No matter the history or events that have taken place in the last 43 or even the last 62 years, the solution to all of the problems in the Middle East, including the dangers and turmoil of the “Arab Spring,” is a return of Israeli boundaries to the pre-1967 lines, with agreed upon land swaps.”

President Obama’s speech to the State Department on Thursday, May 19th was supposed to have been about the Arab Spring. I was delighted with certain aspects of his remarks, such as when he said that,  “The Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens…The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition or get out of the way.”

So why does President Obama believe that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is at the core of every Mideast crisis? How does making America’s one stable democratic ally in the area less able to defend itself and more vulnerable enhance the chances for peace and stability in this critical region of the world?

Under any pressure, the State Department returns to the same old tired formulations, even when they are highly extraneous to the issue at hand.

If Israel were to disappear today, would Shiites and Sunnis embrace? Would the Iranians and the Saudis hold hands and sing “Kumbaya “? Would Bashir Assad or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stop arresting and killing their dissidents?

This is a formula which pays no mind to the reality that Hamas, who publically demands the destruction of Israel and has ruled Gaza as an Iranian colony and armed missile base for the better part of the last decade, has now signed an agreement to combine with the Palestinian authority. This is not merely an obstacle to peace, as President Obama seems to assert, it is a positive red-line and the final piece of evidence, if more was necessary, that the Palestinian Authority is devoted to intransigence over cooperation and “resistance” over peace, no matter how many times the “broad outlines” of a peace plan are placed in front of them.

It is also a formula which ignores the fact that the new Egyptian regime, which under Mubarak once made half-hearted efforts to contain weapons smuggling, has made the decision to leave the border with Gaza wide open to promote even greater importation of arms to Hamas, Israel’s sworn enemy. The same Egypt which maintained a very cold peace, but still a peace, now openly cheers presidential candidates who compete with each other in efforts to reject the Camp David accords and return to a hostile relationship with Israel.

How can Israel discuss the establishment of Palestinian borders, as they face government-organized mobs attempting to overrun its borders? Thousands of Palestinians assaulted the Israeli borders on “Nakba day,” a day specifically set aside by Palestinians to reject the reality of the Israeli state. A rejection not just of Israelis living in the West Bank, or even of an Israel within the 1967 borders, but the complete rejection of the very existence of Israel and of any Jewish state in the Middle East. These actions occurred on every Israeli border, including the once quiet Golan Heights border, where the dictator Assad decided that releasing a flood of bussed-in Palestinian protestors would distract from the ongoing massacre of his own Syrian citizens.  It is not a coincidence that the strategic heights have been historically Israel’s quietest border. With the IDF in command of the heights, not even the Syrian regime was foolish enough to risk open conflict. For the Israelis to return the Golan Heights into the hands of a mass-murdering terror supporter like Assad, will require a suicidal level of naivety.

President Obama bases his insistence that now is the time to renew the “peace process” because of the ongoing revolutions in the Middle East. Says President Obama:

First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  This will make it harder and harder — without a peace deal — to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.

Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.

Third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region.  A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders.  Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.  And just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years.

There’s a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations.  They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process, or the absence of one, not just in the Arab World — in Latin America, in Asia, and in Europe.  And that impatience is growing, and it’s already manifesting itself in capitals around the world.

These claims are disturbingly erroneous for a number of reasons. Firstly, the demographic claims are extremely dubious, as EMET advisory board member Yoram Ettinger has long argued.  Secondly, what technological innovations is President Obama referring to?  Upgraded Iranian rockets and missiles in the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad? Or does he mean the same technological innovation, of social media and networking, which brought forward Obama’s third point… regarding the Arab Spring and the rise of democracy. And by the way, is President Obama acknowledging here, that overwhelmingly the Arab people are against Israel, and against peace, reflecting the deep-seated anti-Jewish hatred with which they have long been educated — and that democracy — following the will of the people, may result in tearing up the existing treaties and a return to a state of war with Israel?

As for the reason why the Palestinians are now pursuing a United Nations route to independence, it is not due to “impatience with the peace process.” What utter nonsense. The Palestinians are the ones who have refused negotiations. Even after Israel’s unprecedented settlement freeze, the Palestinians still refused to talk. They are pursuing unilateral independence because decades of a successful propaganda campaign, have finally borne fruit, and made such a pursuit seem viable. This is especially so, since repeated U.S. pressure against Israel, even in the face of Palestinian intransigence has created such daylight between the Israeli and U.S. positions, that the Palestinians had reason to believe that such a strategy would work, that the U.S. would actually consider withholding its no-vote from such a dangerous and destabilizing plan. Additionally much of the so-called “impatience” in Latin America stems not from any deep –seated interest in the Peace Process, but rather the expanded influence of Iran, and its ally Venezuela in the hemisphere, which has gone unchecked by the United States.

This is why peace will never come when Israel’s greatest strategic ally actually undermines, rather than supports the possibility of peace. As the recently deceased Osama Bin Laden expressed it, people, most especially the people of the Middle East, favor “the strong horse.”  Disunity between the United States and Israel, and the unchecked advances of Iran in our own hemisphere, coupled with a confused reaction to the Arab Spring, where former U.S. Allies have been chastised and hounded from office, but long time U.S. adversaries have been largely ignored, creates the impression that the anti-peace crowd of Iran, Hamas, and their allies are in the ascendance.

The Palestinians obviously believe this to be the case and that they can get what they want without ever having to acknowledge the existence of the State of Israel.  This means that they will never come to the negotiating table because they can get what they want from an international community that seeks to appease the Arabs and is willing to once again throw a democratic country to the wolves — as it did in its shameful betrayal of Czechoslovakia to Hitler.  And with President Obama’s insistence that now is the time for peace, because it may be too late otherwise, can he really predict the future?  Does he know the outline of history and that his solution will guarantee peace and not actually provoke another bloody war? Does he know what is in the hearts of Hamas, of Hezbollah, Fatah, the Egyptians, the Syrians or even the Iranians?  And what if he is wrong?  Is America prepared for another three front war in the heart of the Middle East if his predictions prove to be tragically misguided?

As Henry Kissinger once stated, “When the pursuit of peace is the sole objective of foreign policy — it becomes a weapon in the hands of the most ruthless.”

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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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