Something Rotten in Washington

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This past Friday at the Brookings Institute, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta excoriated Israel for the lack of progress in the peace process.  Sandwiching his remarks between the usual boilerplate platitudes, our Secretary of Defense made it absolutely clear that he and the administration feel that the responsibility for the sorry state of affairs between Israel and the Palestinians, let alone between Israel and the rest of the Arab world in which it is forced to survive, lies, at least partially, at Israel’s doorstep.

Mr. Panetta said that he “believes security is dependent on a strong military, but also on diplomacy,” and he added, “Unfortunately over the past year we have seen Israel’s isolation from the traditional security partners in the region grow and the pursuit of a comprehensive Middle East peace has effectively been put on hold.”

The Secretary of Defense then demanded that Israel reach out, not only to the Palestinians, but to Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, her past traditional allies.

First of all, as has been documented in an article by Khaled Abu Toameh in this Monday’s Jerusalem Post, chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat has rejected the demand by the Quartet (the United States, Russia, the European Union, the UN), for direct negotiations between the two parties.

The Palestinians refuse to sit down and talk to the Israelis, man to man. Why? Because they refuse to recognize the nation for what it is: a Jewish state. How do Obama and Panetta expect the two nations to live together in a peace that will endure for generations if the Palestinians cannot even accept Israel for what it is, and call it by its name?

What’s more:  PA negotiator Saeb Erekat expressed “surprise” that State Department’s Mark Toner has even asked the Palestinians to sit down in direct face-to-face negotiations with Israel.

In his worldview, the United States is out of line to ask anything of the Palestinians. He believes it is the Palestinians alone who have the right and power to do the demanding and set the rules.

The answer lies in the history of the way this administration has coddled the Palestinians since assuming office and has not acted as an “honest broker” or a referee between the sides, but as a consistent coach and cheerleader for the Palestinians.

As soon as Obama entered office, he quickly demanded that the Netanyahu government stop construction anywhere in the territories that Israel captured in its defensive war of 1967 and retained when attacked again in the war of 1973. Astonishingly, his demand included any building in the city of Jerusalem, the eternal capitol of the Jewish people. The actions of the President and Secretary of State gave the Palestinian Authority a new feeling of invulnerability and entitlement.  This was brought out in a now-famous interview that Lally Weymouth of the Washington Post had with P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas shortly after President Obama assumed office.  Abbas claimed all he had to do to achieve his Palestinian state was to wait for Obama to deliver the state and the land from the Israelis.

Now, Abbas has developed such a heightened sense of entitlement that he said he will not sit down with the Israelis unless first, they deliver on everything on the Palestinian wish list, including a return to the 1949 armistice lines, which UN representative Abba Eban of the Labor Party had realistically dubbed “the Auschwitz” lines because they were simply indefensible.  The 1948 lines would put every single Israeli city within easy range of an Arab Kassam missile. The Arab town of Kalkilya could easily launch Kassam rockets at Ben Gurion Airport. Just one Kassam rocket launched at the airport and the entire country would be closed off from air traffic.

Right of return of all Palestinian refugees.

As far as the right of return is concerned, the Palestinians have a very creative, ingenious way of accounting. The demographic rosters have been infinitely inflated. Every time a woman in Ramallah has an appendix attack, she is listed as giving birth to a child. Any unlimited Palestinian “right of return” would be a demographic nightmare that would signal the end of Israel as both a Jewish state and a democracy.

This growing listing of Palestinian hubris runs contrary to the iron-clad assurances that American President George W. Bush gave to the government of Israel.

In a letter dated April 14, 2004, given to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and signed by President George W. Bush, he stated: “As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. 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.”

What happened to these American iron-clad assurances to the Jewish state when President Obama assumed office? Do American guarantees last only until the administration that gave them is out of office? And what does that make of American credibility and trustworthiness?

Furthermore, the Secretary of Defense seems to feel that it is Israel’s responsibility to make peace with Turkey, whose Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogen refuses diplomatic ties with Israel and has called Israel the “military threat to the region.” Or with Egypt, who just voted in an “Islamist” Parliament last week. Islamists who have historically viewed both Israel and America as adversaries. And Jordan, whose king finds himself at high risk as Islamist fever and revolution overturn both monarchies and dictators across the Middle East.

It is interesting how a great deal of attention has been given recently to the subject of bullying. We have suddenly noticed that there are kids in the classroom and on the playground who for one reason or another are singled out as vulnerable and everyone piles on them. In the Middle Eastern playground, Israel is cast as the vulnerable child, because she is different and because she is Jewish. The Arab world has never accepted her existence; not in 1929, not in 1948, not in 1967 and not in 2011. And no one in the neighborhood wants her on their team.

We have grown to expect that sort of bullying from the Arab world. It is sad and tragic, however, to see it come from spokesman of the United States.

That is because the kids in this neighborhood play with toys that are all too lethal, and when they sense that the United States is pulling away from Israel, they feel emboldened — and the neighborhood becomes that much more dangerous.

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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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