May 31, 2011


David BrogBy David Brog

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Last week, both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu staked out their positions on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Their speeches have launched a thousand commentaries about Israel’s pre-1967 borders and the best way to achieve peace in the Middle East. But missed in this torrent of talk were three significant departures from prior positions.

In his May 19th speech, President Obama declared that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” Not only did the President emphasize the ’67 lines, but he did so in the absence of any corresponding Palestinian concessions. Both in his original speech and in his clarification of that speech before AIPAC, President Obama failed to mention the key Palestinian concession – the rejection of the Palestinian “right of return” to Israel, i.e. the “right” of the millions of grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the original 1948 refugees to “return” to Israel and turn it into another Arab state.

As a result, President Obama has taken Israel’s maximum concession – the lands Israel won in the defensive war of 1967 – and effectively turned it into a precondition for negotiations. This isn’t the first time President Obama has performed this bad magic. Early in his term, he insisted that Israel freeze all “settlement” construction, including in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem. This demand didn’t bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table – it forced them from it. Once President Obama had insisted on the construction freeze, the Palestinians had no choice but to do so as well — something they had not previously done. President Obama has now doubled down on this failed strategy.

Equally troubling, President Obama embraced this one-sided peace formulation after Fatah and Hamas had signed their unity agreement in Cairo. For all intents and purposes, Hamas is now a part of the Palestinian government. Yet Hamas is an unrepentant terrorist organization, and is recognized as such not only by the United States but also by the European Union. The Hamas Covenant not only calls for the violent destruction of Israel, but it also embraces the murder of all Jews no matter where they live.

And Hamas has not changed. While certain Hamas leaders have made some noises about supporting the creation of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, no Hamas leader has recognized Israel’s right to exist or rejected terror. Now is not the time to pressure Israel to negotiate with a Hamas government. Now is a time to cut off United States support for that government.

Finally, most commentators have overlooked the crystallization of a significant shift in Israeli politics. For years, all Israeli governments rejected the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. In the early 1990’s, the Labor party and other parties on the Israeli left officially embraced this concession, while the parties on the right – including Netanyahu’s Likud – continued to oppose it. Last week, we saw Prime Minister Netanyahu stand before the American Congress and clearly and repeatedly state his support for the creation of such a Palestinian state.

In other words, even the leader of the Israeli right is prepared to make this historic, painful and risky concession if it would bring peace to Israel. Meanwhile, the key player on the Palestinian right – Hamas — still longs for the day when, to quote their covenant, “The stones and trees will say ‘O Moslem, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’” Likud has moved towards the center. Fatah has moved toward Hamas.

Yet, somehow, Israel is seen as the obstacle to peace and Netanyahu is portrayed as the extremist. Blaming Israel like this isn’t simply a failed negotiation strategy. Singling out Israel is a moral failure of the highest order.

Related Links

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