Friday, March 26, 2010

President Obama Needs a More Evenhanded Mideast Policy

This is a letter published in the Connecticut Post on March 26, 2010. It was sent in response to a misguided column by Trudy Rubin published in the Connecticut Post on March 21. The column may be viewed at

Trudy Rubin's column (CP - March 21) is filled with errors of fact and unwarranted assumptions that make a mockery of what are supposed to be desired peace negotiations between Arabs and Israelis. As Rubin reported, President Obama took grave offense at an Israeli municipal action to approve building new Jewish homes in Jerusalem that he alleged was disruptive to peace. Close examination reveals that there another side to this story.

The expectation has always been in the various Middle East "peacr" processes that issues between the Arab and Israeli parties are to be worked out in negotiation, not through arbitrary dictates and certainly not through violence.

The fact is that, pending the crafting of a final agreement, Israel has the right to build homes in Jerusalem. Jewish building in Jerusalem has continued for decades even during prior negotiations and does not constitute a change in agreed on procedures or commitments.

In the case of the recent approval of 1600 apartments by the Jerusalem municipality, this is a project in the northwestern part of the city -- not in any disputed post 1967-War part -- and is sandwiched between two existing, large Jewish neighborhoods. This is an area that all prior negotiations have identified as within the part of Jerusalem that Israel will continue to hold irrespective of how final negotiated borders are drawn. It is in this light that President Obama's sudden intrusion into this matter, taking extreme offense on what is a routine act by an Israeli municipal official, appears most unwarranted and arbitrary.

Interestingly, it was not until a few days after approval by the municipal agency was announced that V.P. Biden, already in Israel, bestirred himself, under the direction of President Obama, to publicly take offense at the Israeli action. This immediately emboldened the Arab side to similarly object and to initiate violent demonstrations throughout Israel. The Arabs also halted the beginning of a long awaited new negotiation and now they demand a rescinding of Israel's project as the price of continuing.

The picture that emerges is that the stoking of violent Arab unrest and disruption of negotiation has been the result of President Obama's attempt to impose a new, unilateral concession on Israel. This clearly undermines negotiation and has the effect of compromising trust in the US as a neutral arbitrator between the parties.

It is relevant that the Arab side had for more than a year refused to negotiate and only recently agreed to begin "proximity" talks.

These use a US mediator as the interface between the parties, sidestepping direct Arab contact with Israelis. This arms-length approach hardly demonstrates the "trust" that the Arabs and President Obama say is essential.

Finally, Rubin fails to take note that the Arab side has persistently indulged in terrorist violence and carries on school programs teaching hatred of Israel -- violations of their long standing promises to cease such action. This is hardly the kind of conduct that will lead to a successful two-state solution that Rubin thinks is in Israel's interest.

The point is that no thinking person should expect that Israel will find it in its interest to be railroaded into allowing a dangerous Arab enemy to emerge with statehood. In keeping with its grave danger to its people, Israel could be forced to react with painful and overwhelming force against such an advent, hence, care must be taken bring along a peace process within a context promoting trust.

It is unfortunate that President Obama has so unwisely intervened.

It creates a division between an important US ally, Israel, and is hardly a contribution to a wise strategic policy needed in the peace process.

David Basch
Fairfield, CT

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