Sunday, March 22, 2015

Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear President Obama:

The assessment of American policy you are considering relating to the Arab-Israeli conflict is long overdue.

In 2002, at the height of the Palestinian Arab terror offensive generally referred to as the Second Intifada, President George W. Bush reversed long-standing American opposition to the establishment of another Palestinian Arab state and came out in favor of the establishment of such a state. You have continued this relatively new "two states for two peoples" policy.

The remarks made by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the end of the recent Israeli election campaign helped clarify that this policy has not been working.

Netanyahu stood by his earlier endorsement of "two states for two peoples," but noted certain realities that made it clear the goal of that policy cannot be reached in the next few years because of unfortunate realities, primarily related to the opposition of the Palestinian Arabs and the violent turmoil embroiling the Middle East.

Even the president of the Palestinian Authority has directly, both publicly and to you, asserted his permanent opposition to "two states for two peoples" in his clear statements that he will never recognize Israel as the Jewish state.

Prior to the death of Yasser Arafat, there was hope that his successor would be less extreme and willing to compromise. Whereas Arafat in 2000 and 2001 had rejected the establishment of a Palestinian state on approximately 95 percent of the disputed territories, there was hope his successor would not repeat that "mistake." That hope was quashed in 2008, when Mahmoud Abbas walked away from the negotiating table after being offered even more, the equivalent of 100 percent of the disputed territories.

Since that time, the Israeli leaders have tried hard to lure Abbas back into serious negotiations. At your urging, Prime Minister Netanyahu froze construction of homes in the Jewish communities in the disputed territories for ten months, after being assured by you that there would be reciprocal gestures both by the Palestinian Arabs and some of the Arab states. No such gestures were ever made, and Abbas stayed away from the negotiating table for more than nine of those ten months. Even when he came to the table, he made it clear he would again walk away less than a month later. In this, he was true to his word.

More recently, at your urging, Israel agreed to release 104 terrorist prisoners, including a number of mass murderers, in four stages, just to bring Abbas to the negotiating table. Israel actually released 78 of those terrorists and was prepared to release the last batch if Abbas would just commit to staying at the negotiating table. Instead, Mahmoud Abbas formed a unity government with Hamas, which we correctly recognize as a terror group, and resumed taking steps to unilaterally change the status of the disputed territories. This step was a blatant violation of the Oslo Accords, which commit both sides to refrain from changing the status of those territories pending a negotiated agreement.

During this same period, Mahmoud Abbas himself gave you his infamous three nos, each of which alone would be enough to doom any possibility of a peace agreement. He told you he would never recognize Israel as the Jewish state, thus reiterating his permanent opposition to a "two-state solution." He told you he would not abandon the so-called "right of return," thus continuing his insistence that Israel give up control over its borders and accept the immigration of millions of hostile Palestinian Arabs, few of whom ever lived in Israel. He also told you he would not commit to an "end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," thus making any agreement worthless.

Meanwhile, your administration, like the Bush administration before it, has continually pressured Israel to make concessions while putting little pressure for concessions on the Palestinian Arabs. Israel, under all its leaders, has responded and made enormous, painful concessions, concessions which have led to three primary results: intransigence by the Palestinian Arabs, pressure for more concessions, and deadly terrorism.

Long before the comments Benjamin Netanyahu made during the Israeli election campaign, it should have been clear that a reassessment of America's failing policy was in order. Paying lip service to Israeli interests while ignoring Arab perfidy has not worked. It does not bring peace closer. It only encourages Arab intransigence and terrorism, terrorism which may be directed at Israelis and Jews first, but never stops there.

Your reassessment needs to take this reality into account. As Benjamin Netanyahu noted, there will not be a peace agreement in the foreseeable future, because the Palestinian Arabs are unwilling and there's no reasonable possibility of that changing soon. Trying to force a solution, by pressing Israel into more and more one-sided, unreciprocated concessions, only makes things worse.

It's necessary to plan for the long-term, rather than continue to prematurely force an agreement based on one-sided Israeli concessions. It's necessary to recognize, as Prime Minister Netanyahu does, that there first needs to be a fundamental change in Palestinian Arab society. American policy should be aimed at facilitating that necessary change.

One part of America's policy has been wise, the recognition that any solution must be negotiated directly between the parties. A solution imposed by third parties, even well-meaning third parties, will never work. All the past breakthroughs were made by the parties themselves, such as Anwar Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem, which amazingly enough was actually opposed at the time by the Carter White House. This important lesson seems to have been lost. It does no good for America to be more eager for a Palestinian state than the Palestinian Arabs themselves.

Pending a fundamental change in Palestinian Arab society and leadership, America's strategy should really be based on the Beatle's song, "Let It Be." Encourage the Palestinian Arabs to build their society, support Israel as it struggles with enemies still committed to its destruction, and do no more harm.


Alan Stein

No comments: