After President Barack H. Obama’s two major speeches about the Middle East, first at the State Department on Thursday, May 19, 2011, and then at the AIPAC convention on the next Sunday, May 22, 2011, as well as Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s two speeches, first at the AIPAC convention on Monday May 23, 2011, and then before a combined session of Congress on Tuesday, May 24, 2011, which followed his unusually forthright meeting with President Obama at the White House on Friday, May 20, 2011, we may ask where is the president trying to go on the Palestinian state question, and how likely is he to have any success, given Palestinian and Israeli positions. In the following essay, an analysis will be presented. The popular saying “only fools dare to tread where wise men fear to go” is probably applicable here.
In the past two decades since the so-called “Oslo Process” began, much has changed and much has stayed the same. Israel still controls large sections of Yehudah and Shomron—aka the West Bank—the ancestral home of the Jewish People—and is still in a state of war with most of her neighbors. So too, most of the world is demanding of Israel that she retreat to the old armistice lines of June 4, 1967, with little concern for Israel’s long term security. The major change in today’s world is the rise of militant extremist Islamic religious fundamentalism which has replaced Arabic radical nationalism as the dominant cultural mode. Today, Israel is confronted by a Palestinian Authority that has held authority over much of the West Bank for the last eighteen years, as well as an Hamas-controlled state in Gaza that has maintained a state of belligerency for four years, showering southern Israel with some 12,000 rockets and holding Corporal Gilad Schalit captive for nearly five years. Israel also finds herself in a state of heightened tension with Lebanon due to the Iranian-backed Hezbollah’s control of southern Lebanon, fears of Moslem Brotherhood takeovers in Syria, Egypt, and possibly even in Jordan, Palestinian refugee incursion attempts from Syria, and the existentialist threat emanating from the Islamic Republic of Iran and its burgeoning nuclear program.
For some, the two speeches of President Obama presented nothing new, repeating a general pattern of American diplomacy followed for the last 44 years. For others, the subtle changes presented by the president were alarming and worthy of condemnation. Caught by surprise at the president’s new delineation of the 1967 borders as the starting point for negotiations, Prime Minister Netanyahu registered a vocal protest in his meeting with President Obama on Friday, May 20, 2011, and hammered home his position in both of his speeches, to thunderous applause in Congress.
The questions that we need to raise are where does President Obama want to go with his changes to US policy, and what affect do these changes have on the prospects for peace and/or war?
It would seem, based on the president’s outreach to the Moslem world, particularly in his Cairo speech of two years ago, that President Obama wants to appear more even-handed and welcoming of Islam. While vigorously opposing al-Qaeda, and other Islamist groups actively engaged in terror, the president seems oblivious to those groups like the Moslem Brotherhood that engage in stealth activities while building up their resources to effect a power grab when the time is right. It has been pointed out that Obama has changed American Middle-East policy significantly in his decision to back popular revolts—assuming that it is better to side with the people than with an autocratic ruler even if he is an American ally. Thus we have seen Obama dump Zine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, and Ali Saleh of Yemen, while remaining very reticent when dealing with the popular revolts in Iran and Syria. Even Ghaddafi of Libya has been given wiggle room due to Obama’s desire not to appear as if he is anti-Muslim.
The application of Obama’s views to the Israel-Palestine question finds the president sympathizing with the Palestinians without taking into consideration much of the history of the conflict and the reason for the Palestinians’ state-less situation. As a result, in attempting to be “even-handed” the president buys into much of the Arab/Palestinian narrative that lays the blame at Israel’s door. Conveniently overlooked is the fact that Israel chose to absorb over 800,000 refugees from Arab and Moslem lands while the Arab nations (with the exception of Jordan) kept the 700,000 Palestinian refugees state-less instead of integrating them into their societies.
Because of his subtle but significant changes in policy, such as demanding a halt to all construction across the old “Green-Line” [the 1949 armistice line], and the suggestion that the US regards the “Green-Line” as the basis for future border negotiations (even with “mutually agreed upon” land swaps), the president has conceded points to the Palestinian view and limited Israel’s ability to maneuver in any future negotiations.
On the other hand, by requiring the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish People, President Obama has tossed the ball into the Palestinian side of the court. The Palestinians were unhappy with many of Obama’s points and they didn’t bother to remain subtle in their opposition. Acting as if the May 1948 five-state Arab attack on the newly-declared State of Israel never occured, a high-level Hamas official, this week echoed by the Palestinian Authority’s Nabil Sha‘ath, suggested returning to the implementation of UNSC Resolution 181, the 1947 United Nations Partition Plan which would leave Israel only about half of its pre-1967 land. As a result, we can surmise that the Palestinians will continue to boycott negotiations, figuring that they can get what they want at the United Nations General Assembly in September. And having announced the Palestinian plan to seek statehood through the vote of the General Assembly, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is now finding it difficult to climb back down in the face of a promised American (and possibly Franco-British) veto in the Security Council.
The Palestinians easily may attain a majority vote at the UNGA, but it only will be a propaganda victory as the US and quite possibly the UK and France will scuttle the Palestinians’ plans in the Security Council which is the authoritative body. Increasing pressure on Netanyahu, Abbas now has indicated that the Palestinians yet may drop their bid for statehood at the U.N. in exchange for Israel agreeing to Obama’s outline of using the 1967 borders as the starting point for renewing negotiations.
The likelihood of Netanyahu agreeing to such conditions is very small as it would cause the breakup of his ruling coalition and would be unpopular with the Israeli public, President Shimon Peres and a vocal left notwithstanding. Obama’s announcement that the questions of Jerusalem and refugees would be deferred to a later stage, following the successful conclusion of an agreement on borders and security is a total non-starter from the Israeli viewpoint. It permits the Palestinians to continue the conflict after having their territory legally defined as “occupied”, or forcing Israel to retreat to the indefensible borders of 1967 without even ending the conflict! No sane Israeli government can agree to such a position. So too, roughly three out of four Israelis refuse to see Jerusalem divided again. The nineteen years of Arab rule of East Jerusalem [1948-1967] and the attendant desecration of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries as well as the inaccessibility of Jewish holy sites during that period has taught Israelis to seriously distrust promises on that score. Mahmoud Abbas’ recent statement that no Israelis would be permitted to stay on Palestinian land proves that not much has changed in the Palestinian view of the relationship. It’s Palestine that would be a racist, apartheid state, not Israel which has a 20% Arab citizenship and Arab Members of the Knesset, as well as Arab members of the cabinet.
As to the idea of re-dividing Jerusalem, how quick would the United States agree to dividing Washington, DCand ceding the White House and the Capitol Building to a newly formed Confederate States of America? Or would New York care to cede two boroughs to a hostile New Jersey? Or maybe England would care to cedeBuckingham Palace and the Tower of London to a newly established independent nation of Scotland. After these hypothetical divisions become reality, then the State of Israel might be willing to consider the question. But in all honesty, the reply ultimately will be: “a nechtige tog”!
President Obama’s intentions may have been good, (some would question this statement), but he has actually made it much more difficult for the Israelis and Palestinians to find any common ground and solutions. His naiveté about negotiating in the world of Middle-East affairs has been disastrous for the peace process. So, although the political pressure will mount upon Israel, the Palestinians likely will once again keep their perfect record of not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Where does this put us in the long run? Before trying to answer this question, it is crucial to dispel a myth about demographics and also to provide some demography background. First is the long-touted belief that Israel is sitting on a demographic “time-bomb”—that the Palestinian population west of the River Jordan will outnumber the Jewish population by 2020. It turns out that this is a fable, as revealed by Caroline B. Glick—senior Middle East fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, D.C., and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post—already in 2005 and reiterated in her column of May 24, 2011, that a 1997 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics report published a falsified Palestinian census that had inflated Palestinian population data by 50 percent. As Ms. Glick points out, Jewish and Arab populations west of the Jordan River have nearly balanced out; Jewish populations in the West Bank have a significantly higher birthrate than the Arabs, and Jews have a positive immigration rate while the Arabs have a negative rate. Bottom line: Israel doesn’t need to solve the problem by surrendering territory in a race against the clock. Demographically speaking, time is on Israel’s side.
The second important point about demographics is that the Arab population is largely made up of immigrants from Syria, Iraq, and Jordan in the West Bank, and from Egypt in Gaza, as shown by genetic and linguistic studies. These populations are relatively recent in terms of the history of the land, the Arab immigrations toIsrael coming in the last century and a half as Jewish immigration increased and conditions for habitation improved. The Bedouin population is entirely made up of immigrants from the Hadramaut (Yemen) within the last five hundred years. Palestinian claims of being the indigenous population are false except for those Arabs whose genetic make-up is identical to parts of Israel’s Sephardic population. These Arabs are the indigenous Jews of Palestine that were converted to Islam at sword-point in the eight century C.E., as shown by the genetic studies of Ruth Oppenheimer at Hadassah Hospital!
Given this information, we can now attempt to answer the long-run question. Israel currently is fighting a major diplomatic war that it is losing because it is not aggressive enough in combating Palestinian lies. Due to oil politics, Europe and the West cave in to Arab demands. If Israel becomes a major producer of gas from her off-shore gas fields, and a significant producer of oil from her high-grade shale oilfields, recently discovered in the Negev, because of her leading place in high-tech research, Israel will regain popularity. Economics certainly drive political alliances, and Israel as an oil producer will have many more “friends” than Israel as an oil importer.
September and the next few years may cause us all to sweat, and even sweat profusely, especially as long as an “even-handed” Obama sits in the White House. But careful, aggressive political diplomacy by Israel, as well as an improvement in Israel’s position in the oil and gas market will serve to protect Israel diplomaticallyand allow Israel time to wait for a truly moderate Palestinian government to develop sometime in the future.
Now, if we can solve the Iran threat, life will be just peachy, or as they say in the Middle-East: buqra el-mishmish—a morning of apricots!
Rabbi Dr. Daniel M. Zucker is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, a grassroots organization dedicated to teaching of the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism. He may be contacted at contact@ADME.ws