JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli officials say the country will not halt construction in West Bank settlements even after the U.S. president’s explicit call to do so. (6.5.09)
Over the last decade, the U.S. government has understood that any final peace treaty would involve Israel retaining some of the close-in settlements — and compensating the Palestinians accordingly with land from within Israel itself.
That was envisioned in the Clinton plan in the Camp David negotiations in 2000, and again at Taba in 2001.
In his much-heralded “Muslim world” address in Cairo Thursday, Obama declared that the Palestinian people’s “situation” is “intolerable.” Indeed it is, the result of 60 years of Palestinian leadership that gave its people corruption, tyranny, religious intolerance and forced militarization; leadership that for three generations — Haj Amin al-Husseini in 1947, Yasser Arafat in 2000, Abbas in December 2008 — rejected every offer of independence and dignity, choosing destitution and despair rather than accept any settlement not accompanied by the extinction of Israel.
In the 16 years since the Oslo accords turned the West Bank and Gaza over to the Palestinians, their leaders — Fatah and Hamas alike — built no schools, no roads, no courthouses, no hospitals, no institutions that would relieve their people’s suffering. Instead they poured everything into an infrastructure of war and terror, all the while depositing billions (from gullible Western donors) into their Swiss bank accounts.
Obama says he came to Cairo to tell the truth. But he uttered not a word of that. Instead, among all the bromides and lofty sentiments, he issued but one concrete declaration of new American policy: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” thus reinforcing the myth that Palestinian misery and statelessness are the fault of Israel and the settlements.
Blaming Israel and picking a fight over “natural growth” may curry favor with the Muslim “street.” But it will only induce the Arab states to do like Abbas: sit and wait for America to deliver Israel on a platter. Which makes the Obama strategy not just dishonorable but self-defeating.
President Barack Obama’s speech in Egypt on Thursday, received mixed reviews both among the crowd at Cairo University and across the Middle East. Indeed, there were some praiseworthy passages in the address including his call for greater religious tolerance, his emphasis on women’s rights, and his recitation of America’s founding principles. But the speech was also highly problematic in many ways that will end up backfiring on the President and the United States.
As could be expected, President Barack Obama on Thursday identified “the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world,” as being “a source of tension.” In this respect, he correctly delineated the issue as being much broader than a conflict solely between Palestinians and Jews, a distinction which is very important in terms of working towards a possible solution.
Precisely for this reason, however, his comments regarding Israel and were so problematic. First and foremost was his linkage of the establishment of the and the Holocaust.
Thus, according to Obama, Americans recognize that “the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” an obvious reference not to the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of the Jewish people from its historic homeland, but rather to the Shoa. The continuation of the speech, in which he refers to his visit today to Buchenwald and attacks Holocaust , make this linkage absolutely clear.
But besides being historically inaccurate, this false connection strengthens one of the strongest canards of anti-Israel propaganda in the Muslim world; that Europeans guilty of Holocaust crimes established a Jewish state in Palestine at the expense of the local Arab residents to atone for their World War II atrocities.
By ignoring three thousand years of Jewish history, by neglecting to even mention the unbreakable link, started long before the advent of Islam, between the Jewish people and Eretz Yisrael, Obama totally failed to deliver what should have been one of his most important messages to the Arab world.
More often than not, the President portrayed Muslims as the Brotherhood always does: as victims of crimes perpetrated by the West against them – from colonialism to manipulation by Cold War superpowers to the menace of “modernity and globalization that led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.” Again, no mention of the hostility towards the infidel West ingrained in “the traditions of Islam.” This fits with the meme of the Shariah-adherent, but not the facts.
Here’s the irony: Even as President Obama professed his determination to “speak the truth,” he perpetrated a fraud. He falsely portrayed what amounts to authoritative Islam, namely Shariah Islam, as something that is “not exclusive,” that “overlaps” and “need not be in competition” with “America. Actually, Shariah is, by its very nature, a program that obliges its adherents to demand submission of all others, Muslims (especially secular and apostate ones) and non-Muslims, alike.
It was with mixed feelings that we watched President Barack Obama deliver his extraordinary speech to the Muslim and Arab worlds in Cairo yesterday.
Critics will see the speech as incredibly naive. Yet it was also the most meaningful and coherent attempt by an American leader since 9/11 to dissociate the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims from demagogic elites preaching worldwide jihad and hatred of non-believers.
It is not insignificant that Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden took the president’s power to persuade seriously enough to try to preempt him by issuing fresh rants. It must have galled them to see hard-line imams and Muslim Brothers listening attentively in the audience. A Gallup Poll, taken before the speech, showed 25 percent of Egyptians approving of the US under Obama, compared to 6% under George W. Bush.
What is wrong with this picture? President Barack Obama articulates a vision for the future of the Middle East that looks very much like the one Israelis have pleaded for during more than 60 years. And yet, in the days and weeks leading up to his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, the Obama administration managed to make it sound as though Israeli intransigence stands as the principal obstacle to peace in the Middle East. There was a reason for that.
As he laid the ground for an address aimed at transforming relations between the United States and the Arab and Muslim worlds, Obama sought to build trust among Muslims by showing he had no qualms about standing up to Israel. Luckily for the American president, Israel now has a rightist prime minister heading a coalition that is much less inclined toward compromise.
That made it easy for Obama to focus his and the world’s attention on Israeli settlements and the refusal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to openly state he favors the creation of a Palestinian state. In fact, until a few months ago, Israel’s government was actively pursuing negotiations to create a Palestinian state, as rockets from Palestinian-controlled Gaza continued to rain on Israeli towns. (Palestinians continue to fire rockets toward Israeli homes, even if no one talks about it. Some crashed into Israel on Thursday, as Obama spoke of peace.)
Most Israelis support the creation of a Palestinian state and have little sympathy for settlers. And yet, even the most progressive of Israelis find themselves feeling a little nervous at the way Washington is suddenly portraying the conflict.
From the day the United Nations voted to partition the British-ruled territory, Israelis agreed that the land should be divided between Jews and Arabs. Arab countries adamantly refused to accept Israel and immediately attacked, promising to drive the Jews into the sea. That is history and, as Obama said, we cannot become prisoners of the past.
Let us, then, look at the present: Today, roughly half of the Palestinians in the territories live under a Hamas regime sworn to Israel’s destruction; a regime backed by Iran, which threatens Israel with destruction. On Israel’s northern border, Hezbollah, also backed by Iran, also vows to destroy Israel after showing its rockets can reach deep into Israeli cities by firing thousands of missiles into civilian areas in 2006. This is a reality Israelis cannot ignore, and it is the reality that produced victory at the polls earlier this year for a rightist government.
Israelis do not feel safe. They feel their survival threatened. And, because they do remember the repeated lessons of history, they know that those who say they want to get rid of the Jews often mean what they say and act on their ideas, even if the rest of the world dismisses their words as hyperbole.
Israel’s government should openly support and work for a two-state solution as it did until recently. My view is that Netanyahu knows this and will do it. And settlements cannot continue growing. Eventually most of them will be removed as the land is divided by mutual agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. But right now, the major obstacle to peace is not the settlements or the words of a prime minister trying to keep his fragile coalition from collapsing.
The biggest obstacle to peace is the real danger that an Israeli withdrawal would be followed by the overthrow of the weak regime now governing the West Bank, putting in its place Hamas, a militant group armed by Iran, which would then control land just a few miles from Israel’s major cities. A withdrawal today would likely bring more war. It might make life in Israel unlivable. This is no trivial concern.
Clearly, achieving the vision eloquently expressed by Obama in Cairo will require concessions from Israel. And there is no question that some — a minority — in Israel oppose making those concessions. But that is only one of the many difficulties in reaching that elusive goal.
If Obama’s powerful words can truly transform the Middle East, Israeli democracy will tackle the obstacles within the country. It won’t be easy but it will be done. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want peace. They want two states. But they don’t want national suicide. If Obama’s call from Cairo against extremism and violence can conquer the minds of Israel’s neighbors, Israeli voters will remove the obstacles to peace growing in their midst.
Most of our political leaders are ignorant of Islam and the problems Muslims face when attempting to practice a cohesive religion. Islam is and always was an ambiguous religion. In order to understand how one group can argue that Islam is a religion of peace while another group commits atrocities in the name of Islam, one must return to the source of this religion which is diametrically opposed to liberal democracy.