Thursday, October 01, 2009

President Obama at the U.N. He Says Much And Nothing, But Is Still Following The Wrong Path


In his recent speech to the United Nations, President Obama laid out, once again, the much rehashed and unworkable vision for a two state solution West of the Jordan River:

He said: “We continue to call on Palestinians to end incitement against Israel, and we continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements…the goal is clear: Two states living side by side in peace and security — a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.”

Because the President is a master wordsmith his words require parsing.

The President “does not accept the legitimacy of CONTINUED Israeli settlements.” Notice that the President is no longer focused on preventing future settlement activity. The words above articulate a position that NO Israeli settlement is acceptable.

This statement is not useful. If the President expects Israel to return to the 1967 borders, Israel won’t do this without being defeated in a war. In fact, the President’s focus on settlements in the past few months has led the Palestinians to make the cessation of ALL Jewish settlement activity a precondition to further negotiation. This was not the President’s objective.

President Obama calls for “a JEWISH state of Israel.” This is a nod to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who wants Palestinians to recognize the “Jewishness” of Israel. Palestinian Arabs (and their Arab brethren) are highly unlikely to make such a statement. Given that Prime Minister Netanyahu is a master wordsmith himself, it is likely that he demanded Palestinians made a statement accepting Israel’s “Jewishness” because he knows they will not agree to make it. It is a request made to embarrass the Palestinians and the Arab world.

The Prime Minister’s request of the Arab world is just like the Saudi offer of normalization with Israel, an offer contingent on Israel accepting Arab refugees. The Saudi offer is an offer meant to embarrass Israel. It sounds reasonable at first blush, but the offer is made knowing that Israel cannot accept this term of peace and still maintain its identity as a Jewish state.

President Obama also calls for “a viable, independent Palestinian state with CONTIGUOUS territory that ENDS THE OCCUPATION that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.”

No one can make Gaza and the West Bank contiguous without cutting Israel in two. Maybe the President is only speaking of a contiguous West Bank. Maybe he’s speaking of a subway or an “Arabs only road” cutting across Israel. Part of careful wordsmithing is knowing when to be ambiguous. Ambiguity allows trusting people to find meaning they wish to find. But the President’s ambiguity is not constructive. In a recent poll, only 4% of Jewish Israelis think he is pro-Israel.

Also, the President’s words indicate that the “occupation” can’t end unless there is full withdrawal to the 1967 border. Again, this will not happen peacefully. No Israeli government has been willing to withdraw to the armistice lines that existed between 1949 and 1967.

Further, the President links Israeli withdrawal to Palestinian people realizing their full potential. There are better ways for Palestinian Arabs to realize their full potential than to force Israel to withdraw to borders that are extremely difficult to defend, and invite aggression.

The President said a lot, and at the same time, he has said nothing. Former Ambassador Josh Bolton describes the President’s recent speech as the most anti-Israeli speech he’s ever heard a U.S. President utter. I don’t think the President sees it that way.

I don’t know if the President, famous for voting present in the Illinois Senate, but not yet famous for being decisive in matters of foreign policy, is saying anything at all.

I do know he has not advanced the ball of peace. His public speeches remind me of Dennis Ross who confessed that he did his best to say nothing meaningful during in his public interviews while he was serving in the Bush-Clinton administrations.

When the President wants to take a meaningful stand, he should stand by America’s natural ally; the ally that advances humanity on scientific, medical and technological fronts; the ally that advance the human rights of minorities and women. There are 21 Arab majority countries. There is plenty of room for everyone to live peacefully in the Middle East, should they choose to do so. Though there is no need for a twenty second Arab majority State, should the Palestinian Arabs want a twenty second Arab state, and should the other Arab states agree, there is plenty of room in the vast Arab majority lands to create one for them.

The President should concentrate on Israel, the American ally. Let’s make sure Israel is viable and independent, and take it from there. There is room for Palestinian Arabs to prosper and thrive. Surely there can be room enough for the sole Jewish majority state to have a plot of land large enough for it to independently prosper and thrive.

-- David Naggar

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