Israel Facing a Diplomatic Storm

President Obama, in his recent statements, proposes to force Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the default starting point for drawing the permanent borders of the two states before the other crucial final status issues have been resolved. This would undermine the basic premise of the Israeli-Arab peace process. Since the end of the 1967 Six Day War, the “land for peace” formula has been the guiding principle in all peace negotiations. The basic premise of the talks is to arrange a swap in which Israel would return captured territory in exchange for acceptable territorial and security arrangements with their Arab peace partners. That formula has worked reasonably well for more than 30 years along Israel’s southern border with Egypt and for 17 years along its eastern border with Jordan. While diplomatic relations between Israel and those two nations have had their ups and downs, and the hopes for closer economic and cultural ties have gone largely unrealized, the basic bargain has been kept. The result has been an assurance of peace and security for Israel, along with a reasonable amount of cooperation, on the Egyptian and Jordanian borders.

 

Obama’s proposal as he originally outlined it during a speech at the State Department, would change the basic peacemaking formula, by forcing Israel to give up, in principle, the territory it won in the West Bank and Yerushalayim without any assurance that it would ever reach agreement on the other key final status issues, such as the fate of Yerushalayim and the Arab claim to a right of return.

 

LAND FOR NOTHING INSTEAD OF LAND FOR PEACE

 

Instead of a swap of “land for peace” Obama would impose upon Israel a deal in which it would give up the land without any assurance of ever achieving peace with the Palestinians in return. By accepting Obama’s principle that the default solution would see Israel return to the 1967 borders, and making any changes to those borders contingent on Arab agreement, he is setting the stage in which Israel would be left vulnerable to attack by enemies who deny its legitimacy and refuse to sit down with it at the negotiating table.

 

The only way to read the Arab determination to force a resolution through the United Nations General Assembly which not only recognizes a Palestinian state, but declares its borders to be the 1967 lines, with no adjustments to accommodate Israel’s legitimate needs, is a formula for renewed war, rather than peace.

 

The South American and European nations who have indicated that they will vote for such a UN resolution have willfully ignored the fact that by doing so they would be calling for the forcible removal of half a million Jews from homes and communities they have lived in legally and peacefully for more than 40 years, in some instances.

 

BLAMING THE WRONG PARTY

 

These nations have told themselves that this is the way to right the wrong done to Palestinian refugees who have lived in misery for more than 60 years. They ignore the fact that it is the Arab states, rather than Israel, which has deliberately kept them in a stateless condition for all these years. By refusing to allow the refugees to be absorbed into their midst, and using their continued plight as both a diversion and an excuse to avoid making peace with Israel and moving forward to provide the benefits of progress to their own citizens, these Arab despots created the internal forces in their own countries which are now being unleashed in the Arab Spring which is challenging their continued rule.

 

As Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed out in his address to the joint session of the US Congress, what the Arab people now demand for themselves from their rulers are the same democratic rights and freedoms which Israeli Arabs have been granted in Israel for the past 60 years. It would seem highly unlikely that under the recently signed Hamas-Fatah unity government agreement, the citizens of the future Palestinian state would enjoy anything like those rights and freedoms. Instead, they would probably wind up under repressive Islamic rule, similar to that which Hamas has imposed on Gaza over the past four years, and an endless state of war with Israel.

 

Furthermore, by imposing the 1967 borders on Israel, these nations would be voting to create a new crop of half-a-million Jewish refugees driven from their homes, to further perpetuate the Middle East conflict rather than resolve it.

 

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?

 

Liberal secular Jews like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who think that imposing the 1967 borders on Israel would be doing it a favor, are actually adopting the PLO Phased Plan for the gradual destruction of Israel.

 

In 1974. the PLO, led by Fatah under Yasser Arafat adopted a new two-step strategy for the destruction of Israel. The first step was the establishment of a Palestinian state which would reduce Israel to its inherently indefensible 1967 borders; with the second step being the annihilation of the weakened Israel, either through “armed struggle” or through the diplomatically forcing Israel to accept “the right of return” of millions of Palestinians who would instantly form a “Third Column” to destroy Israel demographically from the inside, using democratic elections to eliminate its Jewish character.

 

The Arabs have made it clear that they intend to ignore President Obama’s brief reference to agreed land swaps to adjust the ‘67 borders in his State Department address, by the simple tactic of not agreeing to any such adjustments. It is important to note that those European and South American states which have agreed to vote for the recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN have not made any mention of the need for such land swaps, either.

 

While trying to blame Israel for the breakdown of peace talks, it is the Palestinians who were the ones who walked away from the negotiations three years ago, and who have created steadily higher barriers to their resumption by demanding new preconditions. Yet those countries which have bought into the message of the Arab propaganda machine, and the thinly veiled anti-Semitism of the liberal critics of Israel, insists on blaming Israel for the current stalemate.

 

There are some liberal Jews who have no problem with the scenario of the US forcing Israel against its will back to the ‘67 lines. Friedman and his friends in the J Street and Peace Now camps argue that Israel would be better off without any Jews allowed to live in the West Bank or East Yerushalayim which, make no mistake, is what the Arabs are demanding.

 

IGNORING THE LESSONS OF THE DISENGAGEMENT

 

The liberal Jews also studiously ignore the lessons from the disastrous failure of the pilot project for such a withdrawal, the Gaza disengagement of 2005. At the time, of course, they were all for it, imagining that it would “solve” the problem of the Israeli “occupation” of Gaza, and lead to a wonderful new life of prosperity for the Arabs living there. These Jews even collected the money needed to buy the hydroponic equipment and hothouses that the successful Jewish farms in Gaza were using in order to turn them over, intact, for the Arabs to run.

 

Instead, the hothouses and equipment were quickly disassembled and sold for scrap by the Arabs of Gaza, and the Jewish farms and settlements were razed to the ground, to serve as launching pads for terrorist from which to bombard Sderot and other surrounding Jewish communities with rockets.

 

Now these liberals are telling Israel to do the same thing by forcibly removing the Jews now living in the West Bank and East Yerushalayim, so that they, too, can become launching pads for similar attacks on nearby Tel Aviv and central Israel’s other main civilian population centers. They choose to ignore one of the telltale symptoms of insanity – the delusional belief that upon repeating a bad mistake one can expect a better outcome.

 

The Gaza disengagement itself turned out to be far more difficult and expensive to carry out than Ariel Sharon had predicted when he first proposed it. It taxed Israel’s human, physical, emotional and financial resources to the limit to remove and resettle the 9,000 Jews who were living in Gaza, and the process has taken years. Now imagine the scale of the chaos, dislocation and human misery were Israel to agree to try to forcibly relocate 50 times that number of Jews from their homes in communities such as Kiryat Sefer, Neve Yaakov, Ramot, Betar Illit, or the Jewish Quarter of the Old City.

 

WHO WOULD PAY FOR IT?

 

Will Obama and most of the rest of the international community which now insist that Israel do this be willing to pay the cost to build equivalent new homes for the 500,000 Jews that it would displace, as well as finding them new jobs and paying for their moving expenses? The actual cost of the Gaza disengagement far exceeded the original $2.2 billion estimate. Some of that was paid for by US taxpayers. In the federal government’s current deficit budget condition, do these liberals think that Congress, or any other country, for that matter, would agree to cover the cost of resettling more than 50 times the number of Jews who were dislocated from Gaza? Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to volunteer.

 

DECIPHERING OBAMA’S DOUBLE MESSAGE

 

When confronted with the criticism that Obama’s State Department speech was a thinly veiled attempt to dictate the acceptance of the enemy’s terms for a peace agreement on Israel, the White House was quick to point to the much more accommodating tone of Obama’s comments to a pro-Israel AIPAC audience a few days later. The White House was also critical of Netanyahu for refusing to be bullied into agreeing with Obama’s position in a very confrontational joint Oval Office press conference the day after the State Department speech.

 

The media and the diplomatic community have mostly ignored what Obama said to the AIPAC audience, because they understood what it was, a 2012 re-election speech to pro-Israel Jews whom Obama was trying to cultivate as potential major campaign donors.

 

NETANYAHU’S OFFER

 

On the other hand, those who took the time to listen or read Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress, discovered that his ideas for making peace with the Palestinians are both more realistic and practical than Obama’s proposal, which has learned nothing from the mistakes made by the past 17 years of failed US-sponsored peacemaking efforts, including his own initiatives over the past two years.

 

Netanyahu has promised to be forthcoming in peace negotiations if he is convinced that there is sincerity in the effort on the Arab side, which is not yet the case. He even risked angering his right wing voter base in Israel by publicly acknowledging that any viable peace agreement would inevitably mean Israel’s abandonment of at least some of the West Bank settlements.

 

However, the prime minister also made it clear that he would not accept peace terms that are dictated to Israel, even by a friendly nation like the United States. He stressed that Israel reserves its right, as a sovereign nation, to determine its own security needs and national priorities, and to decide for itself the terms upon which it will ultimately agree to make peace with its enemies. While the media and the international diplomatic community had already made up their minds to reject Netanyahu’s approach, even before hearing it, the joint session of Congress proved to be a receptive audience, and demonstrated its support with repeated ovations for the prime minister’s remarks.

 

BRINGING HOME A GRIM MESSAGE

 

Upon his return to Israel, Netanyahu was nonetheless grim. He is now trying to prepare the Israeli people for what promises to be a difficult period in its relations with the United States and the international community.

 

Netanyahu told a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that while he did not believe the Security Council would recommend membership for the Palestinian state, nothing could be done to prevent the UN General Assembly from passing a legally non-binding resolution recognizing it.

 

“They can decide that the world is flat, there’s nothing we can do about it,” said Netanyahu. “We have no way of blocking a decision by the General Assembly. We will get votes there from only a few countries.”

 

Netanyahu came to Washington hoping to get Obama’s help in derailing the Arab effort at the UN in September to win formal recognition of a Palestinian state. But he was only partially successful.

 

It appears that Obama is now committed to casting the US veto in the UN Security Council to block a formal resolution approving Palestinian statehood on Arab terms, without a negotiated agreement with Israel. That would be enough to block the Palestinian state from achieving the status of formal membership in the United Nations. However, that would not prevent the Palestinians and the Arab states from passing a resolution in the General Assembly, by an overwhelming margin, recognizing such a state, with the 1967 borders, even though that would not be binding under international law. It would serve, however, to put Israel even further on the diplomatic defensive and bolster the ongoing effort to delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the international community.

 

THE ARABS’ UN TIMETABLE

 

The timetable for the Arab UN initiative to win approval of a Palestinian state seems to assume a US veto in the Security Council, followed by a non-binding vote of recognition in the General Assembly when it reconvenes in New York on September 15. Working backwards from that date, the introduction by the Arabs of a resolution in the Security Council is expected around July 15. After that, there is a procedure to be followed which requires the UN to set up a panel to examine whether the Palestinians meets the various criteria for acceptance as a full-fledged member, leading to a report to the Security Council, which must vote on whether to recommend to the General Assembly that the Palestinian membership application be accepted. It is here that the US is expected to exercise its veto to block the formal membership process. It is not clear, at this point, whether any other Security Council members, including Britain or France will join the US in opposing the Palestinian application.

 

OBAMA PRESSURING ISRAEL FOR A MAJOR CONCESSION

 

Obama is not willing to wait that long to take action. He has already started pushing his idea of forcing Israel to accept the 1967 lines as the default starting position for drawing up the borders of the new Palestinian state. Obama’s Jewish supporters claim that he is doing this in an effort to gather support from other Security Council members for the effort to block Palestinian recognition. At this point, the success of such a strategy seems highly unlikely, while it would exact a very high price from Israel. While he will not say so openly, his determination to make Israel agree to the 1967 borders first, before reaching an agreement with the Arabs on any of the other final status issues, essentially abandons the established peacemaking formula of trading “land for peace” and transforms it into demanding that Israel give up land for nothing in return. Furthermore, once Israel agrees to accept the ‘67 lines, there would be no going back. Israel’s claims to the West Bank and Yerushalayim would be permanently and fatally compromised.

 

OBAMA HAS NO LEVERAGE WITH THE ARABS

 

It is a key point worth emphasizing. Obama may talk about his support, at least in principle, for land swaps with the Palestinians to allow Israel to keep the larger settlements and to preserve East Yerushalayim’s existing Jewish neighborhoods, but he has no means of forcing the Palestinians to agree to any such swaps.

 

Similarly, Obama may talk about setting up a Palestinian state in such a way that it safeguards Israel’s security, or the need of the Palestinians to recognize the legitimacy and permanence of Israel’s basic character as a Jewish state, but he is in no position to force the Palestinians to do any of those things, or even to agree to put an end to the ongoing Palestinian state of war with Israel. If anything, Abbas’ position has hardened on all of these issues, as he has built new alliances with Hamas and Islamic Jihad who remain committed to armed resistance and who still reject the very concept of making a permanent peace with Israel or accepting its right to exist.

 

The only thing he can do, and he is doing it, is to pressure Israel into more concessions, including the biggest one of all, its right to set its own terms in negotiating a deal for trading “land for peace” with the Palestinians.

 

ISRAEL’S UNLIKELY HERO AT THE G8

 

Obama went to Europe to attend the G8 economic conference, whose agenda usually has little or nothing to do with such diplomatic issues. However at this meeting, Obama sought the support of England, France and other major US economic trading partners for a consensus statement endorsing his call for effectively imposing the ‘67 borders upon Israel. The leaders of Britain and France, which hosted the G8 conference, were agreeable, and the national leaders attending the conference seemed ready to include such a demand upon Israel in the meeting’s final statement, until one head of state stood up and courageously said “no.”

 

The leader who singlehandedly prevented the US and the other leading economic powers from agreeing to give away the West Bank and Yerushalayim to the Arabs is Canada’s Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper. For this act of courage, Harper overnight became an unlikely hero in Israel.

 

Harper told Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia that he opposed the inclusion of any reference to the 1967 borders without also including the concessions that would be made by the Palestinian side, which would be needed to make the final statement “balanced.”

 

Citing the ground rules of the G8 meeting, which require a consensus of all the participants before including a position on any issue in the final conference statement, Harper insisted that the statement also mention the necessity for the Arabs to agree to land swaps, to recognize Israel’s defining character as a Jewish state, and to the need for a final end the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, along with any mention of the ‘67 borders for a Palestinian state.

 

This, of course, is not what the US, Britain and France had in mind. They saw the final statement of the G8 conference as another cudgel with which to continue pummeling Israel into diplomatic submission. Harper came under intense pressure from Canada’s US and European trading partners to back off, but he stood his ground. As a result, the final G8 statement made no reference at all to the ‘67 borders.

 

STANDING UP TO OBAMA

 

Since 2006, when Harper became Canada’s prime minister, he has stood with Israel on several occasions when it was alone and unfairly singled out for condemnation by the international community. He has also demonstrated before that he is not afraid to stand up to the US as well.

 

Not surprisingly, Harper’s liberal Canadian political opponents were critical of his stance at the G8, accusing him of risking Canada’s isolation, but other voices in the Canadian media stood up and supported his principled position at the G8 conference.

 

An editorial in the Toronto Sun applauded its prime minister for giving Obama a “dressing down. . . for his misguided views on Israel.

 

“The president’s ignorance of both the history and the fluidity of Middle East situation when it comes to Israel and Palestine is quite remarkable.

 

“Shocking, in fact.”

 

The editorial went on to quote the same points that Netanyahu made at the Oval Office and before the joint session of Congress, that a forced return to Israel’s 1967 borders would leave the country strategically “undefendable.”

 

The editorial also applauded Harper for rejecting the suggestion by French President Nicolas Sarkozy that it was reasonable to allow the inclusion a terrorist group like Hamas in a renewal of peace negotiations with Israel, calling the very idea “both idiotic and unrealistic.”

 

The Sun editorial concludes that, “without the demilitarization of Palestine and the neutralization of Hamas, there can never be an official Palestinian state — even if the UN General Assembly and some equally misguided G8 leaders think otherwise.”

 

Left wing media commentators who don’t like Harper’s outspokenly pro-Israel positions accused him of collusion in advance with Israeli leaders to block a consensus on the ‘67 lines at the G8 meeting, but both Harper and Israel rejected the charge. Nevertheless, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman did call John Baird, the newly appointed Canadian Foreign Minister, specifically to thank Canada for its support for Israel at the G8 meeting.

 

ISRAEL THANKS ITS FRIENDS

 

Leaders of Israel have already found subtle ways to express their gratitude to Harper for his display of moral and diplomatic courage at the G8 meeting. At the next Israeli cabinet meeting, Netanyahu made a point of thanking Israel’s friends, without mentioning Harper or Canada by name.

 

“We have friends around the world, more than many think,” he said, “and I am pleased to see that on various continents, in various meetings, they rebuffed matters that were not desirable to us.”

 

An Israeli official later confirmed that Netanyahu was talking about Harper, adding, “there is no doubt we view Canada as a great friend of Israel.”

 

WHAT WILL THE PALESTINIANS DO NEXT?

 

Netanyahu is now talking openly about what he expects the Palestinians to do next, and how Israel should react.

 

Referring to the reconciliation agreement that Abbas signed with Hamas, Netanyahu said that he doubts that Abbas will actually implement it by forming a new government with Hamas’ participation. From Arab press reports, it does appear that Fatah and Hamas are having difficulty in agreeing on someone to lead the new government. It would appear that Abbas’ current prime minister, Salam Fayyad, who has won high marks from the international community for reorganizing the Palestinian Authority into a much more respectable governing body is unacceptable to Hamas.

 

Without Fayyad at the helm, the new Palestinian state would instantly lose a lot of credibility. There would also be the sticky problem of whether Hamas would let Fatah back into Gaza, or demand a veto over Abbas’ dealings with the US. Finally, there would be the problem of Hamas’ access to all the money the international community and Israel have been giving to Abbas to prop up his bankrupt regime. In the US and other Western countries, there are laws on the books against giving government money to unrepentant terrorist groups like Hamas. It still rejects the Quartet’s demands that it recognizes Israel, abandon violence, and accepts and obeys signed peace agreements.

 

NETANYAHU REMINDS ISRAEL THAT IT IS NOT THE PROBLEM

 

Netanyahu’s position regarding all this is to stand firm.

 

“We are willing to make progress with the Palestinians, but only in a responsible manner – otherwise we’ll fall off the cliff.”

 

Responding to criticism from opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Netanyahu declared, “you cannot keep saying that my government has done nothing. The Palestinians are the ones who stepped back from peace talks from the very beginning, regardless of what we did.

 

“We must stop beating ourselves up. If the leopard (Abbas) changes its spots, we’ll agree to open a dialogue with it. We cannot escape the fact that Abbas refuses to publicly recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This is the root of the conflict.”

 

Netanyahu’s political ally, Defense Minister Ehud Barak also warned the members of his Independence party, which recently broke off from Labor, to prepare for difficult times ahead for Israel. “It is important to prepare for the coming tsunami in September. . . We have more power when we are united. We need internal unity, and we’ll be stronger if we clasp hands together.”