Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Obama this week. In an interview in advance of the meeting
, Obama declared, “The U.S. won’t be able to defend Israel if peace talks fail. If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.” He went on to offer the barely-concealed threat that Israel could face international isolation and sanctions from countries and companies unnamed.
We can debate the extent to which Obama’s statements are ignorant, malicious, or both. But let’s look to the facts to put Israel’s situation in its full context.
Seeking life and freedom
Jews began their modern migration to what was then Ottoman-ruled Palestine in the 1880s to escape anti-Semitism and pogroms. Many of those pioneers brought with them Enlightenment and modernist values.
Many Jews settled in cities like Haifa and they founded their new city, Tel Aviv. Others purchased what was considered useless land from Arab landlords and created productive farming communities, often sharing their agricultural techniques with impoverished local Arabs. And because the Ottomans and, after World War I, the British rulers could not protect the Jews, they formed self-defense forces. This was a matter of life or death.
After World War II, with thousands of Holocaust survivors seeking entry into Palestine, the Jews finally gained U.N. approval for a new independent state.
The State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948, with the founders offering equal rights to Arabs, Muslims, and Christians in a multi-ethic community. The next day Israel was attacked by five Arab nations bent on driving the Jews into the sea.
To the world’s surprise, the new state beat back the Arab armies and survived. This was a matter of life or death.
The Arabs and Muslim inhabitants who did not take arms against the new state and, thus, were not sent into exile, remained in Israel and, along with their descendants, became Israeli citizens with rights not enjoyed elsewhere in the Arab world.
Since independence Israel has been attacked many times by its national-state neighbors as well as by terrorist groups that specialize in murdering innocent men, women, and children.
Israel has extended its borders and occupied territory to ensure its security. And it has given back territory when it has been able to make peace with former enemies, a peace that recognizes and ensures Israel’s right to exist. Israel is at peace for example, with Egypt and Jordan. It has been a matter of life or death.
The Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank have been the most contentious issues in recent decades. While some West Bank settlements might serve security purposes, most settlements have become liabilities, created resentment and, in the end, should be dismantled, with any associated property rights issues dealt with.
In 2006, Israel did pull all its settlements and troops out of Gaza. But the inhabitants did not turn to building their economy, educating their children, and other enterprises of peace. Rather, the terrorist group Hamas took over, vowing to destroy Israel. Hamas regularly fires rockets into Israel and murders Palestinians who seek peace.
In 2009, Netanyahu froze new settlement construction in the West Bank in order to bring the Palestinians back into peace talks. His government has always maintained that the future of the settlements would be dealt with in a final peace agreement. And this week he said, “Of course some of the settlements won’t be part of the deal, everyone understands that.” But he indicated that most settlements would be dismantled when he said “I will make sure that [the number remaining] is as limited as possible.”
It is in this context that Obama makes his outrageous pronouncements that assume 1) that the Palestinians long for peace, and 2) that the Israelis are the only thing standing in the way.
Israel is hardly a perfect society. It has its own internal conflicts between secular and religious Jews. But a fundamental problem for the peace process is that Israel is a prosperous, open society with a culture of modernity in a region of countries and peoples still struggling to overcome authoritarian or theocratic systems rooted pre-modern cultures. Israel wants a peace that will ensure its survival, but it has good reasons to be suspicious of its neighbors, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza most of all.
Israel now faces another mortal threat from the theocratic fanatics who rule Iran, who are the chief exporters of terrorism, who vow to wipe our Israel, and who are developing nuclear weapons with which to do so. This is a matter of life or death.
Obama’s recent agreement with Iran does little to slow its development of nukes, and the Iranians publicly ridicule him; General Masoud Jazayeri called Obama “the low-IQ U.S. president”
and declared the effectiveness of U.S. options “a joke among the Iranian nation, especially the children.”
A strong, principled American president, Republican or Democrat, might be able to deal with the complex Middle East situation. But Obama’s lack of any moral compass makes it more likely that Israel will need to act unilaterally to prevent a mushroom cloud from wiping out Tel Aviv. It will be a matter of life or death.
Edward Hudgins is Director of Advocacy and a senior scholar at The Atlas Society.
For further information:
William Thomas, “ Free World Order .” November 9, 2011.