Peace or appeasement?

Peace or appeasement?

Construction freeze in Judea and Samaria based on erroneous assumptions

.

By Yoram Ettinger

1. A freeze will not soften – but will intensify – President Obama’s criticism of “settlements” in particular and Israeli policy in general. For instance, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s June 14, 2009 Two-State-Solution-speech triggered exacerbated pressure by Obama. Moreover, Netanyahu’s willingness to exchange hundreds of Palestinian terrorists for Gilad Shalit was followed by US pressure to release more terrorists.

2. A freeze will not moderate – but will whet the appetite of – the PLO (Abbas) or Hamas (Haniyeh); it will radicalize their demands and fuel their terrorism. Former Prime Minister Barak’s sweeping concessions, offered to Arafat and Abbas in October 2000, were greeted by the PLO-engineered Second Intifada. Furthermore, Prime Minister Olmert’s unprecedented offer of concessions (including the return of some 1948 refugees) was rebuffed by Abbas.

3. A freeze re-entrenches the misperception of Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as an obstacle to peace. It diverts attention and resources from the crucial threat to peace: Abbas-engineered hate education – the manufacturing line of terrorists – and Arab rejection of the existence – and not just the size – of the Jewish state.

4. A freeze and the adherence to presidential dictate will not transform the White House position on Iran-related matters. Besides, a freeze and the adherence to presidential dictate do not constitute a prerequisite to maintaining constructive strategic relations with the US (e.g. supply of critical military systems and crucial strategic cooperation). In fact, a freeze and a serial submission to presidential pressure – just like any other form of retreat – erode Israel’s strategic posture in Washington and in the Middle East. Such an attitude ignores the role and power of Congress – especially when it comes to the Jewish state – at the dire expense of Israel’s national security.

Is Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria an/the obstacle to peace?

1. In September 2005, Israel uprooted 25 Jewish communities from Gaza and Samaria. Gaza became Judenrein. It paved the road to the meteoric rise of Hamas, and induced more smuggling, manufacturing and launching of missiles at Jewish communities in Southern Israel.

2. President Obama defines Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria as a root cause of Arab hostility toward Israel. However, Jewish communities were established in Judea and Samaria after the wars of 1967, 1956 and 1948, after the 1949-1967 campaign of Arab terrorism, after the 1964 establishment of the PLO, after the 1929 slaughter of the Hebron Jewish community and the 1929 expulsion of the Gaza Jewish community, after the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s slaughter of the Jewish community of Gush Etzion, etc.

3. President Obama considers the 300,000 Jews (17%), who reside among Judea and Samaria’s 1.5 million Arabs, an obstacle to peace. Why would he, then, view the 1.4 million Arabs (20%), who reside among pre-1967 Israel’s 6 million Jews, as an example of peaceful coexistence?!

4. Obama urges the uprooting of Jewish communities from Judea and Samaria, in order to supposedly advance peace and human rights. Would he, therefore, urge the uprooting of Arab communities from pre-1967 Israel?!

5. Since Obama tolerates Arab opposition to Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria would he tolerate Jewish opposition to Arab presence in pre-1967 Israel?! While any attempt by Jews to reside in Palestinian Authority-controlled areas would trigger a lynching attempt, Arabs have peacefully resided within pre-1967 Israel. Doesn’t such a reality highlight the nature of Arab intentions and the real obstacle to peace?!

6. Obama pressures Israel to freeze Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, in order to avoid unilateral creation of facts on the ground. Shouldn’t Obama demand a similar freeze of Arab construction in Judea and Samaria, which is 30 times larger than Jewish construction?! Doesn’t the absence of a balanced approach, by Obama, prejudge of the outcome of negotiation?!

7. The 1950-67 Jordanian occupation of Judea and Samaria was recognized only by Britain and Pakistan. The most recent internationally-recognized sovereign over Judea and Samaria was the League of Nations-authorized 1922 British Mandate, which defined Judea and Samaria as part of the Jewish National Home, the cradle of Jewish history. Article 6 of the Mandate indicates the right of Jews to settle in Judea and Samaria. Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, former President of the International Court of Justice, determined that Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria was rooted in self-defense and therefore did not constitute “occupation.” Eugene Rostow, former Dean of Yale Law School and former Undersecretary of State and co-author of UN Security Council Resolution 242, asserted that 242 entitled Jews to settle in Judea and Samaria. The Oslo Accord and its derivatives do not prohibit “settlements.” Moreover, Israel has constrained construction to state-owned – and not private – land, avoiding expulsion of Arabs landowners.

Freeze of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria is not a peace-enhancer; it is an appeasement-enhancer

Netanyahu Rejects Obama Request To Stop Building in East Jerusalem

In the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, there is a compound that was legally purchased by American businessman Irving Moskowitz in 1985. All papers are in order. The site originally belonged to the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Nazi collaborator and mentor of Yasser Arafat, and later became the Shepherd Hotel. Plans now are to replace the hotel with a housing complex of some 20 to 30 apartments, to be purchased by Jewish families.

But Mahmoud Abbas was disturbed about these plans, because this would “shift the demographic balance” in the city. Which is to say that he covets eastern Jerusalem and wants to see it stay predominantly Arab.

(Clarification: It is predominantly Arab not because this was the historical situation, but because Jordan rendered the area Judenrein from 1949-67.)

Reports are that Abbas complained to the Americans. And what happens when Abbas protests? Seems that the American president jumps. Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the US, was summoned to the State Department and told that the Obama administration wanted us to stop the building.

“Nothing doing,” Oren told them.

What’s important here is that, not only will Israel refuse, but that PM Netanyahu was reportedly incensed about this, saying that Obama had “crossed a red line.” The issue here is very clear:

Jerusalem united is undisputedly our sovereign capitol. Jews are allowed to build, and live, anywhere in the city. “This has always been Israel’s policy and this is the policy of the current government,” declared the prime minister.

“…There is no prohibition against Arab residents buying apartments in the west of the city and there is no prohibition barring the city’s Jewish residents from buying or building in the east of the city. That is the policy of an open city that is not divided.”

“Thousands of Arab families build houses in Jerusalem, in the [primarily Jewish] neighborhoods of Neve Yaakov and French Hill, and I’ve never heard any comment on the matter from the United States or Europe. I’m trying to put this delicately: It would be very strange if Jews were discriminated against in Jerusalem of all places, especially in light of the fact that it is not an isolated site; this is the heart of the city, very close to the Government Compound and Israel Police Headquarters.”

Diaspora Affairs Minister Yuli Edelstein said,

“A demand to cease construction in a neighborhood situated only several meters from the Hebrew University proves how dangerous it is to be dragged into a debate on settlement freeze, which will lead us to a total demand to freeze our normal lives throughout the entire State of Israel.”

The municipality of Jerusalem also weighed in on this issue, with a statement that reflects a principle of enormous significance:

“The Local Planning Committee of the Jerusalem Municipality operates according to equal criteria for all issues of construction permits, without regard to race, creed, gender, religion, or national identity of the resident or property owner.”

Imagine if Israel tried to prevent Arabs from building legally in the city. It seems that the world finds this acceptable only where Jews are concerned. And the Palestinians deign to refer to Israel as apartheid?

The YNET news site has an article on this issue in which it quotes Prime Minister Netanyahu:

“Our sovereignty in Jerusalem is indisputable. We can’t agree to such a demand in east Jerusalem.”

“I wish to make this clear – the united Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people in the State of Israel,” he added.

Leo Rennert writes in The American Thinker

In a Washington Post op-ed intended to catch President Obama’s attention, former Israeli Prime MInister Ehud Olmert urges the U.S. administration to stop obsessing about Jewish settlements and instead focus on Palestinian leader Mahmdoud Abbas’s obstructionism in rejecting any realistic two-state solution.

By lining up with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu against Obama’s misbegotten diplomacy, Olmert demolishes a central tenet of the president’s view of Israel’s approach to peacemaking. Obama has made no secret of the fact that he views Netanyahu’s Likud party as the main Israeli obstacle to the peace process. His administration calculated that, if Likud and Netanyahu could be marginalized — in Israel as well as among most American Jews — Obama would be able to get greater concessions from Israel to move toward a two-state solution.

Olmert’s article demolishes this scenario by making it clear that it’s not just Likud that opposes a total freeze on construction in existing settlements, but that this is a widely held view across the entire Israeli spectrum. Olmert’s Kadima party is just as much at odds with Obama on this as is the Likud.

It’s also a signal to American supporters of Israel, including the Jewish community, that it’s time to press Obama to focus on Abbas’s rejectionism as the main obstacle — not Netanyahu.

All of this leads us to the inevitable conclusion that the US should stop meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. The US would never interfere in the internal decisions of any other country. What gives it the right to do so in Israel?

Obama Using the Settlement Issue to Force Israel’s Hand

Stratfor Global Intelligence gives an important analysis of why Obama is using the settlements issue. In reality, if Israel stopped building settlements, or, in fact, if it withdrew from all existing settlements, the attitude of Hamas, Hizbollah, Fatah, or the other Arab countries toward Israel would not change.

Israel is a bastion of democracy and capitalism, where the practice of all religions are welcomed, and is surrounded by countries ruled by dictators or terrorist groups who want Israel’s destruction and do not welcome Jews. One might wonder, as I did, why Obama is making an issue of the settlements when they aren’t the issue?

Stratfor answers that question.

Amid the rhetoric of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech June 4 in Cairo, there was one substantial indication of change, not in the U.S. relationship to the Islamic world but in the U.S. relationship to Israel. This shift actually emerged prior to the speech, and the speech merely touched on it. But it is not a minor change and it must not be underestimated. It has every opportunity of growing into a major breach between Israel and the United States.

The immediate issue concerns Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The United States has long expressed opposition to increasing settlements but has not moved much beyond rhetoric. Certainly the continued expansion and development of new settlements on the West Bank did not cause prior administrations to shift their policies toward Israel. And while the Israelis have occasionally modified their policies, they have continued to build settlements. The basic understanding between the two sides has been that the United States would oppose settlements formally but that this would not evolve into a fundamental disagreement.

The United States has clearly decided to change the game. Obama has said that, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to stop building new settlements, but not to halt what he called the “natural growth” of existing settlements.

Obama has positioned the settlement issue in such a way that it would be difficult for him to back down. He has repeated it several times, including in his speech to the Islamic world. It is an issue on which he is simply following the formal positions of prior administrations. It is an issue on which prior Israeli governments made commitments. What Obama has done is restated formal U.S. policy, on which there are prior Israeli agreements, and demanded Israeli compliance. Given his initiative in the Islamic world, Obama, having elevated the issue to this level, is going to have problems backing off.

Obama is also aware that Netanyahu is not in a political position to comply with the demand, even if he were inclined to. Netanyahu is leading a patchwork coalition in which support from the right is critical. For the Israeli right, settling in what it calls Samaria and Judea is a fundamental principle on which it cannot bend. Unlike Ariel Sharon, a man of the right who was politically powerful, Netanyahu is a man of the right who is politically weak. Netanyahu gave all he could give on this issue when he said there would be no new settlements created. Netanyahu doesn’t have the political ability to give Obama what he is demanding. Netanyahu is locked into place, unless he wants to try to restructure his Cabinet or persuade people like Avigdor Lieberman, his right-wing foreign minister, to change their fundamental view of the world.

Therefore, Obama has decided to create a crisis with Israel. He has chosen a subject on which Republican and Democratic administrations have had the same formal position. He has also picked a subject that does not affect Israeli national security in any immediate sense (he has not made demands for changes of policy toward Gaza, for example). Obama struck at an issue where he had precedent on his side, and where Israel’s immediate safety is not at stake. He also picked an issue on which he would have substantial support in the United States, and he has done this to have a symbolic showdown with Israel. The more Netanyahu resists, the more Obama gets what he wants.

Obama’s read of the Arab-Israeli situation is that it is not insoluble. He believes in the two-state solution, for better or worse. In order to institute the two-state solution, Obama must establish the principle that the West Bank is Palestinian territory by right and not Israeli territory on which the Israelis might make concessions. The settlements issue is fundamental to establishing this principle. Israel has previously agreed both to the two-state solution and to not expanding settlements. If Obama can force Netanyahu to concede on the settlements issue, then he will break the back of the Israeli right and open the door to a rightist-negotiated settlement of the two-state solution.

In the course of all of this, Obama is opening doors in the Islamic world a little wider by demonstrating that the United States is prepared to force Israel to make concessions. By subtext, he wants to drive home the idea that Israel does not control U.S. policy but that, in fact, Israel and the United States are two separate countries with different and sometimes conflicting views. Obama wouldn’t mind an open battle on the settlements one bit.

For Netanyahu, this is the worst terrain on which to fight. If he could have gotten Obama to attack by demanding that Israel not respond to missiles launched from Gaza or Lebanon, Netanyahu would have had the upper hand in the United States. Israel has support in the United States and in Congress, and any action that would appear to leave Israel’s security at risk would trigger an instant strengthening of that support.

But there is not much support in the United States for settlements on the West Bank. This is not a subject around which Israel’s supporters are going to rally very intensely, in large part because there is substantial support for a two-state solution and very little understanding or sympathy for the historic claim of Jews to Judea and Samaria. Obama has picked a topic on which he has political room for maneuver and on which Netanyahu is politically locked in.

Given that, the question is where Obama is going with this. From Obama’s point of view, he wins no matter what Netanyahu decides to do. If Netanyahu gives in, then he has established the principle that the United States can demand concessions from a Likud-controlled government in Israel and get them. There will be more demands. If Netanyahu doesn’t give in, Obama can create a split with Israel over the one issue he can get public support for in the United States (a halt to settlement expansion in the West Bank), and use that split as a lever with Islamic states.

Thus, the question is what Netanyahu is going to do. His best move is to say that this is just a disagreement between friends and assume that the rest of the U.S.-Israeli relationship is intact, from aid to technology transfer to intelligence sharing. That’s where Obama is going to have to make his decision. He has elevated the issue to the forefront of U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israelis have refused to comply. If Obama proceeds with the relationship as if nothing has happened, then he is back where he began.

Obama did not start this confrontation to wind up there. He calculated carefully when he raised this issue and knew perfectly well that Netanyahu couldn’t make concessions on it, so he had to have known that he was going to come to this point. Obviously, he could have made this confrontation as a part of his initiative to the Islamic world. But it is unlikely that he saw that initiative as ending with the speech, and he understands that, for the Islamic world, his relation to Israel is important. Even Islamic countries not warmly inclined toward Palestinians, like Jordan or Egypt, don’t want the United States to back off on this issue.

Netanyahu has argued in the past that Israel’s relationship to the United States was not as important to Israel as it once was. U.S. aid as a percentage of Israel’s gross domestic product has plunged. Israel is not facing powerful states, and it is not facing a situation like 1973, when Israeli survival depended on aid being rushed in from the United States. The technology transfer now runs both ways, and the United States relies on Israeli intelligence quite a bit. In other words, over the past generation, Israel has moved from a dependent relationship with the United States to one of mutual dependence.

This is very much Netanyahu’s point of view, and from this point of view follows the idea that he might simply say no to the United States on the settlements issue and live easily with the consequences. The weakness in this argument is that, while Israel does not now face strategic issues it can’t handle, it could in the future. Indeed, while Netanyahu is urging action on Iran, he knows that action is impossible without U.S. involvement.

This leads to a political problem. As much as the right would like to blow off the United States, the center and the left would be appalled. For Israel, the United States has been the centerpiece of the national psyche since 1967. A breach with the United States would create a massive crisis on the left and could well bring the government down if Ehud Barak and his Labor Party, for example, bolted from the ruling coalition. Netanyahu’s problem is the problem Israel has continually had. It is a politically fragmented country, and there is never an Israeli government that does not consist of fragments. A government that contains Lieberman and Barak is not one likely to be able to make bold moves.

It is therefore difficult to see how Netanyahu can both deal with Obama and hold his government together. It is even harder to see how Obama can reduce the pressure. Indeed, we would expect to see him increase the pressure by suspending minor exchanges and programs. Obama is playing to the Israeli center and left, who would oppose any breach with the United States.

Obama has the strong hand and the options. Netanyahu has the weak hand and fewer options. It is hard to see how he will solve the problem. And that’s what Obama wants. He wants Netanyahu struggling with the problem. In the end, he wants Netanyahu to fold on the settlements issue and keep on folding until he presides over a political settlement with the Palestinians. Obama wants Netanyahu and the right to be responsible for the agreement, as Menachem Begin was responsible for the treaty with Egypt and withdrawal from the Sinai.

We find it difficult to imagine how a two-state solution would work, but that concept is at the heart of U.S. policy and Obama wants the victory. He has put into motion processes to create that solution, first of all, by backing Netanyahu into a corner. Left out of Obama’s equation is the Palestinian interest, willingness and ability to reach a treaty with Israel, but from Obama’s point of view, if the Palestinians reject or undermine an agreement, he will still have leverage in the Islamic world. Right now, given Iraq and Afghanistan, that is where he wants leverage, and backing Netanyahu into a corner is more important than where it all leads in the end.

Obama is determined to force Israel to make concessions to create a Palestinian state next to Israel. He is using the one issue he is likely to win on, because there is little support in the US, even among many Jews, for the settlements. Israel will be forced by Obama to subject itself to having its existential security at risk every day.

Many of us predicted that Obama would not be a supporter of Israel and that Jews who supported Obama for President would find that he was likely to undermine the security of Israel. Unfortunately, many American Jews had their eyes clouded over for many reasons discussed in prior posts. It is now clear that the security of Israel is being placed in jeopardy by the Obama administration.

Prior related posts:
Israel Will be Thrown Under the Bus
Arabs Defend Israel Against American Administration
Obama: No Ally to Israel
Obama: No Friend of Israel
American Jews are in Denial
Can Jews Afford To “Roll the Dice” on Obama?
Morris: American Jews Misguided
Jackson Confirms Jewish Community Concerns About Obama
Foreign Policy is Reason to Vote McCain
The Jewish Case Against Barack Obama
Obama, McCain and Israel’s National Security
The Obama Voter – Not This Jew

Technorati Tags: ,,,