Sunday, 22 May 2011

Love of the Land: Obama’s policy is different — and terrible for Israel

Obama’s policy is different — and terrible for Israel
20 May '11

Yesterday I wrote about President Obama’s Israel-Palestine proposal. I tried to be fair, indicating what I thought were the good and bad points. I thought I was finished with it, but apparently not.

Overall, it represents a change in American policy that is a change for the worse. If implemented as described, it would be a disaster for Israel.

I should have known that the usual suspects would spin it as in fact pro-Israel. I am really, really sick of hearing those words.

Let me take a random example. David A. Harris of the National Jewish Democratic Council, in an article titled “Condemning the President” that was also sent by email to its members, said this:

It’s laughable to suggest that President Obama insisted Israel return to 1967 lines, or that he said anything different from the policies of Presidents Bush and Clinton before him.

- President George W. Bush similarly said that prior armistice lines should be used as a basis for talks almost six years ago today—while standing next to PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Diplomatic statements are carefully calibrated, and what may seem to be small differences in wording can represent big changes in policy. Let’s look at exactly what Obama said,

The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.

And here is what it means:

1. Israel will not have a border with Jordan. Thus the idea that Israel will maintain control of the Jordan Valley, considered essential for strategic reasons, is ruled out.

2. The borders will be based on 1967 lines. The position of every American government until now has followed UNSC resolution 242, that borders will be negotiated between the parties (at Oslo, Israel agreed to negotiate with the Palestinians in place of Jordan). The “1967 lines” are the 1949 armistice lines, which neither Israel nor the Arabs have ever treated as anything other than accidental.

But by saying that negotiations will be based on the lines and the Palestinians will be compensated by ‘swaps’ — land from pre-1967 Israel — the President implies that Judea and Samaria belong to the Palestinians today, and that Israel must pay for any of it that they keep.

This is a far cry from resolution 242, which recognized that the 1949-1967 lines were not “secure and recognized boundaries” and that such boundaries need to be negotiated.

3. The state of Palestine is understood to include Judea, Samaria and Gaza (the issue of Jerusalem is left for later in Obama’s proposal). Demanding that it be “contiguous” is a demand that Israel be cut in half.

Previous proposals — which were never accepted — called for some form of ‘free passage’ between Gaza and Judea/Samaria. This is a much less stringent requirement than a demand for territorial contiguity (it could theoretically be met by a bus or railway line).

Now let’s look at what President Bush said, which Harris claims was ‘similar’:

Any final status agreement must be reached between the two parties, and changes to the 1949 Armistice Lines must be mutually agreed to. A viable two-state solution must ensure contiguity on the West Bank, and a state of scattered territories will not work. There must also be meaningful linkages between the West Bank and Gaza.

My analysis:

1. The final borders, which are understood to be different from the 1949 lines, must be mutually agreed upon. That’s exactly what resolution 242 said. There is no presumption that the territories to the east are Palestinian, as there is in Mr. Obama’s formulation.

2. The “West Bank” part of Palestine must be contiguous. There is no requirement that all of Palestine, including Gaza, has to be — only “meaningful linkages” are required. Israel need not be cut in two.

Yes, you can say the statements are ‘similar’. But there are very significant differences. Harris also listed a number of Obama’s feel-good remarks, which did not represent concrete commitments.

And that’s not all. Harris did not mention the most dangerous part of the proposal, which represents a huge shift in US policy.

Until now, it’s been understood that nothing is permanent until the main final-status issues are resolved. So while more than 95% of the Arab population of Judea and Samaria today is under Palestinian Authority control, it is not a sovereign state and will not be, under Oslo, until the status of Jerusalem, refugees, etc. are settled to the satisfaction of both parties. But here is the Obama proposal:

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations. Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians.

This means that Israel will give up territory permanently to a sovereign Palestine before the issues of Jerusalem and refugees are agreed upon! This means that Israel will have zero leverage in subsequent negotiations over these issues, in which Palestine will of course push its maximal demands — demands which, if met, include the loss of the Jewish people’s holiest sites, and the resettlement of millions of ‘refugees’ in Israel and its conversion to an Arab-majority state.

And these claims against Israel will be pressed by a sovereign Palestine in international fora such as the UN, the International Court of Justice, etc. — exactly as Mahmoud Abbas has said would happen if he is successful in getting a unilateral declaration of Palestine via the UN in September!

There’s even more wrong with this proposal, if we look at what Obama did not say. He did not say that the US would live up to its promises in President Bush’s 2004 letter, in particular that the US would oppose resettlement of refugees in Israel. And here is what he said about the incorporation of the racist, genocidal Hamas in the future Palestinian government:

Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel: How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.

Nice sentiments, but where is the statement that the US demands that Hamas agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violent ‘resistance’, etc. before it can take part in the Palestinian government?

In fact, the reference to “com[ing] back to the table” seems to imply that Palestine will receive sovereignty before the Palestinians will be required to provide an unspecified “answer” to the question of Hamas! This, too, represents a major change of US policy.

I’ve said that the Obama Administration is the worst one for Israel since its founding in 1948. Now I think I’ve proved that.

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Love of the Land: Obama’s policy is different — and terrible for Israel

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