Indyk: Jews ‘Have a Responsibility to Get Behind’ Obama

Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Clinton administration, said this morning that Obama needs to take an active role in Middle East peacemaking, adding: “We as a [Jewish] community have to abandon the notion that — oy gevalt — pressure on Israel” is somehow bad for the Jewish state.

The alternative, he said, is that “Israel will have failed terrorists states on all of its borders.”

Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East policy, spoke at a breakfast event at Marriott Metro Center, sponsored by the National Jewish Democratic Council.

He said many in the Jewish community were mistaken, during the Bush years, to conclude that Bush was terrific for Israel, because he supported Israel with a blank check. Bush’s approach for the first seven years of his administration, Indyk said, was to let the parties negotiate amongst themselves — and that doesn’t work. The U.S., he said, has to be willing to play an active role.

Still, he said there are lessons to be gleaned from the Clinton administration, which, he noted, also ultimately failed to achieve a lasting solution.

Clinton, Indyk said, attempted to forge a new Middle East through peacemaking. Bush tried to do it through warmongering. Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he said, must approach the quagmire with much more humility — influence what we can, without setting out specifically to mold the region to suit our own national interests.

Noting that, just this morning, Hamas ordered a cease fire in Gaza (after Israel unilaterally did the same last night), he said he was hopeful that Gazans would come to understand that there are serious and unacceptable consequences to the terrorists organization’s continued unprovoked assaults on Israel.

He said the Obama administration should take to heart the perspective that “We’re not talking about a two-state solution; we are talking about a 23-state solution.” Which is to say, peace between Israel and the Palestinians would also mean “peace with the entire Arab world.”

Indyk was not a Pollyanna. He spoke about the real and deep divisions that exist in Israel — and among Palestinians. He noted that Iran is moving ever closer to achieving its nuclear ambitions, and that Ahmadinejad continues to stoke hatred of Jews and Israel on the Arab street.

But it was hard not to detect a note of optimism humming just beneath the surface of his words: that with this change here in Washington, Obama may just be at a moment of rare possibility for the Middle East.

And we, the Jewish community in America, “have a responsibility to get behind him.”

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