Posts Tagged ‘Abbas’

An ‘Unbreakable Bond of Friendship’

Monday, April 19th, 2010

A good friend of mine in Israel sent me a powerful column this morning by Haaretz political columnist Ari Shavit, “An Open Letter to Netanyahu: Act Before It’s too Late.”

It’s a moving, personal missive. In it, Shavit argues that on the eve of Israel’s 62 Independence Day, the state faces an existential crisis like none other in its history.

Mr. Prime Minister, here are the basic facts: The grace period granted the Jewish state by Auschwitz and Treblinka is ending. The generation that knew the Holocaust has left the stage. The generation that remembers the Holocaust is disappearing. What shapes the world’s perception of Israel today is not the crematoria, but the checkpoints. Not the trains, but the settlements. As a result, even when we are right, they do not listen to us. Even when we are persecuted, they pay us no heed. The wind is blowing against us.

The zeitgeist of the 21st century threatens to put an end to Zionism. No one knows better than you that even superpowers cannot resist the spirit of the times. And certainly not small, fragile states like Israel.

Shavit argues that Israel has been abandoned by its allies, including the United States, and stands at the precipice of war with Iran, besieged. “The sense that once again, we must meet our fate alone.”

You are a hated individual, Mr. Prime Minister. The president of the United States hates you. The secretary of state hates you. Some Arab leaders hate you. Public opinion in the West hates you. The leader of the opposition hates you. My colleagues hate you, my friends hate you, my social milieu hates you.

The possibilities — what to do going forward — are known, Shavit writes:

Offer the Syrians the Golan Heights in exchange for ending its alliance with Iran. Offer Abbas a state in provisional borders. Initiate a second limited disengagement. Transfer territory into the hands of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to enable him to build a sane Palestinian state. Reach an agreement with the international community on an outline for partitioning the land into two nation-states.

Ultimately, he urges the prime minister — who he clearly respects tremendously — to change his approach:

Israel needs a courageous alliance with the Western powers. In order withstand what is to come, Israel must once again become an inalienable part of the West. And the West is not prepared to accept Israel as an occupying state. Therefore, in order to save our home, is necessary to act at once to end the occupation. It is essential to effect an immediate and sharp change in diplomatic direction.

It’s a powerful argument, coming from one of Israel’s leading thinkers: End the occupation to save the Jewish state — not because of demographics; not because it will end terrorism; not because it is risk-free — but so that Israel can face down Iran fully supported by the West.

Obama could help Netanyahu choose this path by visiting Israel himself, and by making more public statements like the one he released today, on the occasion of Israel’s 62nd Independence Day:

Minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence, realizing the dream of a state for the Jewish people in their historic homeland, the United States became the first country to recognize Israel. To this day, we continue to share a strong, unbreakable bond of friendship between our two nations, anchored by the United States’ enduring commitment to Israel’s security.  Israel remains our important partner and key strategic ally in the Middle East, and I am confident that our special relationship will only be strengthened in the months and years to come. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s comments over the weekend, praising Netanyahu, strongly urging Palestinian President Abbas to join talks with Israel, and calling on the Palestinian Authority to “redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians,” were also welcome.

More is needed.

I know, because I correspond with my friend in Israel nearly every day, that there is a true siege mentality in Israel right now. Iran has said repeatedly it wants to wipe Israel off the map, and it is actively seeking the nuclear weapons to do so. Sitting here in relative safety thousands of miles away, it’s easier for this threat to be intellectualized; our children are not threatened by a lunatic Iranian regime. In Israel, there’s not much room for nuance; the last time we heard talk like Ahmadinejad’s, 6 million Jews were annihilated.

Shavit is wrong about one thing, though. Obama and Clinton don’t hate Netanyahu.

It’s incumbent on the U.S. president and secretary of state to make him believe it.

Jewish Leaders in the White House: Take Two

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

President Barack Obama spoke directly and powerfully to the concerns of the Jewish community today.

Obama invited 16 Jewish leaders from 14 organizations into the White House for a wide-ranging discussion focused on Israel, Middle East policy, and Iran. There’s no transcript, but what comes through in press reports — based on interviews with those in attendance — is President Obama’s iron-clad support for Israel as a safe, secure Jewish state.

Most fundamentally, he addressed head-on community concerns that by calling on Israel to freeze settlements, he is applying more pressure on Israel than he is on the Palestinians.

The National Jewish Democratic Council’s executive director Ira Forman, one of the 16 invitees, told Politico’s Ben Smith that Obama “said we have been very specific with the Arab world on incitement, violence, commitments on accepting the reality of Israel and conveying that to their street as well.”

According to The Forward, the president said that “forceful” pressure is being applied to the Palestinians to move forward on the peace process — flatly contradicting claims by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that all Palestinians have to do is sit and wait for Israel to make concessions. The president told the group that among other things, he has sent letters to all the Arab states, urging them to join the peace process.

As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports:

One participant quoted the president as saying that “There’s not a lot of courage among the Arab states; not a lot of leadership among the Palestinians.” …

“The view was expressed among the organizations at a minimum there was concern about an imbalance in pressures placed on Israel as opposed to on the Palestinians and Arab states,” Alan Solow, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told JTA. “The president indicated he had a sensitivity to the perception of that imbalance and had to work harder to correct that perception.”

Moreover, Obama specifically said, according to the Jerusalem Post, there’s a “likelihood that Israel would retain the major settlement blocs in any final peace deal with the Palestinians, but said it was an issue that needed to be resolved between the parties.”

And yet again — and this always strikes me about Obama — he didn’t kowtow to his audience by telling them only what they wanted to hear. This, for example, is from the AP report:

Some participants in the meeting flatly told Obama that only when the United States are Israel are in lockstep support is any progress made. Obama replied that there was no distance between the U.S. and Israeli positions for the last eight years, and that no progress was made under President George W. Bush.

“Where people pushed back, the president stood firm,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace political action committee and lobby.

“I don’t think the peace process will be advanced by hiding natural disagreements, disagreements within the family,” Obama was quoted in The Forward as saying. 

Which, ultimately, gives him infinite credibility when his White House puts out statements like this, as it did after the meeting today: “The President reiterated his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security and reiterated his commitment to working to achieve Middle East peace.” 

“[Obama] talked about Israel as a Jewish state with no hesitancy,” Forman told ABC News.  “He also reiterated what he has said before about the fundamental bond between Israel and the United States and the fundamental commitment the U.S. has, no matter what disagreements there are, to Israel’s peace and security.”

It’s high time for the skeptics in the Jewish community to take him at his word.