Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Myth: Obama has no way forward on Mideast peace; his efforts have collapsed and are bound to fail. (Republican Jewish Coalition, Barry Rubin).

The Facts: President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu have reached a breakthrough agreement on new terms for renewing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, a basis which is likely to be acceptable to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Steven J. Rosen reports in the “Mideast Peace Deal You Haven’t Heard About,” Foreign Policy, Dec. 19, 2009:

"Now, below the radar, Netanyahu is making a series of additional concessions to Barack Obama and his Mideast peace envoy, George Mitchell. Their current priority is negotiating 'terms of reference' to permit the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations (TORs in negotiators' vernacular). Dismissed by some as mere 'talking about talking,' TORs are in fact vital elements to create the parameters for serious negotiations….

"Mitchell's challenge today is to define such a framework that can bridge differences between Netanyahu and his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas. Defying skeptics who say you can bridge a river but not an ocean, Mitchell keeps going at it, and his perseverance is paying off. While no one was watching, Netanyahu has in fact agreed to language that Mitchell can accept. With the Israeli agreement in his pocket, Mitchell is now working to bring Abbas around, according to sources close to the discussions.

"…Netanyahu has accepted a solution based on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's formulation: 'an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements.'"

The breakthrough is in Netanyahu's acceptance of the Clinton formula, which represents a recognition of the principle that Israel will ultimately have to withdraw from the West Bank, with agreed land swaps enabling Israel to retain what it defines as "settlement blocs."

Netanyahu met with Egyptian president Mubarak this week to present the agreements he has reached with the Obama administration to renew peace talks with the Palestinians, and is reported to have asked for Mubarak's help in swaying Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to move forward with negotiations.

For more on the terms of the agreement, see “Netanyahu: No more excuses - time is ripe for Mideast peace,” Ha’aretz, Dec. 28, 2009

And for insightful commentary see Moshe Yaroni, “A Most Unlikely Source of Hope,” Zeek:

“…if Mitchell has been able to establish a framework for the talks and if the Obama Administration, now that the healthcare reform battle seems largely over, is ready to take an active role in the talks that come out of this, there is a real chance something could happen.

"To be sure, the issues themselves remain thorny and none of this addresses the issue of Gaza and the split among the Palestinians. Still, given the events of the past year, if serious talks in a realistic framework begin, that is a major step forward and would go a long way to restoring both the credibility of Barack Obama on this issue and rekindling the hope he campaigned on.”

Help us help President Obama fight back and get the truth out to the American Jewish community and the wider American public.

Will new negotiations under Obama's leadership result in the emergence of a Palestinian state living in peace and security side by side with Israel?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have brought about important security and economic achievements in the West Bank over the last two years in close cooperation with Israel and the U.S.

Three-time Pulitzer-prize winning New York Times foreign affairs correspondent Thomas Friedman reports that:

“…[F]or the first time since Oslo, there is an economic-security dynamic emerging on the ground in the West Bank that has the potential…to give the post-Yasir Arafat Palestinians another chance to build the sort of self-governing authority, army and economy that are prerequisites for securing their own independent state. A Palestinian peace partner for Israel may be taking shape again. The key to this rebirth was the recruitment, training and deployment of four battalions of new Palestinian National Security Forces — a move spearheaded by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority.”[1]

Israeli columnist Ari Shavit reports in Ha’aretz that:

“The quiet [in the West Bank] is maintained by unprecedented cooperation between the IDF and the five Palestinian security branches. The coordination among the branches, and between them and the Palestinian Authority and Israel, has never been so close. Unlike the Oslo era, this time there is no whitewashing, overlooking and pretending. There are no revolving doors. Two Israeli field commanders…and five Palestinian field operators have achieved a security miracle in the West Bank…[T]he overwhelming majority in the West Bank [has] finally started functioning as a secular-pragmatic public. Many Palestinians [have] stopped acting and thinking as victims. Under Fayyad’s leadership they have taken their fate into their own hands and started building their future.”[2]

Friedman concludes: “The only way the Palestinian leadership running this show can maintain its legitimacy is if it is eventually given political authority, not just policing powers, over the West Bank – or at least a map that indicates they are on a pathway there. America must nurture this virtuous cycle: more money to train credible Palestinian troops, more encouragement for Israel’s risk-taking in eliminating checkpoints, more Palestinian economic growth and quicker negotiations on the contours of a Palestinian state in the West Bank…”

Shavit concurs: “If U.S. special envoy George Mitchell develops a creative peace plan for his president, it may be possible to avoid past mistakes. This new plan must be based on Fayyad and his way. It must bring the Palestinians closer to a state in a decisive but realistic way…it must establish a practical dynamic of hope. Obama’s challenge this autumn is to give the West Bank revolution a peace horizon…”

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[1] Thomas Freidman, “Green Shoots in Palestine II,” The New York Times, August 9, 2009.

[2] Ari Shavit, “A Peace Horizon,” Ha’aretz, August 20, 2009.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Myth: Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, and his diplomacy with Iran and the Arabs, show that he won the prize for appeasement. Nonsense!

President Obama’s speech on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10th in Oslo, “A Just and Lasting Peace,”[1] has prompted a new wave of smear emails, blog posts and TV punditry claiming that Obama won the prize for a “policy of abject capitulation to our enemies” (Erick Erickson, Wayne Simmons), weakening and neutering the U.S. (Rush Limbaugh, Barry Rubin). “Obama is reaching out his open hand to the Islamic radicals in disregard of how many times they slap it away,” charges Simmons. “Today, Barack Obama, giving a pallid imitation of a President, has chosen to appease our enemies around the world in his misguided effort to mollify those that would kill us.”[2]

Charles Krauthammer mocks Obama’s belief in diplomacy with Iran combined with sanctions as based on “nonsense,” while John Bolton panned Obama’s speech as “filled with misconceptions about everything from human nature to the US role in the world.” Barry Rubin says that “Obama sounded like a Winston Churchill impersonator reading a speech written by Neville Chamberlain....In Afghanistan as with almost every other international issue, the Obama Administration takes pride in being weak, refusing to face up to confrontations, rejecting pressure, always seeing the other (enemy) guy’s point of view, and seeking consensus as the highest priority. This Administration doesn’t understand the use of threats, leverage, credibility, and deterrence in international relations. It has only one gear in its policy: be nice and hope the other side will reciprocate.”
[3]

Now, as when the Nobel award was announced, Obama’s critics have accused him of following a Chamberlain-like “pacifist agenda” by engaging in Middle East diplomacy (Dennis Prager and the Republican Jewish Coalition).
[4] “Perhaps they should change the award's name to the Neville rather than the Nobel,” the critics sneer, implying that all negotiations are like Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, and all countries in conflict with the US or Israel are like Nazi Germany, requiring the same response: preventive war.

But a reality check shows that it’s Obama’s critics who are spinning fictions, recklessly substituting dogma for facts.

1. In fact, negotiating with repressive governments has often enhanced U.S. and Israeli national security. Engagement with “rogue” regimes has been used effectively by American presidents, Republican and Democrat. As Obama explained in his Nobel acceptance speech:

“In light of the Cultural Revolution's horrors, Nixon's meeting with Mao appeared inexcusable -- and yet it surely helped set China on a path where millions of its citizens have been lifted from poverty and connected to open societies. Pope John Paul's engagement with Poland created space not just for the Catholic Church, but for labor leaders like Lech Walesa. Ronald Reagan's efforts on arms control and embrace of perestroika not only improved relations with the Soviet Union, but empowered dissidents throughout Eastern Europe. There's no simple formula here. But we must try as best we can to balance isolation and engagement, pressure and incentives, so that human rights and dignity are advanced over time.”

What’s more, the Clinton administration brokered peace accords in Northern Ireland, where one side, the IRA and Sinn Fein, had supported or engaged in terrorism against Britain, and in Bosnia, where Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic led a genocidal regime. The Bush administration successfully arranged the elimination of Libya’s weapons of mass destruction.

With President Carter’s help, Israel negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, the largest Arab country, ending a cycle of multi-front Arab-Israeli wars which had plagued the Jewish state during its first 25 years. The Egyptian-Israeli treaty has saved thousands of Israeli, and Arab, lives, freeing the Israel Defense Forces to focus its resources on defending Israel from other threats. Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan has bolstered its security on its long eastern frontier. Israeli Military Intelligence and the IDF top brass support peace talks with Syria,[5] and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican originally appointed by Bush, has long favored direct U.S. talks with Iran combined with sanctions.

Negotiating with Iran: At the same time, Iran's leadership may be too fractured by internal power struggles at this point to conclude a negotiated deal on the nuclear issue. Ahmadinejad is reported to have favored the Geneva deal proposed by the U.S. and other major powers which would send most of Iran's low-enriched uranium to Russia, and then France, where it would be converted into fuel rods to power an Iranian medical reactor. This would buy the international community about a year during which Iran would no longer have enough nuclear fuel to make a nuclear weapon, allowing time to work out a broader agreement putting in place a robust regime of intrusive inspections, monitoring and safeguards to prevent Iran from weaponizing its low-enriched uranium in future. But Ahmadinejad's political enemies within the regime opposed the deal, eager to undermine his credibility and legitimacy.

This is "the first time that real power brokers [in Iran] are divided, and that is something Obama has achieved with the Geneva deal much more so than street protests..." noted one Washington-based Iran expert speaking to the New York Times. For now, negotiations may serve to better unite the international community around new sanctions against Iran - by showing that the US and its partners have, unlike Bush, genuinely pursued diplomatic talks - and help to exacerbate divisions within the Iranian regime. But the talks are also laying the basis for a future agreement which could ultimately bring about detente with Iran, significantly reducing its potential to threaten Israel's security and that of our Arab allies in the Persian Gulf. (Michael Slackman, "Hard-Line Rise in Iran Alters View of Nuclear Ambition," The New York Times, Dec. 25, 2009)

2. Myth: Sanctions can stop Iran's nuclear weapons program without negotiations; sanctions without diplomacy worked with Rhodesia. (Charles Krauthammer)

Fact: Krauthammer attacks Obama’s Mideast diplomacy with outright falsehoods: Requesting comment from Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, Fox TV News played a segment of Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech defending the need for combining diplomacy with sanctions in dealing with countries like Iran:

"The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach -- condemnation without discussion -- can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.”

Krauthammer responded[6]:

“The premise here, the idea that sanctions without engagement is useless, that’s nonsense. We had sanctions against Rhodesia in the 70's. There was no engagement and it worked. The Rhodesians in the end gave up. Obama's trying to explain why he's pursuing sanctions on Iran but he's got this open hand, these negotiations which are endless in which he's being played for the fool by the Iranians. They have rejected one offer after another. So he's trying to explain it away.”

But Krauthammer's claim that sanctions worked without engagement against Rhodesia is a gross distortion. In fact, the white minority Rhodesian government surrendered power because it also faced military defeat in the “Bush war” waged by the Zimbabwe African National Union. Krauthammer neglects to tell us that it took war combined with diplomatic isolation and sanctions which brought Rhodesia to the point of economic collapse. Is this what Krauthammer really proposes for the US, Israel and international community in dealing with Iran: sanctions, which are unlikely to be as effective against Iran as they were against Rhodesia, and a preventive war against Iran?


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3. Pursuing direct talks with potential adversaries as a first resort isn’t pacifism, as Prager charges. Pacifism is opposition to war under all circumstances. Obama is no pacifist; he has always recognized that military force is sometimes necessary and just. “In his 2002 speech opposing an invasion of Iraq he emphasized that he was only against ‘dumb war.’”[7] He has backed Israel’s right to retaliate against rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon and Gaza. But unlike many of his bellicose critics, who fervently believe that the most aggressive military response is always the right answer, Obama holds that military force should be used selectively, smartly and judiciously – and only when morally justified as “a last resort or in self-defense, when the force used is proportional, and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence.”

4. William Kristol goes so far as to suggest that Obama’s defense in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech of just war – that force under certain circumstances is necessary and morally justified, against Nazism and now Al Qaeda – is tantamount to embracing the “conservative” belief in the primacy of war in foreign relations, including Bush’s doctrine of preventive war, as in the US attack on Iraq.[8] Now that’s really nonsense: preventive wars of choice like Iraq are not just, and Obama has always rejected them. The notion that some wars are necessary and right isn’t conservatism; it’s a philosophy enshrined in international law and in Jewish, Christian and Islamic moral traditions.

5. Who’s naïve about evil? Dennis Prager mocks the left and the Europeans as “naïve about evil” because they believe that “dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts,” as the Nobel Committee put it in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. Prager calls this a “pacifist agenda,” the dogma that “War is not the answer.”

Time for a reality check. In fact, it’s the neoconservative right that has consistently blundered in responding to the threats facing America and our allies. They subscribe to the reckless notion that once we recognize a regime as tyrannical, we automatically know what our response must be – sanctions and isolation, then war and regime change, avoiding all diplomatic efforts to modify its behavior. They would embroil the U.S. and Israel in endless war. Americans now widely recognize that the Iraq war was a strategic blunder which strengthened Iran, trading Saddam, Iran’s main adversary, for a pro-Iranian Shiite regime. The American invasion and occupation of Iraq were a gift to Al Qaeda, helping to “spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism” and worsening the global terrorist threat, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.[9]

Hitler and Nazi Germany are irrelevant to many of the security challenges Israel and U.S. face today. The world isn’t stuck in 1933, in an endless loop.

President Obama’s commitment to engagement has given Americans and people the world over new hope for a more peaceful and secure world.[10] In presenting the award to Obama yesterday, “Nobel Committee Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland argued that Obama has already changed the temperature in the international climate since he was sworn in in January, simply by insisting on negotiations and diplomacy first. The committee didn't want to wait to voice its support for Obama's ideals, Jagland said, suggesting the award will help the president achieve his goals. ‘It is now, today, [that] we have the opportunity to support President Obama's ideas,’ said Jagland. ‘This year's prize is a call to action for all of us.’”[11]


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[1]"Remarks by the President at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize," Oslo, December 10, 2009
[2]Wayne Simmons, “Cheerleader in Chief,” Human Events, December 10, 2009
[3]Barry Rubin, “Let’s Get Real: Obama’s Foreign Policy is Failing; Time to Wake Up, Change Course, and Do It Right,” The Rubin Report, December 10, 2009
[4]Republican Jewish Coalition email, October 15, 2009, Dennis Prager, “Why President Obama Was Awarded the Nobel Prize,” Townhall.com, October 13, 2009
[5]"Head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Research Division supports Obama’s approach to Syria," ObamaSmearBusters
[6]“Happening Now,” John Scott, anchor, Fox TV News, December 10, 2009
[7]Michael Powell, “Tracing the Disparate Threads In Obama's Political Philosophy,” The New York Times, August 25, 2008
[8]William Kristol, “Plus ca change,” The Washington Post, December 10, 2009
[9]Mark Mazzetti, “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” The New York Times, September 24, 2006
[10]“The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 Press Release,” October 9, 2009; “Building a World that Gives Life to the Promise of Our Founding Documents,” WhiteHouse.gov, October 9, 2009
[11]Christi Parsons, “Obama accepts Nobel Peace Prize as he defends the need for war,” The Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2009

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Myth: Obama is bad for Israel. Not a chance.

"Setting the record straight: Obama deserves praise, not denigration, for commitment to Israel’s security," says Yitzhak Benhorin, YNET 's US correspondent, and

In "U.S.-Israeli Arms Cooperation Quietly Growing" (Forward, Dec. 25, 2009), Nathan Guttman reports that “behind the scenes, strategic security relations between the two countries are flourishing. Israeli officials have been singing the praises of President Obama for his willingness to address their defense concerns and for actions taken by his administration to bolster Israel’s qualitative military edge — an edge eroded, according to Israel, during the final year of the George W. Bush presidency."

1. Yitzhak Benhorin, YNET:

Plenty of nonsense had been uttered in Israel in respect to the Obama Administration and its attitude to Israel. This was the case both in baseless articles and in statements attributed to close associations of Prime Minister Netanyahu in the wake of his first meetings with the American president. After the meeting in Washington in May, a senior official in the PM’s plane was said to have uttered a statement about the “idiot who speaks about a two-state solution.” Meanwhile, after the meeting at the sidelines of the UN general assembly in September we saw headlines claiming that Netanyahu was able to stare Obama down.

Foolish Remark

However, our Sports Minister, Limor Livnat, went further than ever. Foolish talk such as “we’ve stumbled upon a terrible administration” was never heard before, and American officials are asking why Obama deserves this.

The time has come to set the record straight and look into what exactly is being done by the current American president for the State of Israel’s sake. Ten months after he entered the White House, we can clearly say that Obama continues to safeguard of all the major interests pertaining to Israel’s security and welfare. He makes sure to maintain its qualitative advantage and preserves the intimate intelligence and security ties.

Israel continues to be at the top of the list of US aid recipients – about $3 billion annually in ongoing defense aid, and further aid beyond it aimed at developing special arms and mostly anti-missile defense systems, topped by the Arrow 3 project. The administration, which cut America’s defense budget, could have undermined its aid to the project and insisted on a US-made missile, yet it did not do it. A terrible president could have also ordered the removal of the American radar system from Israel. This radar can spot a moving baseball 2,000 kilometers away and is being operated by Americans.

Indeed, the current administration has been declaring in every opportunity its obligation to protect the State of Israel’s security, while backing up its words in practice.

President Obama promised Netanyahu to enter tactical and time-limited dialogue with Iran, and assess the move’s success by the end of the year. In practice, Obama is not even waiting for year’s end. At this time, the Americans are pressing on all diplomatic fronts in a bid to advance Iran sanctions. Obama also promised Netanyahu to shift to harsh sanctions and keep the military option on the table, despite pressure by leftist supporters in the US to stop talking about it.

Meanwhile, the president adopted significant steps vis-à-vis the Russians in order to enlist their support to the Iran cause, including a change in priorities in deploying American missiles. It is unclear whether annulling President Bush’s plan to deploy US missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic was made in the framework of a deal with Russia for the sake of the effort against Iran, yet in practice it appears that President Medvedev is cooperating with Obama on the Iranian front.

Part II Obama not the enemy: Current US Administration not free of mistakes, but far from being hostile to Israel, Yitzhak Benhorin, YNET

The Goldstone Report was and still is a grave problem for Israel. Yet from day one, the Obama Administration pointed to the report’s absurdity and made an effort to prevent a UN discussion on the matter. While the US failed on this front, it voted against the anti-Israel decision, engaged in diplomatic efforts to convince other states to object or abstain, and continues to operate behind the scenes in order to prevent the report from being brought before the Security Council. Should the report eventually get there, the US is expected to veto it.

Moreover, despite the importance of the UN in the Obama Administration’s view as part of its foreign policy, in all matters pertaining to Israel he proved that he can act against his own ideology. The Administration embarked on talks ahead of the so-called “Durban II” convention in Geneva, yet the moment the Americans realized they will be unable to prevent an anti-Israeli text, they quit the conference.

When it comes to the conflict with the Palestinians and with the Arabs in General, Obama continues to speak about Israel’s right to defend itself. In his UN speech he stressed that in the framework of implementing the two-state vision, Israel will be a Jewish state, with all this entails in respect to the refugees.

Meanwhile, in his Cairo speech, Obama was the first American president who in the heart of the Arab world spoke about the unbreakable bond between Israel and the US.

The Israeli public does not grasp the extent of Israel’s dependence on the US, and takes the security and intelligence cooperation for granted. But is there any other state that enjoys this kind of cooperation with the US? Is it possible that Limor Livnat is part of our government yet doesn’t know this?

All American Administrations since the Six-Day War, including George W. Bush’s Administration, objected to the settlements and endorsed the two-state solution. As opposed to previous governments, the Obama Administration is serious in its intention to advance this solution, which Israeli governments ranging from Sharon’s to Netanyahu’s current cabinet openly endorsed.

The Obama Administration’s great mistake was to turn the pressure on Israel in respect to a settlement freeze into a public issue. Several weeks passed in Washington before officials there realized the gravity of the mistake. Now, they aspire to get the sides to talk as soon as possible in order to first resolve the issue of borders, which will make the volatile debate over settlement construction irrelevant.

There is one more issue that needs to be figured out: The personal relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. It is quite clear that we lost the intimacy that Rabin had with Clinton and that Sharon and mostly Olmert had with George W. Bush. The latter two spoke twice a week on occasion, while today there are almost no phone conversations between the leaders.

It is unclear whether this is merely a personal issue, or whether it has to do with Obama’s character; he is not an emotional person, but rather, very methodical. Indeed, it appears that Obama does not develop personal relations with world leaders. Even during British PM Gordon Brown’s visit, headlines in London addressed the dissipation of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the US.

The Obama Administration is not free of mistakes, yet it is far from being the hostile Administration that is being portrayed in Israel.

Help us help President Obama fight back and get the truth out to the American Jewish community and the wider American public.

2. In addition, Nathan Guttman reports in "U.S.-Israeli Arms Cooperation Quietly Growing," (Forward, Dec. 25, 2009) that “behind the scenes, strategic security relations between the two countries are flourishing.

"Israeli officials have been singing the praises of President Obama for his willingness to address their defense concerns and for actions taken by his administration to bolster Israel’s qualitative military edge — an edge eroded, according to Israel, during the final year of the George W. Bush presidency.

"Among the new initiatives taken by the administration, the Forward has learned, are adjustments in a massive arms deal the Bush administration made with Arab Gulf states in response to Israeli concerns. There have also been upgrades in U.S.-Israeli military cooperation on missile defense. And a deal is expected next year that will see one of the United States’ most advanced fighter jets go to Israel with some of America’s most sensitive new technology.”
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Yitzhak Benhorin is Ynet’s correspondent in Washington

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3813307,00.html Published 12/1/09

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3813614,00.html

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Myth: Busting smears won’t affect Obama's success in the Middle East and or help a Democratic victory in next year's midterm election.

The Facts: To take the bold steps needed to help Israelis and Palestinians break the impasse and move towards a real and secure peace, President Obama needs strong and continued backing from the American Jewish community and the American public. In the end, he’ll also need the support of the Israeli and Palestinian publics as well.

“The way to win the domestic politics on the two-state solution is to fight the smears against Obama. These vicious smears have largely gone unanswered.”

“Obama's credibility with Israelis is critically important when he will want to seal an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Both before and after Obama goes to Israel to build support for his peace efforts, we cannot allow a political vacuum in which these outrageous smears go unanswered. We should fight the smears today, tomorrow and every day until Obama helps bring about Israeli-Palestinian peace."

- Former Congressman Mel Levine (D-CA)

The Republican right is slandering Obama and trying to mislead the American public and the Jewish community about Obama's Mideast peace efforts and his larger foreign policy agenda.

They're trying not only to undermine support for Obama, but to use the lies and smears to help defeat Democratic candidates and roll back the Democratic Congressional majority in next year's mid-term elections.
  • After Obama’s speech at the opening of the UN General Assembly, former Bush UN ambassador John Bolton went on Glenn Beck's Fox TV News show, which reaches over 3 million viewers. He and a slew of neoconservative critics have been accusing Obama in a wide variety of media of “selling out” Israel at the U.N. and “putting it on the chopping block” by supposedly having called on Israel “to retreat to the indefensible 1967 borders.” But Obama said nothing of the kind, as we’ve shown here.


  • Congressman Gresham Barrett, who is running for governor of South Carolina, mocked Obama's wininng of the Nobel Peace Prize in a smear-filled statement claiming that “Obama has sided with the Palestinians against Israel” that was widely carried in the media – and rebutted here.

The Republicans hope that by inventing and repeating lies over and over and planting seeds of doubt about Obama's foreign policies, they can sway voters against Democrats allied with the President. We won't let them get away with it!

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Myth: Israelis and Palestinians have not felt enough pain to do anything hard for peace. Obama should walk away from Mideast peace efforts

until Israelis and Palestinians are really hurting, and begging for US help to settle the conflict. (Thomas L. Friedman, "Call White House, Ask for Barack," The New York Times).


The Facts:

1. Not enough pain?
Over the last eight years, Israelis have suffered hundreds of suicide bombings from the West Bank and Gaza, thousands of rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon and Gaza on their civilian population centers in the north and south, and mounting fears about a nuclear-armed Iran; Palestinians have suffered Israeli invasions and counter-attacks, a deepening occupation and ongoing settlement expansion. In the last few years, they’ve endured Intifada II, Lebanon War II, and the Gaza War.

2. What would likely happen if we walked away? Friedman counsels the president to leave the parties to “enjoy the status quo.” “If and when they get serious, they’ll find us.” But the status quo is a tinderbox. Friedman would have Obama wait until Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Iran and Israel are swallowed in the maw of a new regional war, the Palestinians radicalized and shorn of hope, the Israelis despairing and fearful. He would let extremists set the entire region aflame, and then send in the American fire brigade armed with water hoses and a two-state rescue plan—if the bloodied and embittered combatants dialed the White House 911. But who's to say there'd be anything left to salvage? By then, the two-state solution might no longer be an option, and the region might have reached an irreversible crisis, a critical tipping point.

President Obama would do well to reject Friedman’s “burn down the village to save it” strategy, built as it is on a tortured misreading of modern Middle East history – both past and future.

3. Friedman’s op-ed is best understood as a shot across the bow. Abbas could carry out his threat to resign and dissolve the Palestinian Authority, leaving Israel without a Palestinian leadership with which to negotiate a two-state deal, and an ongoing occupation of millions of West Bank Palestinians for whom Israel would now be directly responsible.

By the same token, Friedman is threatening that if Israeli and Palestinian leaders don’t do more to promote an environment conducive to successful negotiations, the US could give up on peace efforts and leave Israelis and Palestinians to face the conflict on their own. In other words, Obama would start acting more like George W. Bush, but without the disingenuous rhetoric - a kind of uber-Bush.

The problem, however, is that it’s an empty threat. The U.S., as Israel’s closest ally, would be viewed throughout the world as enabling whatever steps Israel might take in an increasingly toxic environment. The threat is not credible; the warning shot is an empty shell. And Obama will never succumb to the do-nothing (but bomb), laissez-faire approach to foreign policy.

4. As Israel's best friend and ally, it would be supremely irresponsible for the US to abandon Mideast peace efforts - irresponsible to Israel, and to our own national security interests.

"In making the case for US leadership of Israeli-Arab peace efforts, there are two basic truths," writes Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now. " The first is that an end to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts is vital to Israel's security, stability, prosperity, and very survival as a Jewish, democratic state. Thus, if the US cares about Israel, it cannot step back from this effort.

Second, “Middle East peace should be viewed through the lens of American national security interests, and [viewed] this way, the US can and indeed perhaps should 'want it' - want an end to the Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab conflicts - more than the parties. Looking at it through this lens, the US dare not step back from the effort to achieve peace.”

5. Here’s a better idea: the US should propose a detailed two-state framework to the parties now, with a deadline to work out a mutually acceptable formula with intensive American, Arab and international help. After a decade of growing Israeli and Palestinian insecurity, thanks to the benign neglect now championed by Friedman and practiced by Bush, Obama's new Mideast peace initiative must come not after, but before the next even more catastrophic clash of arms.

(See the related "Myth: Obama's Mideast peace policy has failed," and "Myth: American Jews disrespect Israeli democracy when they suggest Obama should press Israeli and Palestinian leaders to accept a US peace plan.")

For more insight, read the following:

1. Lara Friedman, "Tom Friedman: so wrong (and so glib)," Americans for Peace Now

2. David Halperin, “To Do Nothing is an Insane Policy,” Israel Policy Forum

3. Richard Silverstein, "Friedman Advises Obama to Wash His Hands of Israel-Palestine," Tikun Olam

4. Letters to the New York Times: "Mideast Path: Step Up or Step Back?"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Myth: Obama’s Mideast peace policy has failed.

The Facts: “Those who are writing off the administration's peace efforts, friend and foe alike, are being premature in the extreme. This is a benefit of starting on day one--you can acknowledge the need for a course correction in month ten. In fact, it is not the new approach of the Obama administration that has failed, but rather, this is a moment of clarity regarding the bankruptcy of the old approach that has guided policy for over a decade and that the Obama team had inherited and embraced.

"As Rob Malley and others have argued, what is needed now is a review (as has been conducted in other foreign policy areas) and a testing and likely abandonment of many of the prevailing policy assumptions. These might include

[1] the notion that one can incrementally build confidence between the sides when the prevailing reality is one of occupation,

[2] that bilateral negotiations between representatives of an occupied people and the occupying party can deliver de-occupation,

[3] that Palestinian political division should be encouraged (not overcome),

[4] or that proven self governance capacity under occupation is a precondition for freedom and independence.

"If the goal still is Israel's security, recognition, and a guaranteed future as a democracy and a Jewish national home, alongside a secure, viable, and post-occupation Palestine and advancing America's national interest, and this should be the goal, then a new path is needed for reaching that destination. It will certainly require more international and U.S. lifting.

"The Obama team is perfectly capable of charting a course from a bad week to a game-changing success, but more of the same won't get them there."

Daniel Levy, "On US Middle East Policy and Amateurism," The Washington Note

Monday, November 9, 2009

Myth: American Jews disrespect Israeli democracy when they suggest Obama should press Israeli and Palestinian leaders to accept a US peace plan.

We often hear that American Jews may have a right to an opinion on the Israeli-Arab conflict, but no right to tell Israelis and Palestinians what they should do in matters of peace or war. If they go so far as to suggest that President Obama propose a peace plan and press the parties to accept it, or to negotiate within its parameters, they are being disrespectful of the wishes of the Israeli electorate and the government that represents them.

The facts:

1. This argument ignores that American Jews are American citizens too, and as full participants in American democratic process, we have a right and a duty to express our views to our elected officials over US policy towards the Middle East, including Israel. As American citizens, we are under no obligation to subordinate our judgments about US Middle East policy to those of Israel’s electorate, or its government. That would be tantamount to allowing Israel to dictate to us, and to our own government, what US policy should be. In fact, it disrespects American democracy to tell American Jews that they must urge American leaders to act as Israeli voters wish, not as American, including American Jewish voters, choose.

We “are American citizens who back American policies that we believe are in our own country’s interests, as well as the interests of Israelis, Palestinians and the rest of the world….I think the Obama administration is helping America and Israel when it tries to stop actions that, if left unchecked, will preclude a two-state solution, including Israeli settlement expansion and Palestinian violence and incitement,” notes Dan Fleshler.

It goes without saying that the President of the United States is under no obligation to subordinate his views on US Middle East policy to those of the Israeli government. He must consider the full range of US values and interests, among which our friendship and alliance with Israel is unquestionably a top priority. But the Israeli government’s views as to how the US should pursue our interests in the region, or our relationship with Israel, should not, by themselves, determine how the US should act. As others have noted, US policy towards the Middle East must be made in Washington, not in Jerusalem.

2. America’s alliance with Israel has a wide range of consequences for US national security. An Israeli decision to mount a preemptive strike against Iran will embroil the US in a protracted war with Iran, and expose hundreds of thousands of American troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf to counter-attack. Our alliance with an Israel in conflict with the Palestinians and Arab nations breeds animosity towards the U.S. among Arabs and Muslims. Dan Fleshler observes: “As long as Israel and America are seen in much of the Muslim world as steadfast allies in a war between civilizations, what Israel does in the occupied territories is my problem, too. The Israel-Palestinian conflict fuels global instability and extremism and provides a valuable mobilizing tool for terrorist groups that would just as soon attack the New York City subway system as Sderot.”

Americans, and not only American Jews, are willing to bear the consequences of our alliance with Israel, for good or for ill. We must and will stand by our bond with the Jewish state, no matter the consequences. But the fact that our own security is impacted by Israeli actions means that we do and must have a weighty voice when it comes to what steps Israel should take in the region to promote peace and in matters of war.

3. As important as the US-Israel relationship is to us as American Jews and to the President, the US has its own set of global interests which aren’t necessarily identical to those of Israel, even if there is considerable overlap. When some Israelis or other American Jews tell us that all American Jews must subordinate their opinions to those of the Israeli voter – or to however Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s arcane electoral/coalition system translates the will of the Israeli electorate – they are playing on our identity as Jews, and demanding that we subordinate our American-ness to our Jewishness.

4. Even if we placed our Jewishness before our American identity, it does not follow that American Jews must encourage their elected officials to pursue an American policy that is made in Jerusalem by the Israeli electorate or its government. If our moral compass, our sense of responsibility for our fellow Jews, or our judgment as autonomous American Jews actively committed to Israel’s well-being, leads us to different conclusions than the Israeli government, we are obligated to urge our elected officials – and Jewish leaders who we feel represent us - to adopt our chosen policies.

5. An Israel – or an American Jewish leadership – that demands of American Jews obeisance to the policies of whichever Israeli government is in power, alienates a growing number of American Jews from active engagement with Israel. That translates into less, not more, support for Israel. If the only kind of pro-Israel support that is kosher is a slavish, unreflective following of the Israeli government’s tune, that amounts to a one-dimensional Jewishness that is at odds with the core Jewish tradition of argument, debate and reflection. A narrow concept of what it means to be pro-Israel is bad for Israel and bad for American Jews as Jews and as Americans.

6. If Israeli and Palestinian politics are too dysfunctional to enable their leaders to take the necessary steps to move the conflict towards resolution, leading to growing regional insecurity and renewed war and violence, it is incumbent on the U.S. to play a leadership role to help the parties move forward. This may entail proposing a US peace plan or framework for negotiations, and providing incentives and disincentives to both sides to reach an agreement within a specified time-frame. That's pro-American, pro-Israel, and decidedly the right, and responsible, thing for President Obama to do.

For more insight, read:

Dan Fleshler, "The Pro-Israel Camp Cares About America Too," Realistic Dove

Monday, October 19, 2009

Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for "appeasing" our enemies and a "pacifist agenda"? Nonsense.

A series of smear emails and blog posts claim that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize for a “policy of abject capitulation to our enemies” (Erick Erickson), weakening and neutering the U.S. (Rush Limbaugh), following a Chamberlain-like “pacifist agenda” by engaging in Middle East diplomacy (Dennis Prager and the Republican Jewish Coalition),[1] and “siding with the Palestinians against Israel” (Congressman Gresham Barrett, R-SC, who is running for governor of South Carolina).[2] “Perhaps they should change the award's name to the Neville rather than the Nobel,” critics sneer, implying that all negotiations are like Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, and all countries in conflict with the US or Israel are like Nazi Germany, requiring the same response: preemptive war.

1. In reality, talking with repressive governments has often enhanced U.S. and Israeli national security.

Engagement with “rogue” regimes has been used effectively by American presidents, Republican and Democrat. Nixon and Kissinger opened diplomatic relations with Mao’s China to help counter the Soviet Union. Nixon and Reagan also negotiated strategic nuclear arms limitations treaties with the Soviets. The Clinton administration brokered peace accords in Northern Ireland (where one side, the IRA and Sinn Fein, had supported or engaged in terrorism against Britain) and in Bosnia (where Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic led a genocidal regime). The Bush administration successfully arranged the elimination of Libya’s weapons of mass destruction.

With President Carter’s help, Israel negotiated a peace treaty with Egypt, the largest Arab country, ending a cycle of multi-front Arab-Israeli wars which had plagued the Jewish state during its first 25 years. The Egyptian-Israeli treaty has saved thousands of Israeli, and Arab, lives, freeing the Israel Defense Forces to focus its resources on defending Israel from other threats. Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan has bolstered its security on its long eastern frontier. Israeli Military Intelligence and the IDF top brass support peace talks with Syria,[3] and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a Republican originally appointed by Bush, has long favored direct U.S. talks with Iran.

2. Obama’s conservative critics charge that he won the Nobel because he’s “sided with the Palestinians against Israel.” They accuse him of being anti-Israel for “calling on Israel to retreat to the indefensible 1967 borders” in his speech at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. In fact, Obama did nothing of the kind: he used the same language as President George W. Bush when he promised to work for “two states living side by side in peace and security - a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967…” Even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken out against these wild and outlandish charges.[4]

3. Who’s naïve about evil? Prager mocks the left and the Europeans as “naïve about evil” because they believe that “dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts,” as the Nobel Committee put it in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. Prager calls this a “pacifist agenda,” the dogma that “War is not the answer.”

Time for a reality check. In fact, it’s the neoconservative right that has consistently blundered in responding to the threats facing America and our allies. They subscribe to the reckless notion that once we recognize a regime as tyrannical, we automatically know what our policy must be – sanctions and isolation, then war and regime change, avoiding all diplomatic efforts to modify its behavior. They would embroil the U.S. and Israel in endless war. Americans now widely recognize that the Iraq war was a strategic blunder which strengthened Iran, trading Saddam, Iran’s main adversary, for a pro-Iranian Shiite regime. The American invasion and occupation of Iraq were a gift to Al Qaeda, helping to “spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism” and worsening the global terrorist threat, according to the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate.[5]

4. Pursuing direct talks with potential adversaries as a first resort isn’t pacifism, as Prager charges. Pacifism is opposition to war under all circumstances. Obama is no pacifist; he recognizes that military force is sometimes necessary and just. “In his 2002 speech opposing an invasion of Iraq he emphasized that he was only against ‘dumb war.’”[6] He has backed Israel’s right to retaliate against rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon and Gaza. But unlike many of his bellicose critics, who fervently believe that the most aggressive military response is always the right answer, Obama holds that military force should be used selectively, smartly and judiciously.

Hitler and Nazi Germany are irrelevant to many of the security challenges Israel and U.S. face today. The world isn’t stuck in 1933, in an endless loop.

President Obama’s commitment to engagement has given Americans and people the world over new hope for a more peaceful and secure world.[7]
____________

[1]Republican Jewish Coalition email, October 15, 2009, Dennis Prager, “Why President Obama Was Awarded the Nobel Prize,” Townhall.com, October 13, 2009
[2]"Statement from Gresham Barrett on the Nobel Prize," GreshamBarrett.com, October 9, 2009
[3]"Head of Israel’s Military Intelligence Research Division supports Obama’s approach to Syria," ObamaSmearBusters
[4]“Obama ‘sold out’ Israel and put it on the ‘chopping block’ at the UN? Ridiculous.”
[5]Mark Mazzetti, “Spy Agencies Say Iraq War Worsens Terrorism Threat,” The New York Times, September 24, 2006
[6]Michael Powell, “Tracing the Disparate Threads In Obama's Political Philosophy,” The New York Times, August 25, 2008
[7]“The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 Press Release,” October 9, 2009; “Building a World that Gives Life to the Promise of Our Founding Documents,” WhiteHouse.gov, October 9, 2009

Obama “sold out” Israel and put it on the “chopping block” at the UN? Ridiculous.

Obama’s conservative critics are accusing him of “selling out” Israel at the U.N. by calling on Israel to retreat to the “indefensible 1967 borders.” In fact, Obama did neither. Obama is being labeled “anti-Israel” for using the same language as President George W. Bush. Even Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has spoken out against these wild and outlandish charges.

In a series of smear emails, blog posts, op-eds, and an interview on Fox TV News, former UN Ambassador John Bolton and other neoconservative critics have claimed that at the UN General Assembly opening President Obama “put Israel on the chopping block” by “calling Israeli settlements in the West Bank illegitimate” and “talking about ending ‘the occupation that began in 1967.’ That implies that he supports going back to 1967 borders…Obama…is frequently taking the side of the Palestinians...,” charged Bolton.[1]

“The president says America does not accept…‘the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.’ Not new Israeli settlements, continued Israeli settlements.…That calls into question, in my mind, all Israeli settlements…,” Bolton told Fox News host Glenn Beck.

“Beck and Bolton then took a map of Israel and the Palestinian Territories and used a big red magic marker to show how Israel could be sliced up if Obama’s nefarious plans were implemented. Needless to say, Beck and Bolton’s scribblings did not resemble any plan offered by anyone, ever,” notes national security researcher Matt Duss.
[2]

Beck closed his exchange with Bolton about Obama’s UN speech by insinuating that Obama’s Israel policy is a product of “Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s anti-Semitism.”
[3] “Did we sell out Israel today?” Beck asked. “I think it’s very close to it. I think it’s the most anti-Israel speech I can remember by an American president,”[4] replied Bolton.

Duss rightly calls this “blatant and dishonest fear-mongering on the president’s policy toward Israel….What Bolton failed to mention in his transparently dishonest attempt to scare Fox viewers is that President Obama’s language almost exactly reproduces language used by President George W. Bush in describing the opening point for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in 2008:”

BUSH: “There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967. The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people. These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized, and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign, and independent.”[5]

OBAMA: “The goal is clear, two states living side by side in peace and security - a Jewish State of Israel, with true security for all Israelis; and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.”[6]

Obama’s description of Israel as a Jewish state, coupled with his commitment to two states for two peoples, reflects his support for Zionism’s central idea, giving the lie to wild inflammatory charges that he “sold out Israel.”

Not to be outdone by Fox, OneJerusalem distributed an email insisting that

“With the United States leading the way, the forces aligned against Israel are becoming bolder and brasher. One would expect the President of the United States to stand firm against America's enemies and support its allies. Today however, President Obama used the forum of the United Nations to abandon Israel and embrace the unfounded demands of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).”

On what do they base these outrageous smears against President Obama? Obama’s reference to the “occupation that began in 1967,” says OneJerusalem, “implies that Israel must retreat from its own land, return to indefensible '67 borders, divide Jerusalem, and capitulate to Palestinian forces bent on destroying Israel. A few weeks ago, One Jerusalem sent out a Red Alert warning that Obama was going to ambush Israel at the United Nations. He did it, today.”[7] OneJerusalem won’t let the facts interfere with its continuing rants against President Obama. Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. and president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is among those who are now claiming that Obama’s U.N. speech proves that he is “pushing” for a “full withdrawal to the 1967 lines.”[8]

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu poured cold water on the fevered imaginings of Obama’s detractors:

“The things [Obama] said [at the UN] about the occupation are not new. He also said them in Cairo, and in fact that is the formula adopted by the [Bush administration’s] Road Map and it does not say we have to go back to the 1967 borders. This is the formula adopted by governments before the one I head, which did not agree to go back to the 1967 borders. We certainly would [also] not agree to that. In the matter of the settlements he also said nothing new...”

Netanyahu noted that “Obama, like other American presidents, reflected the deep basic friendship between the American and the Israeli people, and that ‘he stood in Cairo before the whole Muslim world and said this relationship would never be severed.’ Netanyahu added he believed the obligation of the United States to Israel's security was total.”[9]

Netanyahu is right that Obama’s statements on settlements are continuous with those of previous U.S. presidents. In fact, every administration since 1967, both Republican and Democrat, has criticized Israeli settlements as illegitimate and an obstacle to peace.

To suggest that by advocating a two-state solution to the conflict Obama “put Israel on the chopping block” or requires Israel to “retreat from its own land” assumes that the West Bank is part of Israel. Like the vast majority of Israelis, Palestinians and American Jews, no U.S. president has ever accepted this outlandish view of the “Whole Land of Israel” extremists who want only one state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

Virtually the entire world rejects the idea that the West Bank belongs to Israel. But that doesn’t stop vocal supporters of the extremist fringe from opposing every American effort to resolve the Israel-Arab conflict and whipping up paranoia about the U.S. “selling out Israel.”

[1]Robert Costa, “Bolton: ‘A Post-American Speech By Our First Post-American President,’” National Review Online, Sept. 23, 2009
[2]Matt Duss, “Bolton: President Obama ‘Anti-Israel’ For Using Same Language as President Bush,” Wonk Room, Sept. 24, 2009
[3]“Glenn Beck Asks: ‘Could Obama Be Anti-Semitic?,’” Fox News, September 23, 2009
[4]“Glenn Beck Clips 09-23-09 Seg5- John Bolton: Obama Speech to UN Most Radical Ever by Pres.” Fox News, September 23, 2009
[5]“Bush calls for end of ‘occupation’ of Arab lands,” MSNBC, January 8, 2008
[6]To read the entire excerpt on Israel and Middle East peace from President Obama’s UN speech, see our debunking of the earlier smear “Obama planned ambush of Israel at the UN? Fat chance.”
[7]“President Obama Puts Israel on the Chopping Block,” OneJerusalem, September 23, 2009
[8]Dore Gold, “The Quartet’s Disturbing Shift and America’s New Direction,” Jerusalem Post, October 2, 2009; Lloyd Greif, “Obama’s Mideast Policy Endangers Israel: Israel Stands Alone,” Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, October 6, 2009
[9]Natasha Mozgovaya, “Netanyahu: No peace until Palestinians accept Israel as Jewish state,” Ha’aretz, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Myth: The Saudis don't really want peace with Israel.

Myth: Saudi Arabia views the Arab Peace Initiative as a non-negotiable diktat or ultimatum to Israel. This, combined with their refusal to offer normalization gestures now, proves they're unwilling to make peace with Israel. Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal's recent New York Times op-ed confirms this.

The Facts: The Saudis strongly support Palestinian-Israeli and Arab-Israeli negotiations under President Obama. But just as Israel has certain sacrosanct demands on which it believes it cannot compromise, so too do the Saudis, the Syrians and the Palestinians. Israel holds that recognizing a Palestinian refugee “right to return” to former homes or villages in Israel is inconsistent with the principle of two states for two peoples – Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people.

The Saudis, for their part, support peace and normal relations with Israel if it withdraws from all territories it occupied in 1967, but they recognize and accept that the Palestinians have agreed, first at the Camp David summit in 2000, to the principle of a land swap: Israel will be permitted to incorporate into its final borders Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and some settlements close to the Green Line in exchange for territory from within Israel that is equal in quantity and quality. Israel withdrew from 100% of the Sinai when it made peace with Egypt, and in negotiations conducted by Netanyahu during his first term Israel accepted that a peace treaty with Syria must be based on an agreement to demarcate the 1967 border between Syria and Israel.

Israel agreed to withdraw completely from Syrian territory in the Golan Heights: Ynet reports that “in the document passed on to President Clinton by Ron Lauder, who had served as Netanyahu's emissary to the Syrians” during his first term as prime minister, Israel committed “to withdraw completely from the Golan Heights…in return for Syria permitting an American-French early warning station on Mt. Hermon.” The Lauder document reads: “Israel will withdraw from the Syrian land taken in 1967, in accordance with Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, which established the right of all states to secure and recognized borders in the 'land for peace' formula, to a commonly agreed border based on the line of June 4, 1967. The withdrawal will be effected in three stages and completed over a period of 18 months with the normalization implemented in the third stage and declaring an end to the state of war during the first phase of the withdrawal.” (Danny Yatom, who served as Mossad director at the time, is publishing the Lauder document in a new book.)

Israel’s acceptance of the need to withdraw from all of the territory occupied in 1967 in exchange for peace with both Egypt and Syria established a clear precedent. The Palestinians therefore believe that they too should receive no less than the equivalent of 100% of the territory in the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for peace and normalization with Israel. In their case, the demand has even greater justification given that they are agreeing to make peace with Israel in exchange for 22% of historic Palestine, with the other 78% comprising Israel - this despite the fact that the current Palestinian West Bank and Gaza population of 3.5 million is projected to virtually double within ten years to 6.6 million, according to the Rand Corporation, a leading think-tank. A peace treaty on this basis, which is acceptable to the Palestinians, will leave Israel with more than three times as much land as the Palestinian state, despite the fact that the Palestinian population will be almost equal in number to the Israeli population by 2020.

2. The facts about Saudi willingness to normalize relations with Israel: Prince Turki al-Faisal is the former director of Saudi intelligence and a former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. In his New York Times op-ed, (“Land First, Then Peace,” September 13, 2009) the prince rejects calls for Saudi King Abdullah to “do a Sadat” by traveling to Israel to extend his hand in peace until Israel offers what Israeli Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan promised to President Anwar Sadat’s envoy before Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem: a commitment to withdraw from all Egyptian territory occupied by Israel in 1967: “Absent a similar offer today from Israel to the leaders of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria,” he suggests, “there is no reason to look at 1977 as a model.”

Prince al-Faisal is right to cite the precedent of Dayan’s secret advance offer of full withdrawal from the Egyptian Sinai; late in life, Begin publicly confirmed it. The Saudi prince has thrown down the gauntlet: Israeli and American leaders should now pick it up. Netanyahu, like the leaders of Labor and Kadima, accepted the principle of full withdrawal with Syria in previous negotiations. Labor and Kadima leaders also accept this principle, subject to land swaps, for the West Bank and Gaza. If Netanyahu is serious about pursuing peace, he and Likud moderates should form a coalition government with Labor, Kadima and other parties willing to negotiate a comprehensive peace treaty with the Arab states on the basis of the 1967 borders.

The Saudi prince’s op-ed clearly suggests that in exchange for such a credible advance Israeli commitment of complete withdrawal for peace – in this case, reinforced by an American commitment from President Obama – mirroring Dayan’s offer to Sadat’s envoy, the Saudis may be prepared to take some significant early normalization steps with Israel, perhaps including a “Sadat”-like visit to Israel. To achieve this kind of revolutionary breakthrough, which would boost Israeli public support for moving forward with negotiations, Netanyahu must be prepared to establish his and his government’s credibility on the issue of territorial withdrawal, the main issue in Saudi, Syrian and Palestinian eyes.

Not only the Saudis, but many Israelis and Americans, have well-founded doubts about Netanyahu’s willingness to make the necessary territorial compromise in the West Bank, and to accept a viable territorially contiguous Palestinian state. For many years Netanyahu opposed the idea of a Palestinian state, and many in his Likud party continue to do so. It is therefore not unreasonable for the Saudis to be wary at this point of extending normalization gestures to Israel when it has reason to believe that Netanyahu does not intend to make credible offers on the extent of future Israeli territorial withdrawals in the West Bank, or on freezing Israeli construction in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem – a step which Netanyahu has refused to take.

The facts about Saudi Arabia's willingness to make peace with Israel: In a response to a letter from the United States Congress to King Abdullah “urging the kingdom to make a dramatic gesture towards Israel as a confidence building measure to promote peace,” Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel A. Al-Jubeir “reiterated Saudi Arabia's position that an incremental approach to peace, or one built on confidence-building measures, will not succeed. ‘It has not succeeded over the past three decades and, we believe, will not succeed today.’” (Published in the English-language newspaper Asharq Alawsat, “Peace Built on Confidence-Building Measures Will Not Succeed,” September 15, 2009)

The Saudi ambassador wrote that “The basis for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict is clear. It has been enshrined in numerous international resolutions, and highlighted in virtually every peace conference convened over the past three decades. Essentially, it centers on Israel ending its occupation of the territories taken in 1967, including Jerusalem, establishing an independent Palestinian state, and providing for a just settlement for Palestinian refugees. In exchange, Israel shall receive full recognition, a formal end to the conflict, peace, security and normal relations with all Arab countries.

“The Arab countries accepted this formula as a basis for a settlement when they unanimously adopted the Arab Peace Initiative at the Beirut Summit in 2002. This bold and historic initiative was also adopted by the Islamic countries at the Makkah Summit in December 2005, and reiterated by the Arab League at subsequent Arab Summits, including, most recently, at the 2009 Doha Summit. Israel has not. Nor has Israel accepted the principle that it must end its occupation of all Arab territories…Further, Israel continues to build settlements in defiance of international law and to strengthen its hold on the Palestinian Territories, when it should understand, as then-Crown Prince, now King, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz stated in his address to the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, that 'peace and the retention of occupied Arab territories are incompatible and impossible to reconcile or achieve.'

In the past, the Ambassador said, “a number of confidence-building measures were undertaken, but no peace was achieved. ” He affirmed that it is the Kingdom’s “firm view that resolution of this conflict does require outlining the final settlement at the outset, followed by prompt resumption of negotiations on all final status issues – borders, Jerusalem, water, security and refugees – with a deadline set for their early conclusion. The focus must be on the final settlement and on the final peace, not on an incremental process. This will make the final outcome clear to all parties, and thereby undermine the ability of extremists on both sides to delay or derail the movement to peace. It is also absolutely imperative for the United States to play an active and robust role in the negotiations, as history has shown.”

3. Finally, Israeli and American critics of the Saudi position have completely ignored a new and critically important Saudi concession on the refugees in the Saudi prince’s op-ed: “The Arab world, in the form of the Arab peace initiative that was endorsed by 22 countries in 2002, has offered Israel peace and normalization in return for Israeli withdrawal from all Arab territories including East Jerusalem — with the refugee issue to be solved later through mutual consent.” Critics have for years ignored the Arab Peace Initiative's compromise on the resolution of the refugee issue: Saudi and Arab willingness to accept a just and mutually agreed solution to the problem.

Now they are compounding their error by ignoring the Saudi offer to defer negotiations over the resolution of the refugee issue until after the establishment of a Palestinian state. This position shows a Saudi willingness to deal first with resolving the territorial aspects of the conflict, a refreshing and welcome pragmatism which improves the prospects for successful negotiations. What’s more, it suggests that the Saudis and other Arab countries may be willing to normalize relations with Israel once the territorial aspects of the conflict are resolved, even before negotiations on the refugee issue have been completed.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Myth: The Fatah Congress called for violence & terror, all of Jerusalem, an absolute right of return, proving Israel has no Palestinian peace partner.

Myth: “The resolutions of the recent Fatah [Congress] speak of using violence, [taking] all of Jerusalem, an absolute right of return…The Fatah platform…has buried any chance of coming to an agreement with the Palestinians in the next few years…” - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

“Fatah has once again left the door open for terrorism…It used classic language justifying violence against civilians – ‘Fatah adopts all legitimate forms of struggle with clinging to the option of peace.’…Another unaccountable resolution stated a refusal to negotiate with Israel until it ceded all of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.” - Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League

The Facts – In Brief:

  • Fatah renewed its commitment to negotiating peace with Israel based on a two-state solution and the Arab Peace Initiative.
  • The Arab Peace Initiative does not call for a right of refugee return to Israel but rather for an agreed solution to the refugee problem.
  • The Fatah platform also called for nonviolent forms of resistance to support negotiations with Israel, or in the event that the negotiations are unsuccessful. It endorses “resistance by all legitimate means,” leaving out the option of armed struggle. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made his position very clear: “We must not stain our legitimate struggle with terror.”
  • The Arabic text of his speech confirmed that he referred to East Jerusalem, not to "all of Jerusalem."

More Facts:

1. Former Knesset Member and Israeli Diplomat Colette Avital: “[T]he deeply-seated mistrust, the habit of reading first and foremost the bad elements in any Palestinian document, makes it easy to misinterpret some of the resolutions negatively. Thus, for days our media reported that the Palestinians were not ready to give up on violence and that the resolutions called for the continuation of armed struggle as a strategy. The truth is that the Bethlehem platform calls for 'resistance by all legitimate means,' and leaves out the option of armed struggle. When reading a political document, as some of us have been taught, it is important to read every word in its context, but also to consider what has been left out.

"Abbas himself made his position very clear: 'We must not stain our legitimate struggle with terror,' he said.

"On Jerusalem, too, our media hurried to report that Abbas had demanded sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. Yet reading the text in Arabic, one discovers that the expression used by Abu Mazen refers to east Jerusalem, commonly referred to as the 'Arab side.' To make this even clearer, the call on Israel to return to the 1967 borders is an implicit recognition of Israel's sovereignty over west Jerusalem.

"The congress also endorsed the 2002 Arab [peace] initiative. Interestingly, but not known to every one, the initiative does not call for a right of return of the refugees. Here too, my humble advice to all the skeptics is to read the text as formulated. It clearly states that there should be a 'principled and agreed upon solution' for the refugee problem.

"Finding the dark side of things provides good pretexts to those who refuse progress."

("It's time to talk to Fatah," Colette Avital , The Jerusalem Post, 8/19/09. Avital is Director-General of the Berl Katznelson Center and International Secretary, Israel Labor Party; she is a Former Labor Knesset Member and former Israel Consul General in New York.)

2. Lafer international fellow Mohammad Yaghi of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (a leading centrist to center-right pro-Israel think-tank) concludes his analysis of the Fatah Sixth Congress which convened in Bethlehem during August, as follows: “Fatah renewed its commitment to achieve a peaceful settlement with Israel through negotiations, a departure from old principles that relied heavily on armed struggle.”

“The congress also sanctioned 'all legitimate forms of struggle while working toward peace and without limiting the option of peaceful negotiations,' noting that among the accepted forms of resistance are 'mobilizing popular resistance against settlements, boycotting Israeli products, escalating an international campaign to boycott Israel, and reactivating Fatah relations with the Israeli peace camp.' The political program makes very clear that armed struggle is not on the table at this time.

"Fatah, however, did not forswear violence as a future option. According to the PLO news agency WAFA, the congress issued a brief statement to this effect: 'While Fatah is clinging to the option of a just peace and is seeking to achieve it, it won't abandon any of its options. Fatah maintains its belief that resistance, in all its forms, is a legitimate right for occupied peoples facing their occupiers.' Some Fatah members immediately downplayed the statement, saying it was added in response to opposition parties that have accused Fatah of abandoning armed struggle.

"Salah Tamari, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council and former governor of Bethlehem, agrees: 'All calls for armed struggle are for publicity and election purposes.' Other credible sources commented that 'the calls for armed struggle drew too much giggling from the congress's members.' According to [Nabil] Shaath, although the program maintains the Palestinian right to all forms of resistance, it clearly states that resistance should be used within the boundaries of international law and only when all Palestinian factions approve it.”

(PolicyWatch #1569, Fatah Congress: Will New Resolutions Mean a New Direction?, By Mohammad Yaghi, August 14, 2009)

3. Ha’aretz Editorial: We do have a partner, 8/7/09:

“Fatah's new platform, and chairman Mahmoud Abbas' speech, won sweeping support from the more than 2,200 delegates who came from throughout the Palestinian Diaspora. From Bethlehem, they sent Jerusalem an unequivocal message: The Palestinian national movement's strategic choice is still two states for two peoples.

“Although Fatah's first convention in 20 years was held in the shadow of the Israeli occupation and an impasse in the peace process, the movement committed itself to the diplomatic option and the principles of the Arab peace initiative. Fatah formally distinguished itself from Hamas and joined the Arab and international consensus on a political solution - namely, the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a just solution to the refugee problem by agreement with Israel, on the basis of UN Resolution 194.

“It is only natural for Israel not to accept Fatah's platform, just as the Palestinian leadership objects to Likud's platform. But Fatah's approach to the peace process refutes the right-wing argument that ‘there is no Palestinian peace partner.’”

4. Eric Fingerhut, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, August 11, 2009: “In his speech to the conference…newly re-elected Fatah chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did stress that the Palestinians would focus on 'nonviolent' resistance….

“Nathan Brown, a political science and international affairs professor at George Washington University and an expert in Palestinian reform…said [the Fatah platform] should be viewed as akin to a U.S. political party platform that might contain some ‘red meat language’ to satisfy the political factions in a ‘large and diverse movement’ like Fatah but isn't necessarily followed by the party leaders.

“Brown said what was more important was whether the Fatah leaders elected at the assembly would form a ‘coherent’ organization dedicated to a diplomatic solution and whether they continue to ‘do what the Israelis want them to be doing’ on security and other issues…”

5. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that “the rhetoric we hear from the Fatah Congress and the stances taken there are unacceptable to us, but we need to realize that there is no solution for the Middle East but a [peace] agreement. I advise Abu Mazen to enter into serious negotiations with us, and I advise the Americans under the leadership of President Obama to lead a process such as this in the Middle East, including the Palestinians, Syria, and additional countries.” (Ynet, 8/9/09)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Myth: Arab states won’t agree to begin normalization with Israel in exchange for an Israeli settlement freeze, proving they don’t really want peace.

The Facts: 8/25/09: Heralding an impending announcement by the Obama administration of an Arab-Israeli deal for the renewal of peace talks, the Guardian reports that “Israel, in return for a deal on settlements, is seeking not only a tougher line over Iran but normalisation of relations with Arab states, such as overflight rights for its airline El Al, establishment of trade offices and embassies, and an end to the ban on travellers with Israeli stamps in their passports.

"Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Morocco have so far tentatively agreed.
Saudi Arabia has refused, saying Israel has had enough concessions. But the US is taking comfort from the fact that, crucially, Saudi Arabia has not tried to block other Arab states from signing up. 'They may come on board last, but they will come on board,' a European official said [of the Saudis]. A coalition of Arab states, thought to include the Saudis, has been in secret contact with Israel to discuss what they see as a common threat posed by Iran." (Barack Obama on brink of deal for Middle East peace talks, Guardian, 8/25/09)

8/14/09: “The United States told Israel last week that Gulf states Oman and Qatar are willing to renew their relations with Israel if it agrees to a moratorium on construction in the West Bank… Israel's embassy in Oman was shut down in 2001 after the outbreak of the second intifada. Qatar had an Israeli delegation office, which was also shut down.” (Oman, Qatar: We'll renew Israel ties if it freezes settlements, Ha’aretz, Aug. 14, 2009)

At the same time, press reports indicate that the Saudis are not inclined to show intermediate steps towards normalization with Israel in exchange for an Israeli settlement freeze. Instead, "Riyadh wants an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement to precede its Arab peace plan offer for normalization of relations between Israel and 23 Arab states."

8/19: Two prominent Israelis, Shai Feldman and Gilead Sher, write in “The grand bargain that is the Mideast’s best hope,” Financial Times, Aug. 18, 2009: “The reluctance of Saudi Arabia’s Prince al-Faisal to reward a partial Israeli move such as a settlement construction freeze is understandable given the distrust between Israel and its neighbours. The failure to end the conflict through interim stages has made all parties sceptical about such steps being more than temporary.

"Instead what is proposed here is that the Arab states engage Israel in an exercise in reverse engineering: announcing that once Israel reaches an agreement with the Palestinians on a permanent resolution of the dispute, the Arab states would reward Israel for every step it took towards implementing this vision.”

(Professor Shai Feldman is director of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University. Gilead Sher, one of Israel’s most prominent lawyers, was its chief negotiator and is author of Within Reach: The Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations 1999-2001).

8/3/09: "Saudi Arabia’s negative public comments, other officials said, bear little relation to what it is saying in private. Mr. Mitchell insisted he was getting a very different message in his private meetings with more than a dozen Arab leaders, including the Saudis. Many, he said, were ready to consider new measures.

"He declined to discuss what kinds of steps, but other officials said the United States was pushing for a package of measures ranging from Arab countries’ opening commercial offices in Tel Aviv to their leaders’ granting interviews to Israeli journalists. Another step would be getting Arab nations to allow Israel’s state carrier, El Al, to fly over Arab countries to cut flight times to Asia." (New York Times, 8/3/09, U.S. to Push Peace in Middle East Media Campaign)

Israel has not been willing to agree to a full settlement freeze as requested by the US and the international community, and as required by the Road Map, insisting that it will continue to build Jewish housing in Palestinian Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including those in heavily populated Palestinian areas which have no chance of becoming part of Israel under a future peace accord.


The Arab states are rightly skeptical that even if Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a partial freeze on settlement building, he will not agree to negotiate the establishment of a Palestinian state on fair terms. The Israeli press has reported that various people close to Netanyahu have said that he agreed to pay lip service to a two-state solution, but under terms that he knew the Palestinians and the Arab world would never accept. Netanyahu's long-standing opposition to a two-state solution, with a territorially contiguous Palestinan state in the West Bank and Gaza, makes such skepticism well-founded. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that Netanyahu has not inspired the kind of confidence and trust that would enable Arab leaders to begin an incremental process of normalization with Israel.

"Arab leaders are concerned that if they offer normalization, they will be embarrassed by new Israeli construction in Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, which the entire international community and the Arab world believe should become part of a Palestinian state: 'One of the main [reasons] Arabs are saying they can't go very far' in showing possible reciprocal gestures to Israel, said Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation, 'is, [they say], ‘what worries us most, will you guarantee that the Israelis won't embarrass us?'" Levy explained that Arab governments are afraid they will show reciprocal gestures only to have Al Jazeera showing pictures of new Jewish settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

"When Israel's new ambassador to Washington Michael Oren was at the State Department July 17 for a "getting to know you" session, State Department officials raised with him among other topics Washington's opposition to Israel having recently granted permission for a 20-year old plan for construction of 20 Jewish apartments at the site of the old Shepherd Hotel in a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem, JTA's Ron Kampeas reported.

"The Saudis could point to the planned Israeli construction in East Jerusalem as an example of the reason Arab states feel they could be publicly embarrassed if the United States doesn't get Israel to agree to a settlement freeze first, a Washington Middle East peace activist who asked to speak anonymously said. 'The Saudis could point to that and say, ‘President Obama, we believe you are serious; but until you have the Israelis under control, you can't expect us to act.'"

Still, some Arab leaders may agree to President Obama’s proposal to make some normalization gestures towards Israel in order to help foster a positive climate for the President’s push to renew negotiations for a comprehensive Arab-Israeli accommodation.

"A high-ranking Arab official quoted in the Asharq Al-Awsat report said that while Arab states 'will not reject the US request,' they intend to respond with certain conditions. First, he said, Arab states will wait to check that US moves bear fruit, especially in terms of bringing about a halt to settlement construction. He emphasized that normalization would only come after Israel ceases construction in the West Bank. Additionally, the official said that Arab states would push for Israel to improve living standards of West Bank Palestinians.

"The official went on to point out that in the last 15 years, many Arab states had improved trade and semi-diplomatic relations with Israel. The Arab stance, according to the official quoted by Asharq Al-Awsat, would not constitute a unified front, and individual states will be free to respond to US requests however they please. (Jerusalem Post, 7/30/09, “Normalization when construction stops).

Bahrain: "Last Sunday, Bahrain's Crown Prince Shaikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa called in the Washington Post for Arabs to talk to Israelis. 'Our biggest mistake has been to assume that you can simply switch peace on like a light bulb," al-Khalifa wrote. "The reality is that peace is a process, contingent on a good idea but also requiring a great deal of campaigning -- patiently and repeatedly targeting all relevant parties. This is where we as Arabs have not done enough to communicate directly with the people of Israel. [...] We must stop the small-minded waiting game in which each side refuses to budge until the other side makes the first move. We've got to be bigger than that. All sides need to take simultaneous, good-faith action if peace is to have a chance.'" Mitchell's planned visit to Bahrain this week would seem to indicate Washington's interest in exploring ways to advance the crown prince's call for simultaneous, good faith action.

Qatar, Tunisia, other Arab countries: "American officials have been approaching other Arab states who may be more amenable to such overtures. Israel and the United States have floated a variety of ideas: Qatar might reopen the Israeli trade office it shuttered in January to protest Israel's military offensive in Gaza. Tunisia and other countries might allow Israeli planes to use their airspace. Arab leaders also might grant interviews to Israeli journalists, an Israeli government idea that the crown prince of Bahrain publicly endorsed last week, saying that Arab nations should 'tell our story more directly to the Israeli people by getting the message out to their media.'"

Quotes from Laura Rozen, The Cable, Foreign Policy magazine blog, 7/27/09)