The issues in all of the discussions on peace between the Israelis and Palestinians have revolved around three major controversial matters: Jerusalem, with the Palestinians demanding their capital be in that city; and demanding a return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants now numbering 4.5 million to the state of Israel; and the lines of the new state.
The two pre-Netanyahu prime ministers offered to share the capital of Jerusalem, giving to the Palestinian state that part of East Jerusalem in which Muslims now live, retaining for Israel that part of East Jerusalem in which 250,000 Jews now live and retaining about 3 percent of the West Bank in which about 300,000 Jews live. And most critical, requiring all Palestinian refugees seeking to return to be resettled in the new state of Palestine. The Palestinian leaders, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, turned down the offers on every occasion. Also, neither Arab leader has been willing to state that they would recognize Israel as a Jewish state – they having a Muslim state – if and when an agreement creating two states was entered into.
And that is the nub of the disagreement in my opinion. In my opinion, Palestinians and their Arab allies have no intention of ever accepting a Jewish state in their midst. Many in the Muslim world believe that every square inch of Israel belongs to Islam and will someday be theirs; they have no intention of accepting the existence of a Jewish state. At best, they will accept a temporary truce with an entity called Israel which they will whittle away at, later overwhelm and absorb in the future.
There are those who will say how does President Obama’s reference to boundaries in his statement of May 19, 2011 differ from that proposed by President Bush. Both referred to the 1967 lines. President Bush added language referring to the facts on the ground, a reference to the 250,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem and 300,000 living on the West Bank. As The Times of January 11, 2008 reported, “By endorsing compensation for refugees, Mr. Bush sided, at least indirectly, with an Israeli view that the return of Palestinians to Israel was unacceptable since it would change the identity of Israel as a Jewish state. Similarly, he endorsed the notion of Israel as ‘a homeland for the Jewish people,’ and ‘Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people.’”
But even more important than the phrasing is the lack of trust. Jews and Christian supporters of Israel in the U.S. and the Israeli people and their leaders trusted President Bush with respect to the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and believed they could rely on the U.S. should Israel be once again attacked by the Arab nations. They do not have confidence in President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security.
What should President Obama have said to deal with these fears? He should have first said that Israel will only be called on to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority when Hamas now an equal partner with Fatah in the Palestinian governing authority agrees to three conditions required by the Quartet. The Quartet, made up of the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia, has stated that for Hamas to gain international legitimacy, it must: one, recognize the right of Israel to exist; two, renounce the use of terrorism and violence; and three, accept all prior agreements and obligations, including the roadmap. Further, President Obama should have required of the Palestinian Authority a public commitment stated in English, Arabic and Hebrew that upon conclusion of peace negotiations and the signing of a peace agreement, the Palestinian Authority will state it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, which it has continually refused to do.
If President Obama does not change his position, I cannot vote for his reelection. I’ve already made clear I won’t vote for some crazy who urges we jettison Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as federal programs. I can stay home.
President Obama’s efforts to reassure supporters of Israel, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on May 22 did not reassure me. Those assurances reported by the Times “that the United States commitment to Israel’s long term security was ironclad,” rings hollow, knowing iron breaks and was broken back in March 2010.
Adding to the lack of credibility of the process urged by President Obama on this issue of secure borders is what Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator said, reported in the Times, “I am waiting to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Does he accept the doctrine of two states on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps or not?” I believe the Palestinian Authority with Hamas in the lead will not swap so as to accommodate the continuation on the West Bank of 300,000 Jews.
President Obama’s remarks have lifted up the spirits of Palestinians, who now believe he has given them the upper hand. Supporters of Israel, Jews and Christians, Democrats and Republicans, now is the time to make your positions known. Members of Congress, you are not potted plants. Let the President know you disagree with him. We must stand strong for Israel in this time of great danger.
The Honorable Edward Irving Koch served New York City as its 105th Mayor from 1978 to 1989.