In his long-awaited address to the Muslim world in Cairo on Thursday, President Obama spoke hopefully about “A world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own.” Ironically, the speech is likely to prolong – not hasten – the arrival date for this new world order.
It was heartening to hear the President describe America as a place where all are equal under the law, and where all, including Muslims, can prosper in freedom and work to achieve their dreams. Republicans should credit him for reaching out to Arabs and Muslims around the world. But on the topic of fostering Mideast peace, we wish he hadn’t tried to ingratiate himself with the Arabs at our democratic ally Israel’s expense.
Once again, President Obama painted the “natural growth” of Israeli “settlements” in the West Bank as a main stumbling block that “undermines efforts to achieve peace.” This for the most part is a gratuitous fight. The natural growth in question takes place in confined Jewish population blocks that will undoubtedly be a part of Israel once a two-state solution is implemented (based on the precedents set in the peace offering at Camp David in 2000 and later by the Bush Administration). Should the Israelis not be allowed to maintain an adequate infrastructure to accommodate their growing population within those communities? Why the outrage?
President Obama’s comments on such building activity may sound innocuous to the casual observer. In reality, they are anything but.
With the whole world watching, President Obama confirmed that he is willing to squeeze the Israelis without getting anything in return from the Palestinians. This is devastating for peace prospects. It gives the Palestinian Authority incentive to double down on their strategy to wait on the sidelines rather than step up and honor their obligations under the Road Map.
Entertaining illusions that the natural growth of Israeli West Bank communities bears significant responsibility for the conflict is an exercise in self-deception. The root of the problem is the recalcitrance of the Arab people, whether in Gaza or in the West Bank or in Cairo, to accept that the Jews have a right to live in their historical homeland. Israeli governments have always proven ready to make the necessary sacrifices assuming there is a reasonable chance for peace.
Unfortunately, since 1948 Israel has never had that peace partner. A sustainable peace will only come when a Palestinian leadership steps forward that recognizes Israel’s right to exist, moves forcefully against the terrorist infrastructure in its midst and builds a functioning civil society.
This was the lesson of the Gaza “disengagement” four years ago. In an effort to kick-start the peace process, Israel unilaterally withdrew its military and all of its citizens from the Gaza Strip. The move didn’t engender any of the good will the international community had hoped for, largely because ineffective Palestinian leadership squandered the opportunity.
Instead, terrorists used the evacuated Jewish communities to fire thousands of deadly rockets and mortars into southern Israel. In July 2007, the terrorist group Hamas ruthlessly expelled Fatah from the territory and stepped up its cross-border attacks on Israel. The attacks continue to this day.
If the administration truly wants to bring about Mideast peace, it should be doing everything in its power to goad responsible Palestinian leadership along. Far too often the Fatah Party in control of the West Bank has shown itself to be corrupt and unable to police its own territory. With President Obama turning the world’s gaze back onto Israel, don’t expect that to change.
The President tried to make history by taking his message to Muslims into the heart of the Arab world. We can only hope it will have a positive impact. But on the issue of Mideast peace, his dance around the true source of the problem will only make genuine peace more elusive.
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“Arise and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Winston Churchill