Sunday, April 19, 2009

Proactive foreign policy: Israel meeting the Obama challenge.


by Ami Isseroff


Those who feel Israel is threatened by the difference noises out of Washington should view them as a challenge and an opportunity rather than a threat. It can be an opportunity if Israel uses the positive aspects of the Obama administration policy and shows that it is willing to work for those aspects.

President Obama and the US administration insist they are intent on peace between Israelis and Palestinians. From Israel's point of view, from the Zionist point of view, peace has always been viewed as a good thing. Until the 1990s, Israel had the "patent" on wanting peace in the Middle East. Even the government of Menachem Begin was solidly pro-peace and made great sacrifices in fact, to achieve peace with Egypt. We must never allow Israel to maneuver itself into the position of the Arab states in 1948 or the Arab states at the Khartoum conference, telling the entire world they are opposed to peace, and we must never allow the Arab states and the Palestinians to usurp the historically pro-peace position of Israel.

The first thing that must be done is to remove a fictive bogey man. Israel has been allowing itself to be cast as a "bad guy" that opposes a two solution. Strictly speaking, that is not true. Avigdor Lieberman's by now infamous speech did not rule out a two state solution, despite media reports. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also refused to rule out a two state solution. A report in Maariv indicates Israel will accept the two state solution, That being the case, it would be simple to make a statement saying that the Israeli government is not opposed in principle to a two state solution, a fact that was implied in any case by the reiterated support of the Road Map and the relevant UN Resolution in Lieberman's speech. The statement is not forthcoming, one surmises, because of opposition at home. So the statement will be delayed, and will be exacted as a "concession" by the Obama administration.

More important than the irrelevant non-issue of the "two state" principle, is the question of how to conduct public and private negotiations. The Palestinians rightly negotiated based on principles, while the Olmert administration, for the most part, fiddled with maps. The Palestinians were then able to make clear and simple statements about their "rights" which sound good to sympathetic ears. The Palestinians have also been adept at mobilizing press support for their positions, which are not examined very closely and against Israeli positions. The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs isn't even in the game regarding media presence.

Those who wanted to believe that these statements of "right of return" "right to a capital in east Jerusalem" were not inimical to peace, could believe it. After all, the Palestinians did not say they would not recognize Israel. At least not officially. True, Mohamed Dahlan pointed out that the Fatah never recognized Israel. No major media will pay attention to this statement, whereas if a third assistant clerk in the Israeli foreign ministry says off the record that Israel doesn't want a two state solution, this "news" will appear on the front page of the New York Times. Saeb Erekat also quietly explained, once again, that the Palestinians are never going to accept any Jewish rights in the historic Jewish capital of "East" Jerusalem:

There will be no peace whatsoever unless East Jerusalem – with every single stone in it – becomes the capital of Palestine.

Since Israel doe not bother to publicize these remarks or to take issue with them, they become non-events. Reacting to outrageous statements, and ensuring that the world knows about them, should be a priority. In the best IDF tradition, carry the war to the enemy. Instead, the Israel government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs seem to be mired down in fending off attacks on its own position, and sometimes even in trying to figure out what its position is on matters of principle.

If the Israel Foreign Ministry and the Israel Foreign Minister were doing their jobs, Dahlan's statement would have provoked an immediate reaction. The

But the most important element of Israeli policy must be proactive. President Barack Obama handed
a huge foreign policy weapon, that has not been utilized to its full potential, because the Israel's Foreign Ministry is not set up to deal with that sort of thing properly. In Istanbul, Obama said:

“...I believe that peace in the Middle East is possible. I think it will be based on two states, side by side: a Palestinian state and a Jewish state”.

"Moderate" Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. From the beginning, that should have been the cornerstone of Israeli policy - Arabs, Palestinians included, must recognize the validity of the League of Nations British Mandate for Palestine and of UN General Assembly Resolution 181, both of which explicitly recognize the right of the Jewish people to self determination. After all, that is what the whole conflict is about. Once the Palestinians are will willing to accept international law, we can quibble about borders, refugees and other issues. President Obama's off-the-cuff remarks must be converted into a commitment by the United States to support the existence of Israel and its recognition by its Arab neighbors as the homeland of the Jewish people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already made a statement demanding that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Too bad that demand was not part of Avigdor Lieberman's speech. It will be remembered, also, that Ehud Olmert made a similar effort and then mysteriously dropped it. This issue has to be a centerpiece of Israeli policy, raised at every opportunity. not just a sound bite to be used when the occasion seems to call for it.

Similarly, though it is not a prior condition for negotiations, everyone should be made to understand that Israel will assert the historic rights of the Jewish people in "East Jerusalem." The Palestinians have been allowed to establish a historical "fact on the ground" by dint of repetition: They have convinced at least themselves, and perhaps much of the world, that they have a "right" to a capital in East Jerusalem, even though Jerusalem was never the capital of any Arab state, and was not even included in the Palestinian area in the 1947 partition plan. Jerusalem was always known as the ancient capital of Jewish people, and the old city had a large Jewish community until it was ethnically cleansed in pogroms beginning in 1920 and culminating in the expulsion of the remaining Jews by force by the Jordanian Legion in 1948. Absurdly, a sizeable part of world opinion now believes that somehow "East Jerusalem" ought to be the capital of an Arab state and that Israel and the Jews have no rights there.

On these bases, when it is clear what is is being negotiated and what the end of the process will be for Israel, and it is clear that the agreements will be kept at least by the Fatah lead Palestinian Authority, it makes sense to continue negotiations. If they have any intellectual honesty, even the most enthusiastic proponents of "Annapolis" in the USA and in the EU would have a hard time explaining why Israel has to negotiate and what is to be negotiated with a partner that declares that its constituent groups - containing the same personnel who do the negotiating - are not bound by any agreements, and that the end goal of the negotiations is to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. But we can hardly expect others to agree with this point of view if the Israel Foreign Ministry itself has not advanced it at every opportunity.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2009.


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