by Ari Lieberman
The key steps the next president must take to undo nearly a decade of damage to U.S.-Israel relations.
It is no secret that the U.S.-Israel alliance has been under a severe strain for the last eight years, principally due to the non-friendly and often hostile positions of the Obama administration. The United States and Israel have had their differences under previous administrations and, at times, there were sharp disagreements but they rarely made it to the front pages. This is because leaders of both nations understood that disagreements, to the extent that they existed, were best addressed behind closed doors and away from prying eyes.
Obama changed all that during his first year in office with his infamous apology tour when he went to the Mideast to visit various Muslim countries to apologize for contrived wrongs and deliberately skipped over Israel despite the fact that he was a mere 20-minute plane ride away. It was a spiteful snub designed to show the Israelis and Arabs that Obama intended to fundamentally change the nature and dynamic of the U.S.-Israel alliance. The snub was followed by additional indignities including shabby treatment by the Obama White House of visiting Israeli dignitaries and guttural name-calling by anonymous White House aides. The person (likely Ben Rhodes) responsible for hurling the “Chicken-sh*t” vulgarity was never disciplined.
Obama’s plan to realign America’s alliances backfired miserably. He expected Israel to grovel but under the steady stewardship of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel did not cave into the pressure. Instead, Israel sought new alliances forging strong bonds with India, Africa, the Balkan countries and various eastern European countries. Relations also warmed between nations harboring traditional enmity toward Israel, like Russia and China.
By contrast, the Muslim world spiraled further into medieval backwardness. Arab nations that were spared the chaos brought upon by the so-called “Arab Spring” sought new alliances. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf nations watched as a feckless Obama appeased the Islamic Republic and allowed the mullahs to run amok and have their way. They too moved closer to Israel as a result.
The next president will be presented with daunting Mideast challenges. ISIS, the catastrophic Iran deal, Iran’s regional meddling and the Muslim migrant crisis. The list seems endless but there is one thing the next president can and must address upon assuming office and that is to reset the U.S.-Israel alliance. These two great democracies share ethical values and strategic interests, and the alliance must be strengthened for the sake of regional stability and moral clarity.
The first thing the U.S. must do is move to recognize Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights. The Golan was liberated by Israel from Syria during the 1967 Six-Day War. Prior to its liberation, the strategic Golan Heights served as a platform for Syrian bombardment of Israeli communities in Galilee. The area is sparsely inhabited by roughly 20,000 Jews and 18,000 Druze. Many of the Druze, who were formerly citizens of Syria, accepted Israeli citizenship and the number of those accepting Israeli citizenship continues to rise.
Syria is no longer a sovereign nation in any sense. The area formerly known as Syria has been Balkanized. Assad is a mere puppet of Iran and his army has been reduced to a mere 50,000. Iran, with the help of its mercenary forces, including Hezbollah and the remnants of Assad’s army, controls much of western Syria, on a north-south axis. The Kurds control much of northern Syria. ISIS controls large swaths of eastern Syria while a smattering of Islamist and other Sunni militias control pockets in between. No one in their right mind seriously believes that Israel will ever hand over the Golan to Assad, ISIS or the Iranians. In sum, Syria is a mess and the realities of the situation dictate that the Golan Heights should remain Israeli. It is incumbent upon the United States to come to terms with this fact.
The second thing the next president must do is to comply with existing congressional legislation mandating that the U.S. embassy be moved to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem. The U.S. embassy is currently and irrationally situated in Tel Aviv. In 1995 and again in 2002, congressional legislation directed the president to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Every 6 months, the executive branch exercises a waiver which enables it to legally circumvent the law. The official U.S. policy is that the ultimate status of Jerusalem is to be determined by the parties to the conflict. This strange and counter-productive policy has at times led to bizarre and comical exchanges between members of the press corps and government officials with the latter unable to name Israel’s capital city.
It is time to put an end to this charade. In 1948, Israel secured the newer western portion of the city while the Jordanians seized and occupied the eastern portion. The Jordanian occupation, which lasted for 19 grueling years, could best be characterized as cruel and inhumane. Jews were ethnically cleansed from places where they lived for generations. Jewish institutions in the eastern portion were dynamited or turned into garbage dumps. Even Jewish cemeteries were not immune from Muslim cruelty. Headstones in the ancient Mount of Olives cemetery were used as paving stones and to build latrines for the Jordanian legion. Christians didn’t fare much better. During the Jordanian occupation, the Christian population was halved.
The Six-Day war brought an end to the inhumanity. Israeli forces liberated the eastern part of the city and unified it with the west. Jerusalem has always been central to Jews and Judaism. It is the site of both the first and second temples and was designated the capital city under two Israelite commonwealths. Under Israeli rule, the city is now a thriving metropolis where all faiths are free to worship as they please but it was rendered a backwater when under Ottoman Turk and then Jordanian occupation.
Any move to recognize Jerusalem – any part of Jerusalem -- as Israel’s capital would naturally meet with hysterical protest from the Muslim world. An attempt to mute that protest by placing the embassy in the western half of the city – a relatively benign action – would meet with the same frenzied outcry.
Half-hearted attempts to satisfy everyone will end up pleasing no one. The U.S. action with respect to the embassy relocation must therefore be resolute and unequivocal. Therefore, the ideal location for the future embassy would be along the imaginary dividing line, between the eastern and western sides of the city. This would send a clear message to all parties that the United States recognizes all of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel. It is the moral and correct thing to do. Other friendly nations would quickly follow suit. As for the Arab protests…well, let them protest.
Lastly, the next president should recognize that Judea and Samaria (commonly referred to as the West Bank) are territories that are disputed, not “occupied,” and that the so-called settlements (a pejorative term meant to denigrate thriving communities) are legal under international law.
An announcement of this nature would not be without precedent. During his term, Ronald Reagan noted that he did not believe that settlements were illegal and George W. Bush gave implicit recognition to the legitimacy of settlements when he unequivocally stated that, “In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949…”
Jews have been residing in Judea and Samaria long before the first Muslim colonizer set foot in the Land of Israel. This inconvenient truth has not prevented the Palestinian president for life, Mahmoud Abbas, from boorishly declaring that “In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands.” Israel’s fascist critics are quick to obscenely label Israel as an “Apartheid state” but the reality is that it is the Palestinian Arabs who practice Apartheid in both word and deed. They will not be satisfied until every last non-Muslim is ethnically cleansed from what they consider to be “Muslim soil.”
A famous and common Muslim chant during the years leading up to the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict was “first Saturday then Sunday,” an ominous reference to finishing off the Christians after dealing with the Jews. That hateful and xenophobic expression resonates in today’s Middle East. Following the expulsion of 1,000,000 Jews from Muslim lands, the Arabs turned their unwanted attentions to other minorities including Christians, Kurds and Yazidis.
It is undisputed that Obama has had a deleterious effect on the U.S.-Israel alliance and has placed it under enormous strain. Even members of his own party have had to rein him in from time to time. The alliance nevertheless endured despite his best efforts to sabotage it. Let’s hope that the next president, whoever that may be, works to improve relations between natural allies facing common enemies. Implementing these recommendations would instantly reverse the damage inflicted by Obama during the past eight years and would send the right signals to the enemies of democracy.
Ari Lieberman is an attorney and former prosecutor who has authored numerous articles and publications on matters concerning the Middle East and is considered an authority on geo-political and military developments affecting the region.
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