So I am back in the States, looking back at the wonderful education from Israel’s Foreign Ministry’s diplomats on the goings-on in the Middle East. Then once I land, the news hit: Obama threatens Israeli security and Netanyahu is offended.
I don’t believe it.
President Obama articulated what has been the long-standing basis for discussions since the Declaration of Principles signed by Arafat and PM Rabin, z”l. The borders of a future Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement will NOT be, by anyone’s account, the same borders of pre-1967. There is a clear difference between Israeli territory, annexed and developed, like Gilo (where I stood just a few days ago) and the far-flung settlements in the West Bank. The Palestinians, too, have accepted the principle of settlement blocs going to the State of Israel. (Settlement blocs are large pieces of land acquired and heavily populated by Israel in the West Bank not far from Jerusalem.) Nevertheless, the Palestinian leadership diminishes any opportunity for trust when they cannot acknowledge that a Jewish State is going to remain strong and secure as their neighbor. (The alliance between Hamas, a sanctioned terrorist organization and Fatah, the leading party in the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, is just another example of challenges facing a genuine peace process.)
President Obama articulated a message that the basis for discussions was going to be the 1967 border, but his speech to AIPAC’s Policy Conference clearly distinguished that he was not advocating a return to the borders before the Sid Day War in 1967.
My observation: The press blew it out of proportion, as usual, to get a good sound byte.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, a right of center Likud leader, needed to respond to such allegations that were being reported. And while he is speaking in English, don’t think for a second he is speaking to Americans. He is speaking to his own Israeli citizens, reassuring them that their leadership is devoted to a real commitment to security and an authentic peace process.
There is something else to share that exists beyond the headlines: The diplomats that I met with last week in Israel’s Foreign Ministry made it very clear — Israel has not has such a strong partner in an American President in decades. One diplomat after another shared how there is more cooperation on security and diplomatic levels between the United States and Israel now than ever before. Every week, there is a high-ranking representative from the Foreign Ministry or our State Department visiting the other country since the Obama Administration started. (Sentiments that Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, has often shared in meetings with America’s rabbis.) Now of course, this isn’t only because of a strong bond between Israel and America. It is also in the United States’ interest to cooperate and collaborate with Israel on Iran and keeping a strong democracy in the Middle East. (See Michael Oren’s article on Israel as America’s greatest ally.)
My conclusion: The relationship between Israel and the United States is as strong as ever. In order to have a deeper appreciation of the situation, you need to be able to see a bigger picture beyond sound bytes and find a wide range of sources to see the real issues.
Personally, I was deeply impressed with the press conference between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu. The spoke thoughtfully, respectfully, and constructively about America’s relationship with Israel, Israel’s need for security, and the direction of the Palestinian leadership.
To help clarify some points of weakness in President Obama’s speeches, however, I thought I would share a couple of worthwhile resources. Further, I think it is helpful to see a few “official” sources, not just others’ opinions and commentaries.
Read Ha’aretz, one of Israel’s leading newspapers, especially the articles: “Obama: Unilateral Recognition of Palestine, Worthless without peace talks” and “Netanyahu: Claims of disagreement with Obama are ‘blown out of proportion’”
Alan Dershowitz, “President Obama’s Mistake” in The Huffington Post.
Yossi Klein Halevi, “Yes, We Can’t” in The New Republic.
Official Israeli Perspectives from The Embassy of Israel to the United States. You can also visit the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast (this is Atlanta’s Consul). Both of these websites have Facebook pages and ways to subscribe to updates for accurate information.
May there be peace in the Land of Israel…speedily and soon.