Time for a change in US Mideast strategy

America has never insisted that recognition of Israel’s right to exist be advanced as an independent demand.

By KENNETH J. BIALKIN
February 16, 2010 22:10
US President Barack Obama.

Obama serious 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Why has there been no progress in the Mideast peace process? The time has come to recognize that there has always been an unspoken issue that might be described as the “elephant in the room”: that Arab countries have never recognized Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Israel has always made it clear that any peace agreement must include a clear recognition and acceptance of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state in the region.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has even presented that issue as a precondition. He has also made it clear that his government joins previous Israeli governments in accepting a Palestinian state, which would include arrangements to protect Israel’s security concerns.

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The Obama administration is widely perceived as favoring the Palestinian side in seeking unilateral concessions from Israel. In taking this position, the administration is not deviating from the policy orientations established by the US State Department since 1948.

Since the 1967 Arab declaration in Khartoum of “no recognition, no negotiation and no peace,” neither the United Nations, the international community nor even the US has ever demanded unequivocal acceptance by the Arabs to recognize and live in peace with Israel. While the US has advocated that the Arabs accept and make peace with Israel, it has never insisted that recognition and acceptance of Israel’s right to exist be advanced as an independent demand, as it has done, for example, with demands on Israel to freeze settlements in advance of the conclusion of an end to the conflict.

A peace process that rests on Israel’s unilateral concessions is doomed to fail unless and until the world also demands that the Arab world recognizes that the Arab-Israel conflict can be resolved only if and when Israel’s legitimacy and sovereignty is openly recognized and accepted.

THE ARAB world must come to recognize that the Jewish claim to a state and for land and recognition did not begin in the 20th century and is not simply compensation for the suffering of the Holocaust. The Jewish claim to land and recognition derives from biblical days, and while it has ebbed and flowed, it has never flickered out or died. It has persevered through the creation and universal reverence of the Bible. The revival of Zionism more than 100 years ago is a part of that history and its legitimacy lies in the continuous belief and aspirations of the Jewish people.

There are many reasons why a correction of strategy has a good chance to produce peaceful settlement for the true benefit of Israel and the Arab world. Peace is not a zero-sum game where there can be only one winner and loser. The failure to convince the Arab world to accept Israel in friendship and peace, and to put an end to the conflict and the state of war, means the conflict will continue until resolved in battle.

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The centerpiece of the new strategy would now include in the mix of basic premises of the peace process that the Palestinians and the Arab world accept an end of the conflict and recognize the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state where all its citizens may enjoy equal rights under law. This formulation will not diminish the present right of every Jew to acquire Israeli citizenship.

Israel has shown a willingness for major concessions under circumstances of a full peace. It has also shown a resolute unwillingness for such concessions in the absence of real peace. Experience has become Israel’s guiding principle, and its experience with concessions has not been good.

The consequences of maintenance of the status quo may be briefly considered:

• Continuation of historical trends in economic and social development. Despite the absence of peace Israel has produced miracles in economic growth that continues at robust rates. Progress in education, human rights, social services and quality of life compare favorably with the leading international exemplars of progress. In contrast, the trends for the Palestinians and most Arab states suggest greater regression, decline and turmoil, with no basis to expect change. That gap must be expected to grow.

• Failure of Palestinian progress in self-government and the responsibility of sovereignty. The failure of the Palestine Authority to develop a democratic process to achieve governmental stability raises doubts of whether it can fulfill the obligations of every government to establish order and tranquility for its citizens and stable and peaceful relations with its neighbors.

• Growing threat of terrorism. It is a sad fact that the consequences of Islamic terror fall most heavily on other Muslims. Failure to take steps necessary to counteract continued terrorism will delay the prospect of progress for the Palestinians, and indeed for the Arab world.

WHAT ARE the reasons for hope that the current prospects for peace are better than in recent years?

The peace treaties signed by Egypt and Jordan demonstrate that leading elements of the Arab world can show the courage to accept Israel as a sovereign neighbor. Most Arab countries are cooperating partners with international intelligence services in the struggle against Islamic terror and that cooperation is reported to be strengthening in many areas. The prospect that Iran may become a nuclear power has roiled the Sunni Arab world to the point that many Arab countries would be relieved if Iran could be prevented from fulfillment of its nuclear aspirations.

It is an open secret that some Arab countries maintain contacts with Israel that involve commercial, social, intellectual, medical, educational or strategic interests.

The most important reason for change in strategy is that history and the march of time make it the right thing to do. For too long, Israel’s right to be recognized and accepted by the Arab world has been ignored by the international community. The UN should be ashamed that each year it countenances General Assembly resolutions advocating the expulsion of a member state and similar outrages by states whose societies deny their own citizens fundamental human rights.

The US should lead the UN and the international community to correct the long-term injustice and lack of respect for the legitimacy of the state of Israel and the historical contributions of the Jewish people.

The writer, a corporate attorney, is former chair of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations and numerous other national and local Jewish groups.

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