Containment is the key

Israel can allow the US to mediate, but must prevent it from forcing a dangerous deal with the Palestinians

Obama's Speech521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Obama's Speech521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
It is no surprise that the general public greeted US President Barack Obama enthusiastically on his first visit here as president. But, while many citizens were breathless, gushing over the visit, others were less enthusiastic, skeptical of the reasons for which he came and suspicious of his motives.
Since numerous experts agree at this point that the “peace process” is no longer and chances of a brokered agreement are too far off, Israel must now manage, or contain, both the Palestinians and the US.
Like many other world leaders, it is clear that Obama’s sentiments do not lie solely with the Jewish people.
And this does not come as a surprise. As leader of the free world, Obama has massive domestic concerns, is focused on an increasingly dangerous North Korea, needs to worry about the US relationship with Arab countries, needs to keep a close watch on a collapsing Syria and an even closer watch on Iran’s effort to achieve nuclear capability (which, believable or not, he has promised to prevent – not contain).
The US State Department has historically been pro- Arab, so Obama’s views (influenced heavily by advisers who have never been considered friendly toward Israel) are naturally similar.
Numerous commentators have analyzed his speech to the students in Jerusalem and pored over every word, but it was probably the writer who said that Obama gave a left-wing Zionist speech who was closest to being correct.
Of the Palestinians, Obama said to the young Israeli students, “Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes.”
This sentence summed up the entire speech.
Though Obama emphasized the deep bonds between our two countries and clarified that the US will always stand for Israel’s security, his plea to Israelis to understand the Palestinian perspective – after all the pain and suffering we have been through – was insulting. He did not make the same plea to understand the Israeli point of view when speaking to the Palestinians.
Israelis don’t need the Palestinian perspective to understand the gravity of the situation. Israelis see enough from their perspective and what they see is intransigence and another effort to destroy them as a nation.
For years, Israel has tried to achieve what Obama is insisting it pursue. Obama should have told the Palestinians to view their situation from their own perspective and not the European perspective. They need to be told to look at themselves – not from the perspective of the Arab world which, even with a recent pledge of $1 billion “to preserve east Jerusalem’s Arab character”, cares little about them.
Palestinians need to self-reflect out of concern for their own future and their real potential to gain independence if they work with Israel instead of fighting it.
SO EVEN when the US president promises “atem lo levad,” Israel cannot breathe a sigh of relief. And Netanyahu emphasized this in his joint press conference with the president when he thanked Obama for understanding Israel’s need to protect itself, by itself.
Ultimately, Israel will need to resolve the Palestinian issue on its own without outside help. The 2001 negotiations in Taba during the Clinton presidency offered the Palestinians east Jerusalem, an end to an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, 97% of the West Bank and 100% of Gaza.
The Palestinians likened the deal to the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916, which they felt was biased against them. It is obvious to Israel and not so obvious to the EU and the US that this issue is not about land, and if left to their own vices, the Palestinians – now with the help of Arab countries – would seek to destroy Israel.
As Asher Susser writes in Israel, Jordan and Palestine: The Two-State Imperative, an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians “would not be peace in the full sense and would not formally end the conflict either.
In essence, it would be more akin to a hudna, an armistice, that would last as long as the parties had an interest in its preservation.”
BUT OBAMA did try and Israel was glad to offer him the chance. It is no coincidence that, surrounding Obama’s visit, Jordan’s King Abdullah II announced a repair in his relationship with Netanyahu and Turkey’s relationship with Israel is on the mend.
Both announcements improve Obama’s image and lend credibility to his peacemaking skills.
Israel needs as many friends (or as few enemies) as it can have in this hostile region, and with Syria in shambles and Egypt undergoing revolution aftershocks, it is important to forge and cement relationships with the leader of any country willing to extend a hand.
One can argue about whether or not Israel’s apology to Turkey was justified, but the fact is Israel needs to swallow hard and move forward. If it can’t move forward with Turkey it won’t be able to convince anyone that it can make progress with the Palestinians – even if at the end of the day Israel knows that containment at this point is the only viable option.
In Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace, authors Laura Zittrain Eisenberg and Neil Caplan correctly assert that “leaders are correct in seeing through the disingenuous motives of their counterparts and wise in acting to protect their people from a dubious ‘peace partner’ rather than risk a potentially dangerous deal.”
For now, Israel needs to apply a policy of containment toward the US, allowing it to mediate, but preventing it from pushing Israel to relinquish everything without a guarantee of security forever. ■