A strong, secure Jewish State of Israel, supported by the United States as a close ally, has been a central feature of my public and private careers.
I fervently believe President Obama’s course is essential to achieve the hopes I have for Israel’s future in the 21st century and beyond — notwithstanding the recent controversy over the president’s remarks about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and differences over Israeli settlement expansion.
First, the Obama administration has generated unprecedented international pressure to confront Iran, Israel’s most dangerous security threat. President Obama is determined in word and deed to “prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”
The president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have orchestrated increasingly biting multilateral sanctions through the UN Security Council, winning support even from Russia and China; strengthened them with comprehensive U.S. sanctions aimed at Iran’s financial sector; and obtained European Union support for similar sanctions.
The administration also has taken on Islamic terrorism more generally, from gravely weakening Al Qaida with relentless drone attacks and the killing of Osama bin Laden to providing vast financial and military support to help governments throughout the Middle East and North Africa combat radicalism.
Second, with bipartisan cooperation from Congress, the president has placed the military relationship with Israel at an all-time high. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recognized this in his recent speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, saying that “Our security cooperation is unprecedented” and noting that the president “has backed those words up with deeds.”
Despite the most difficult federal budget challenge in our lifetime, Israel’s military assistance has increased to the historic high of $3 billion. The Obama administration has assured that Israel will maintain a qualitative advantage in the region by providing an additional $205 million to help produce an Israeli-developed short-range rocket defense system, Iron Dome, which already has intercepted rockets from Gaza and saved Israeli lives.
Third, the administration has taken head-on the insidious campaign to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state. Obama is the first president to repeatedly refer to Israel as the “Jewish State of Israel.” “Efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States,” he told the UN General Assembly.
The president withdrew U.S. participation in the Durban Review Conference in Geneva in 2009 because of its anti-Israel agenda. And the administration strongly opposed the Goldstone report following the Gaza War.
Critics of the president’s remarks on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process failed to listen to what the president said. His May 19 speech on the Arab Spring and his May 22 AIPAC speech are bookends that should be reassuring to Israeli supporters and are distinctly in Israel’s best interests.
The president was not only trying to reignite the stalled peace process, but also to head off a serious looming danger to Israel: a unilateral declaration by the UN General Assembly in September recognizing Palestinian statehood within pre-1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state and the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees.
By giving the Europeans and the G-8 members an alternative, the president’s approach gives him leverage to urge them to join him in voting against the UN resolution.
Israel is politically isolated because of its government’s policies on Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Without this initiative — and in the absence of a concrete Israeli proposal — the chances of heading off the UN vote or diminishing its support would have been nil.
We must focus on what President Obama said and what he did not say. He emphasized that peace could not be imposed on Israel and that Israel should not be expected to negotiate with Hamas so long as it is committed to Israel’s destruction. He stated point blank that “No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state,” and that any final agreement must assure that Israel can “defend itself — by itself — against any threat.” He said that the withdrawal of Israel’s military forces from the West Bank should occur only when the Palestinians can demonstrate their capacity to keep the peace, and that a Palestinian state should be “non-militarized.”
Importantly, he stressed that the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees should be left to later — after negotiations on principles that satisfy both sides.
Finally, he said that the Palestinians must accept “Israel as a Jewish state and homeland for the Jewish people.” No American president has provided these assurances.
What he did not say was that Israel should be required to withdraw to pre-1967 borders — quite the contrary. President Obama stated clearly that negotiations should be based on “the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.”
This is essentially the position that both former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert took in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
As the president stressed at AIPAC, this means “by definition” that the “parties themselves — Israelis and Palestinians — will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed” before the Six-Day War in June 1967. That will allow the “parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place for the last 44 years,” he said, referring to Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Lost in the fog of an unnecessary controversy is the fact that continued expansion of settlements does not strengthen Israel’s security; it isolates Israel and makes a two-state solution more difficult.
Two states for two peoples, with as much separation as possible, is essential for Israel’s well-being. When the president said that only a viable two-state solution with Israel within internationally recognized secure borders will enable Israel to remain a majority Jewish, democratic state, the president spoke for me. I believe he spoke for millions of Israelis, too; a recent poll by Israel’s daily Ma’ariv showed that 57 percent of Israelis accept Obama’s principles.
It’s time for the American-Jewish community, and supporters of Israel in the United States and around the world, to recognize that President Obama’s broad principles — apparently accepted by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, in a recent speech in Washington — provide the key to a safe and secure Jewish state.
This essay was provided by JTA.