The peace treaties between Israel and Egypt are in danger as a result of the removal of President Mubarak by the Egyptian army, a coup that was urged by President Barack Obama. The treaty with Jordan is in danger.
Thanks to their courage and determination, five hundred thousand Jews in Israel were somehow victorious against 100 million Arabs. Some called it a miracle. The Israelis summed it up in the expression “Ein Breira (no other choice)”. Since 1948, every Arab state, except for Egypt and Jordan, continued in a state of war against Israel. In the two states that entered into a peace treaty with Israel, it has been a cold peace with the citizens of both countries continuing to boycott Israel, not visiting it and those who broke the visiting boycott being subject to condemnation and loss of professional licenses. Now 63 years later, 500,000 Jews have become almost six million, with 1.6 million Arab citizens of Israel. The surrounding Muslim states now far exceed 100 million.
The Muslim world has tried at least five times in wars against Israel — 1948, 1967, 1973 and the more recent wars with Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon — to destroy Israel and murder or expel its entire population.
The King of Jordan, King Abdullah, whose own country is populated by Palestinians who make up about 60 percent of the population, is himself in danger. Abdullah’s father, King Hussein slaughtered thousands of supporters of Yasser Arafat then in Jordan on Black Friday, driving many more out of Jordan who fled to Lebanon from where they threatened Israel until Israel drove them out. Throughout the intervening years, efforts have been made to have Israel and the Palestinians discuss the creation of a Palestinian state. A two-state solution, which every Israeli prime minister has supported, including Benjamin Netanyahu and which some Palestinians have supported with others still seeking the total annihilation of the Jewish state, e.g., Hamas, and others seeking not two states, but one state where the Muslims with their overwhelming birthrate advantage would become the majority in a future democratic election — which exists in Israel but nowhere else in the Arab world.
The question in all of the discussions on peace between the Israelis and Palestinians has revolved around three major controversial issues: Jerusalem, with the Palestinians demanding their capital be in that city; and demanding a return of all Palestinian refugees and their descendants now numbering 4.5 million to the state of Israel; and the lines of the new state.
The two pre-Netanyahu prime ministers offered to share the capital of Jerusalem, giving to the Palestinian state that part of East Jerusalem in which Muslims now live, retaining for Israel that part of East Jerusalem in which 250,000 Jews now live and retaining about 3 percent of the West Bank in which about 300,000 Jews live. And most critical, requiring all Palestinian refugees seeking to return to be resettled in the new state of Palestine. The Palestinian leaders, Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, turned down the offers on every occasion. Also, neither Arab leader has been willing to state that they would recognize Israel as a Jewish state — they having a Muslim state — if and when an agreement creating two states was entered into.
And that is the nub of the disagreement in my opinion. Palestinians and their Arab allies have no intention of ever accepting a Jewish state in their midst. Many in the Muslim world believe that every square inch of Israel belongs to Islam and will someday be theirs; they have no intention of accepting the existence of a Jewish state. At best, they will accept a temporary truce with an entity called Israel which they will whittle away at, later overwhelm and absorb in the future.
Of course there are those who support the state of Israel because they are Jews by birth or religion both in Israel and the U.S. who have constantly berated the Israeli government — those in the past and the current one — for not being more forthcoming to the Palestinians, and see the latter’s terror tactics as understandable. One of the latest being the killing of an entire Jewish family of three children and the parents, including an infant, done by two Palestinian youths from the West Bank, now apprehended; and the indiscriminate shelling of southern Israel by Hamas with rockets aimed at Jewish cities and even at a school bus recently killing a Jewish child. These Jews appear indifferent to the threats of Hamas to expel every Jew who entered the historic Palestine mandate after 1917. Some of the adherents to this indifference are part of the Jewish advocate group known as “ J Street.” I have no doubt some, had they lived in Nazi Germany, would have been among the Germans who said Hitler will change. He doesn’t really mean to carry out his threats to destroy us. Those German Jews learned at a terrible price that they were wrong, and that the world would sit by and allow Hitler using Adolf Eichmann to adopt and implement what became known as the Final Solution — the murder of all Jews. For some, perhaps the image of the Palestinians is that of Lawrence of Arabia and his Bedouin followers.
Do they recall or care that when Jordan occupied the old walled city of Jerusalem in 1948, it destroyed every synagogue in the Jewish quarter and removed Jewish gravestones, thousands of years old from the Mt. of Olives cemetery, using them to build latrines? Jordan held the West Bank and East Jerusalem for 19 years before the Six-Day War and never offered to create a Palestinian state, or a two-state solution
All of this is by way of historic background to the speech delivered by President Obama on May 19. Also as background is what happened in March of 2010 when President Obama displayed his hostility towards the Jewish state. He demanded that Israel cease all housing construction in East Jerusalem and on the West Bank in Jewish towns before talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority could proceed. Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to a ten-month settlement construction moratorium on the West Bank. Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State praised that action as “unprecedented.” Israel’s prime minister refused to stop building residences for Jews in any part of Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. President Obama then had the vice president Joe Biden — a great friend of Israel — make an extraordinarily harsh statement denouncing Israel, when on the previous day, he expressed his personal devotion to Israel, as well as the Obama administration’s “ironclad commitment to Israel’s security.”
Even more disheartening and threatening were the threats voiced by Hillary Clinton in a telephone conversation she had with the Prime Minister, described in The New York Times of March 12, 2010, saying Israel’s plan for new housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem sent a “deeply negative signal about Israeli-American relations.” And of course, we all recall how rudely the Prime Minister was received by the President at the White House.
There are those who will say how does President Obama’s reference to boundaries differ from that proposed by President Bush. Both referred to the 1967 lines, actually a reference to the original 1948 lines “with mutually agreed swaps.” President Bush added language referring to the facts on the ground. But even more important than the phrasing is the lack of trust.
Jews and Christian supporters of Israel in the U.S. and the Israeli people and their leaders trusted President Bush with respect to the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and believed they could rely on the U.S. should Israel be once again attacked by the Arab nations. Many people, myself included, believing in the two-state solution also believe Israel will be attacked again and, this time, Egypt may again be one of the attackers, as it was in 1973 before Sadat made peace with Israel. We do not have confidence that President Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security is truly “ironclad.”
Today we see the Egyptian army which is the government of Egypt deposing its President Mubarak, holding him in detention and threatening to put him on trial, joining with the Muslim Brotherhood. Many believe Sadat was killed by Egyptians aided by elements of the Egyptian army for having entered into a peace agreement with Israel. Egypt has also entered into closer relations with Iran which has said it will eliminate Israel from the face of the earth, presumably only awaiting its development of the nuclear bomb to achieve that.
What should President Obama have said to deal with these fears? He should have first said that Israel will only be called on to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority when Hamas now an equal partner with Fatah in the Palestinian governing authority agrees to three conditions, which the U.S. and the European Union have already stated on prior occasions, is required for them to recognize Hamas. They are, one, that Hamas accepts the existence and legitimacy of the state of Israel; two, that Hamas renounce the use of violence against Israel, and, three, that Hamas accepts all prior agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The U.S. policy has been that it will not recognize Hamas as a legitimate force unless it performs all three conditions. Further, President Obama should have required of the Palestinian Authority a public commitment stated in English, Arabic and Hebrew that upon conclusion of peace negotiations and the signing of a peace agreement, the Palestinian Authority will state it recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, which it has continually refused to do.
Why is Obama’s reference to mutually agreed swaps of land (exchanges) not adequate? Because the Palestine Authority, particularly Hamas, is likely to refuse to agree to any exchange. Is that credible? Indeed, President Sadat when getting back the Sinai in the peace treaty with Israel was asked to allow the new Israeli city of Yamit built on the border, but in Sinai refused, declining any exchange of land and Israel had to agree, the treaty being more important.
President Obama asking Israel to negotiate with Hamas, which seeks its total destruction, set forth in its basic covenant as important in the operation of its government in Gaza as are the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to the American people, would be akin to F.D.R. telling Winston Churchill that he had to, in World War II before we entered that war, negotiate a settlement with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
On leaving a movie theater over the weekend, a young African-American man about 40 years old who noticed I looked weary, asked if I would like to use the wall in front of which he stood to lean against. I declined with thanks and we struck up a conversation. He said, “What did you think of President Obama’s speech?” I said, “I didn’t like the part on Israel.” He said, “Oh, that’s too bad. I think he really likes Jews.” I said, “I don’t believe he is anti-Semitic, but I do believe he favors a better relationship with the Muslim countries, even if it is at Israel’s expense.”
If President Obama does not change his position, I cannot vote for his re-election. I’ve already made clear I won’t vote for some crazy who urges we jettison Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as federal programs. I can stay home.
President Obama’s efforts to reassure supporters of Israel, at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on May 22 did not reassure me. Those assurances reported by the Times today “that the United States commitment to Israel’s long term security was ironclad,” rings hollow, knowing iron breaks and was broken back in March 2010.
Adding to the lack of credibility on this issue of secure borders is what Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator said, reported in today’s Times, “I am waiting to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu. Does he accept the doctrine of two states on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps or not? (emphasis added). Before we hear that acceptance, we are just grinding water.” And, he is Fatah. Imagine the response of Hamas.
President Obama’s remarks have lifted up the spirits of Palestinians, who now believe he has given them the upper hand. Supporters of Israel, Jews and Christians, Democrats and Republicans, now is the time to make your positions known. Members of Congress, you are not potted plants. Let the President know you disagree with him. We must stand strong for Israel in this time of danger.
Edward I. Koch, who served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, is a partner in the law firm of Bryan Cave.