Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany — President Obama appears to have joined the Jimmy Carter School of naivete in Obama’s support for Saudi Arabia’s Mideast peace proposal. That plan draws America into a regional tug-of-war and leaves Israel in a precarious position.
Last week, Obama set the stage for embracing the Saudi plan by ingratiating himself Carter-style to the Islamic world. “We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence [read 9/11] that is done in that faith’s name,” Obama told Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-controlled broadcaster based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He promised to restore America’s partnership with the Muslim world and said it is “my job” to show America that Muslims “… simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives.”
Perhaps Obama’s way of restoring America’s partnership with the Muslim world is to deliver Israel to them on a silver platter. He began that “job” last summer while visiting Israel when he said the Jewish nation would be “crazy” to refuse the Saudi peace deal.
Obama’s “crazy” reference could have been a statement out of Carter’s pro-Palestinian playbook. Since Carter mediated the 1978 Camp David Accords which paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt, the former president has become a Palestinian apologist and an Israel-basher. He has compared Israel’s behavior toward the Palestinians to that of South Africa toward blacks in the days of apartheid, and he has met with Khaled Meshaal, the Palestinian terrorist leader of Hamas, against the U.S. Government’s advice.
Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law school professor and Obama advisor, takes credit for keeping Carter behind the scenes during the campaign so as not to alienate Obama’s Jewish supporters. Now, Dershowitz predicts that Obama “will try to energize the peace process” and believes that Obama’s support in the pro-Palestinian community makes him “… an honest broker who, without compromising Israel’s security, can facilitate a kind of peace that will be both in the best interests of Israel and the best interests of the Palestinian people.”
It’s too early to tell whether Obama has joined Carter in his Palestinian bias. However, it’s clear the new president is serious about a new Mideast peace process. One of his first acts was to launch his envoy, former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, on a “listening tour” in the region. Mitchell reports back this week on his findings.
But energizing the peace process using the Saudi plan is the wrong idea. It puts America in the middle of a regional conflict between Arabs and Persians, which is what the Saudis have in mind.
Israeli interior minister Meir Sheetrit says the Saudi plan was prompted by a strengthening Iran and its proxy armies in Hamas and Hizballah. "The only way for the Saudis to isolate Iran is to make a peace agreement with Israel," Sheetrit said. He continued, "We have to negotiate, and we have to leave the territories. This is the only way I see a better future for us."
But Israel’s likely new Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned, “Any Palestinian state [which is part of the Saudi plan] that would be formed under the current conditions would become an Iranian state as we saw happen in Gaza.” Not surprisingly, on Feb. 1, Hamas leader Mashaal arrived in Tehran to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in an effort to garner more support for his group.
The Saudi plan which was introduced in 2002 by King Abdullah and now being pursued by Obama calls on Israel “… to withdraw completely from the lands occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem [and the Golan heights], returning to the lines of June 4, 1967; to accept a mutually agreed just solution to the refugee problem according to the General Assembly Resolution 194; and to recognize the independent state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital. In return, there would be an end to hostilities between Israel and all the Arab countries, and Israel would get full diplomatic and normal relations.”
The plan should be unacceptable to Israel. First, it is based on the false premise that the Palestinians are the rightful heirs of the land reoccupied by the Jews in 1967.
Palestinians are Arabs with a relatively brief national identity. After World War I, the Ottoman Empire was dismantled and “Philistia,” the portion of that empire which included present day Israel, was taken by the British. “Philistia” was changed to “Palestine” whose capital was Jerusalem, and the people referred to themselves as Palestinians. The true Palestine is present-day Jordan because over 60 percent of that country is “Palestinian.”
By comparison, the Jewish people have occupied the same land much longer than any other recognized people group. In 1425 B.C., their leader Joshua crossed the Jordan River and seized all of present day Israel except for the Gaza. That land remained in Jewish hands until 586 B.C., when the Babylonians took a remnant into exile.
The Jews returned to the land in 536 B.C. and remained there until 70 A.D. either under their own administration or as a vassal state. Many Jews lived there throughout the next millennia until the United Nations re-established Israel as an official Jewish homeland.
The Jewish people’s third manifestation as a state in the land started after World War I, when the League of Nations approved the British Mandate of Palestine with the intent of creating a “national home for the Jewish people.” In 1947, the United Nations approved the partition of the land between Jews and Arabs, but the surrounding Arab states refused to accept the U.N.’s Partition Plan. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared independence, and this was followed by war with its Arab neighbors. Israel expanded its borders with each new war to eventually include the West Bank, all of Jerusalem, Gaza, the Sinai (which was surrendered after the 1977 Camp David Accords) and the Golan Heights in order to provide a strategic buffer against more Arab attacks.
The proposed Saudi peace plan would return this land to the Palestinians and Syria. Unfortunately, this transfer will embolden Israel’s enemies as it did in Gaza and Southern Lebanon.
Once Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the Palestinian terror group Hamas took over and began launching thousands of rockets at Jewish settlements, which prompted Israel’s just completed three-week Operation Cast Lead. Similarly, once Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon in 2000, ending a 22-year military presence prompted by attacks staged from there by the Palestine Liberation Organization, Iran’s proxy terror group Hizballah moved in to raise tensions which led to the 2006 rocket war with Israel.
The same will happen if the West Bank and the Golan are surrendered. It’s virtually guaranteed that the unpopular Palestinian Fatah government now running the West Bank will be replaced by a radical and more popular Hamas administration which would never accept Israel’s right to exist and would likely replicate the tensions with those in Gaza. And expect Hizbullah with Iran’s help will push Syria aside and quickly occupy the Golan with Shia terrorists like those in Southern Lebanon, who have vowed to destroy Israel as well.
Second, the Saudi proposal fails to define a “just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.” Palestinians and their Arab supporters want those Arabs who fled the land in the wake of the 1967 war to have the right to return and retake their land. But if all the six million Palestinian refugees living in neighboring countries returned to Israel, the nation’s demographics would favor the Arabs. Israel would not survive as a Jewish nation.
Third, the Saudi plan gives East Jerusalem to the new Palestinian state for a capital. Jerusalem has long been a significant city founded and occupied by Jews much of its history. The late coming Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem with its holy sites is weak.
Finally, the Saudi plan gives Israel promises in exchange for tangible concessions. The Arab world promises it will end hostilities with Israel and establish normal relations. But how reliable are these promises? Besides, the Saudi plan doesn’t include Tehran which is a Shia Muslim nation, the Saudi’s chief regional rival and arguably Israel’s principle threat.
Some Israelis see the broader picture at play with the Palestinians and their sponsors. Retired Israeli major general Jacob Amidror, the former head of his army’s intelligence, believes the Palestinians will never be satisfied with anything short of Israel’s destruction. In 1996, Amidror asked George Tenet, then director of the Central Intelligence Agency, “Do you know what the Palestinians want?” Amidror said the answer is one word: “More.”
President Obama needs to avoid becoming a Saudi puppet and Carter-like in his Palestinian bias. U.S. strategy and national interests would be better served through an agreed policy toward Iran. Here the Saudis and other Arab states could actually partner with us and de facto Israel to reduce Tehran’s influence via Hizballah and Hamas. But whatever is done with the Mideast peace process, Israel must retain strategic depth, and it must get something more than a piece of paper filled with promises that history demonstrates is worthless.