Israeli Settlements

It seems that as the years pass, the books and films on World War II remain enormously popular. Indeed, I would not be surprised if they are more popular today than they were immediately following the war. After the war, this nation was tired of conflict. Probably many knowledgeable Americans recognized that victory had been no sure thing. Yet now, 65 years after D-Day, the story is reassuring. We are comfortable recalling how America roused itself from isolationism and created a huge army of young soldiers and how President Franklin Roosevelt sent them off to vanquish the Japanese militarists and the Nazi barbarians.

"The sheer improbability of this victory (on D-Day) is part of what makes D-Day so memorable," President Barack Obama sermonized the other day at Omaha Beach. I am not completely sure that I know what the president was talking about. American commanders wanted a cross-Channel invasion of the Nazi positions as early as 1942. They did not expect to fail on D-Day. Perhaps the president meant to stress that victory in war is never a sure thing. There is always enormous risk. If that is his fundamental understanding of war, why is he now so breezy in lecturing the one nation on earth that faces war daily, Israel?

At his speech in Cairo, President Obama emphasized his government’s sudden opposition to Jewish settlements on the West Bank, though some of those settlements are crucial to Israeli security. Heretofore, our government understood that in any peace treaty with the Palestinians, Israel was expected to keep some of these settlements after compensating the Palestinians with land from other parts of Israel. It was a matter of national security for a nation that faces war daily.

The idea of accepting some Israeli settlements and compensating the Palestinians for land lost in pursuit of improved Israeli security was agreed to by the past two American administrations, one Democratic, the other Republican. There are signed agreements to that effect. Now, of a sudden, the Obama administration is tearing up those agreements. In Cairo, the president said, "The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements." I wonder what Bill Clinton thought about that, and George W. Bush, too.

Obama has had no experience in foreign policy in his life. He demands humility in our nation’s foreign policy. He ought to demonstrate some humility in his bold demands on Israel. He is demanding of that nation — with its six decades of grim foreign policy experience behind it — to trust his sudden volte-face, no matter how unlikely it will be to bring peace to the Middle East. I think that is asking a lot.

The Israelis began giving up real estate to the Palestinians 16 years ago, in the Oslo Accords. The gesture has gotten them no thanks and no closer to peace. As a consequence of Oslo, the Israelis turned over portions of the West Bank and Gaza. The West Bank shows no development and remains incompetently governed and a source of poverty and radicalism. Gaza is a nightmare, abounding with tunnels for smuggling weaponry and launching guerrilla attacks, including rocket attacks into Israel.

Israel already has given up real estate to the Palestinians. It is now time for the Palestinians to govern their real estate peacefully. If they need developmental funds to build infrastructure, surely the money will be forthcoming from the international community. As for political gestures, surely it is time for the Palestinians to eschew violent assaults on Israel and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist.

That is the point that the president should have zeroed in on in Cairo. The Egyptians live in peace with Israel. The Palestinians can, too. All they need to do is put down their arms and accept Israel as a neighbor. That also will mean living up to earlier understandings on Israeli settlements and the recognition of Israeli security requirements. Instead of changing the rules of the game, President Obama would be wise to build on the positions carefully crafted by his predecessors. He seemed to understand how dangerous war is in his Omaha Beach speech. Israel understands, too, and has every reason to want peace with the Palestinians.