A recent article in the New York Times sums up all that is wrong with the Obama administration's posture toward Israel. The article concerns President Hosni Mubarak's meeting with President Obama. What we first discover is that Mubarak has not visited the United States in five years because of "President Bush's Middle East policy... and criticism of Egypt's political and human rights record."
So what we first discover is that the Obama administration is prepared to overlook the lack of any kind of Democratic progress in Egypt and treat Mubarak as an important visiting Head of State even though he's been a dictator, for nearly 40 years.
The next thing the article shares with us is that Mubarak's message to Obama is that, from the Arab perspective, progress can only be made if Israel agrees to "freeze settlements...and agree to negotiate with all issues on the table including the status of Jerusalem and the refugees." So, in other words, if Israel is prepared to give up its capitol and to allow massive numbers of Palestinian refugees that would basically offset the Jewish character of the State of Israel, are the Arabs prepared to negotiate. In other words if you open the door to ceasing to exist we are prepared to begin speaking.
Over the weekend I was reading Benny Morris' brilliant new book 1948 The First Arab Israeli War and the chapter concerning the UN's resolution 181 which voted for the partition of Palestine in 1947. I came across a quote that sums up the Arab position towards Israel better than anything that I've read. Morris quotes 'Abd al-Rahman 'Azzam, who was the Arab League secretary-general in 1947 who said the following:
"[To the Arab peoples] you are not an [existing] fact. You [the Jews] are a temporary phenomenon. Centuries ago, the crusaders established themselves in our midst against our will, and in 200 years we ejected them....Up to the very last moment, and beyond, they [the Arabs] will fight to prevent you from establishing your State. In no circumstances will they agree to it." But Morris says that "Azzam added that, in the past, the Arabs had "once had Spain, and then we lost Spain, and we have become accustomed to not having Spain....Whether at any point we shall become accustomed to not having a part of Palestine, I can not say."
This sums up the Arab posture better than anything else. It is only when the Arabs accept Israel as a permanent and unassailable fact that they will come to terms with Israel and make peace, just as they were forced to do with their loss of Spain which the Muslims had held on to for hundreds of years prior to the Catholic reconquest. That will not happen if Israel does not establish facts on the ground that demonstrate once and for all that it is here to stay. This is the reason why Arab governments press so hard against settlements. The less there is of Israel the easier it is for them to accept that Israel will be like a crusader state in their midst, established for a period of time but ultimately destined, G-d forbid, to disappear.
I just came back from a Mayonot trip to Israel where I met AIPAC representatives who were my friends at AIPAC who were guiding both the republican and democratic delegation of Freshman congressman and they were showing them that by the Obama administration's definition of settlement this would include even apartments in the Jewish quarter of the old city of Jerusalem who would not be allowed to add rooms for natural growth as babies were born. Clearly a policy like this is not just wrong headed but discriminatory. It would put limits to where Jews can live. No wonder then that polls are showing that 90% of Israelis are opposed to President Obama's policies, which is interesting given that Israel is so evenly divided between right and left and they all seem to agree that Obama has just lost the plot on his efforts for peace in the Middle East.
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