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By: Editorial Board

Date: Wednesday, May 27 2009

According to most reports, President Obama will not, as previously believed, lay out a detailed proposal for a Middle East peace plan in his speech on June 4 in Cairo. The plan now, according to unnamed Obama administration officials cited in The Jerusalem Post, is to structure the speech as an outreach effort to the wider Muslim world, with any new Middle East initiative coming later in the summer.

It would seem this is an opportune time for Israel to forcefully make its case in terms of both its religious and historical connection to the Holy Land and the political reality of the failure of the Palestinians to seriously pursue peace.

Parenthetically, there should be some concern about the new turn of events as far as the Cairo speech is concerned. Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv reported several days ago that the U.S. had indeed settled on a plan that calls for the resettling of Palestinian refugees in Arab countries, swapping lands between a future Palestinian state and Israel, creating a demilitarized Palestinian state and granting the Old City of Jerusalem the status of an international city.

The PA was swift in its reaction to the report, with one senior official telling The Jerusalem Post that President Abbas would seek “clarification” from President Obama at their upcoming meeting later this month. Another official was quoted as saying, “The Palestinian position on these issues is very clear. We insist on the right of return for all refugees … and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with all of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as its capital.”

The proposal would pose several problems for Israel, but the apparent withdrawal of the plan in reaction to vigorous Palestinian opposition is problematic in its own right. One doubts it was withdrawn so that it can be refined in Israel’s favor. In any event, Israel’s task at the moment is to make its case in a more effective fashion than has normally been the case.

We have often remarked in this space that what has generally been lacking in Israeli leaders is the conviction that a special – indeed, a divinely authored – relationship exists between the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel. Rather, Israeli officials often sound as though their desperation for legitimization renders everything negotiable. Such a posture not only creates the impression that Israelis are usurpers who hope that at the end of the day they’ll be permitted to retain some vestige of sovereignty over a truncated state, it also serves to harden the heart of Israel’s negotiating “partners.”

When was the last time one heard from an Israeli leader anything approaching the soaring rhetoric of Abba Eban as he offered an uncompromising defense of Israel at the United Nations?

Or the stirring message from General Motta Gur, carried worldwide in a crackling sound bite in June 1967, announcing the liberation of the Temple Mount area – “Har Habayit beyadeinu” (the Temple Mount is in our hands)?

Or Moshe Dayan’s reaction upon arriving at the Kotel immediately after Israel liberated it? Dayan kissed some of its stones and, with obvious emotion declared, “We have returned to our holiest of holy places, never to abandon them again.” When a startled reporter asked him if he had become a “born-again Jew,” Dayan responded, “I was not religious yesterday and I may not be religious tomorrow. But at this moment, no one in Israel is more religious than I.”

Israeli president Shimon Peres had heretofore been the poster boy for a bloodless, matter of fact advocacy for peace in the Middle East devoid of any clear notion that Israel was not just another disputed piece of real estate in a dangerous neighborhood. Happily, Mr. Peres now seems to be leaning in a different direction. In a Yom Yerushalayim speech last week, he said:

The size of Jerusalem is measured not by its geography but by its history…. Geographically, Jerusalem has no distinction; no river runs through it, there is no beach nearby and the mountains surrounding are not extraordinarily high. But there is no city in the world with a historical wealth to match Jerusalem, both political history and spiritual history…. Jerusalem was, and remains Israel’s capital. Israel never had a different capital and Jerusalem has never been the capital of another people…. At times, Jerusalem almost met its undoing but it remained the inextinguishable hope of the Jewish people, which pledged “never to forget thee, O Jerusalem.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke at the same ceremony and insisted that all of Jerusalem will always remain under Israeli sovereignty: “United Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. Jerusalem was always ours and will always be ours. It will never again be partitioned and divided.” Perhaps Mr. Peres is taking his cue from the prime minister, but the notion of an uncompromising stance on Jerusalem seems to be taking shape. Perhaps it will infuse discussions over the West Bank as well. Declaring that there are “red lines” for Israel cannot but change the negotiating dynamic and affect the expectations of the Palestinians.

Of course, even in terms of traditional international relations, Israel has the better argument. While it has become routine to excuse Mr. Abbas’s failure to eliminate Hamas on the basis that he is powerless to do so and to rail against Israel on the settlements issue, the premise of the road map was that the terror threat would be neutralized and that Israel would, in a quid pro quo sense, have certain responsibilities with regard to settlements.

But it was never contemplated that Israel would unilaterally act on the settlements while the terror threat continued. In fact, the enormous growth of Hamas’s power at the expense of the PA means the PA cannot deliver on any commitments it makes, rendering any talks futile.

Further, the issue of final borders was deemed to be for a “final status” phase determination and not something to be addressed by Israel before the Palestinians took specific steps outlined in the road map. Among those steps was the elimination of incitement against Israel. Yet in recent days the PA has continued its practice of seizing almost any opportunity to honor the memory of “the martyr Dala Mughrabi,” who led the most deadly terror attack in Israel’s history. Her 1978 bus hijacking resulted in the deaths of 37 civilians, 12 of them children. Yet she is regularly offered as a role model for Palestinian youth. Nor has the PA revised its textbooks to delete numerous calumnies against Israel and Jews.

Suffice it to say, the criticism of Israel’s settlement policy leveled in recent days by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a negation of the fundamental premise of the road map: reciprocity. In similar fashion, President Obama has linked U.S. action against the Iranian nuclear threat to support from the Arab world and therefore Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. Simply put, Israel is to make concessions now in return for an American promise to try to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

It would be a mistake to view a nation’s foreign policy in terms of merit rather than national interest, and there is no question that stability in the Middle East is in U.S. interests. Until now, Israel, as America’s closest ally in the region, has invariably been viewed as an easy mark by American policy makers bent on fashioning a peace agreement. The corollary to this is that Palestinian recalcitrance has been accepted as a given that had to be accommodated by Israeli concessions.

We suggest that now is the time for Israel to set down some “red lines” of its own and stick to them. America now has a young president who every day is learning more about how the world works from the likes of Iranian and North Korean leaders. This is not what he envisioned during the presidential campaign. Hopefully, he is beginning to pay attention.

Copyright 2008

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