Last week, May 13, 2015, during a press conference at Camp David following a Presidential meeting with the Arab Gulf Union (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates),
President Obama addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, lamenting the fact that a two-state solution “seems distant now.”
Here is what the President said:
“I continue to believe that a two-state solution is absolutely vital for not only peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but for the long-term security of Israel as a democratic and Jewish state.
And I know that a government has been formed that contains some folks who don’t necessarily believe in that premise. But that continues to be my premise.
And since we’re up here at Camp David, I think it’s important to remind ourselves of the degree to which a very hard peace deal that required incredible vision and courage and tough choices resulted in what’s now been a lasting peace between countries that used to be sworn enemies. And Israel is better off for it. I think the same would be true if we get a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Anyone who is seriously concerned with peace between Israel and the Palestinians should be deeply troubled by three aspects of the President’s remarks.
First, the President’s gratuitous observation that the newly formed Israeli government includes “some folks” who don’t necessarily believe in the two-state solution suggests that the President is placing the blame for any peace agreement seeming distant on the Israeli government in general or on Prime Minister Netanyahu in particular.
It is interesting to note that more “folks” in Congress oppose Obama Care than members of the Knesset oppose a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Philosophical disagreements are a reality in democratic governments and it his “some folks” comment was a cheap shot.
If Mr. Obama was only be referring to Mr. Netanyahu, and the Prime Minister’s comments the night of Israeli elections, Israeli advocate Alan Dershowitz, in an interview on JBS television, described Mr. Obama’s attitude toward Mr. Netanyahu as “petulant” and “childish.” For Dershowitz, Mr. Obama’s refusal to accept Mr. Netanyahu’s restatement of his commitment to a two-state solution as a serious breach of diplomatic protocol.
Second, setting aside the President’s condescending lecturing Israelis of the benefits of a peace agreement with the Palestinians (as if Israelis don’t understand to their core the blessings which an end to war would bring to their children and grandchildren), the President’s suggesting that Israel was willing to make “tough choices” for a peace with Egypt — but not with the Palestinians — is a total misrepresentation of the historical context that made the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement possible.
That peace agreement flowed directly from the courageous steps taken by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to visit Jerusalem, address the Israeli Knesset, and to commit his nation to peaceful coexistence with the State of Israel. In that historical context, Israel made the “tough choices” to give back every single inch of the Sinai Peninsula — with its oil fields, air bases and the seaside town of Yamit to which Menachem Begin had planned to retire.
There is not a hint of a similar gesture from Mahmoud Abbas or from any Palestinian leader.
Anwar Sadat was willing to give to Israel what Israel has only asked for from the Arab world, and from the Palestinians: recognition and peace.
For the President of the United States to ignore the enormous chasm between the positive actions of Anwar Sadat and the absence of any similar commitment from Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership is astounding and offensive to anyone seriously committed to a peace resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is intellectually untenable, therefore, for the President to suggest Israel should make the same tough choices today which it made in its peace negotiations with Egypt.
But the third and most upsetting of aspect of the President’s remarks at Camp David was the fact Mr. Obama only addressed himself to Israel. The President’s words clearly suggested that he feels that only Israel is responsible for the collapse of the peace process because Israel is unwilling to make “tough choices” for a “lasting peace.”
The President made no mention of the Palestinians or of their role in the failed peace process. He made no mention of their responsibilities or of the benefits they would reap from making “the tough choices” for peace.
Rather, the President’s glaring failure to include the Palestinians in his critique suggests he considers the Palestinians to be the innocent victim of Israeli intransigence.
Imagine how much more powerful President Obama’s words would have been if he had addressed his words to both the Palestinians as well as the Israelis; if he had spoken about how much “better off” the Palestinian people would be if their Palestinian leadership were willing to make the “tough choices” for a “lasting peace” with Israel
For peace with the Palestinians, Israel may indeed have to make “tough choices.” Israel may have to share Jerusalem, extend Muslim control of the Temple Mount, permit some right of Palestinian return, and make land-swaps on the West Bank.
For the Palestinians, on the other hand, “tough choices” mean accepting the legitimacy of a Zionist state on Muslim ground in the Middle East and giving up a significant Palestinian right of return.
Israel has shown repeatedly that it can make these “tough choices.”
The Palestinians, however, have yet to have a “Sadat” like statesman willing to publicly recognize the enduring existence of Israel and stand at the rostrum of the Israeli Knesset and pledge his people’s commitment to living side by side with Israel without war.
The President’s comments at Camp David may be a function of his being woefully misinformed on both the history and the present realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Or worse, the President’s remarks may reflect a personal pro-Palestinian bias that prevents him from seeing the truth of Palestinian culpability and from having any credible role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.