A fine and useless speech
Had the Arabs not attacked, no one—-
neither Arab nor Jew—-would have been displaced.
A year after he assumed the presidency, President Obama gave his first major foreign policy speech at Cairo University in Egypt1. One section of the speech was an exhortation to Israelis and Palestinians to make peace.
It is not surprising that Obama’s program, as outlined in this speech, never led to progress toward peace.
The speech reveals much that was wrong with Obama’s understanding of the history and nature of the Israeli-Arab conflict.
Fine sentiments characterized Obama’s speech:
Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear;…
But fine words are no substitute for understanding.
Obama lamented the “daily humiliations….that come with occupation.” He was referring to Arabs who live in the area between the state of Israel and the Jordan River. This area was named the “West Bank” by Jordan after its illegal invasion and annexation of this territory in 1948.
For Jews, this is the heartland of the ancient nations of Israel and Judah, where Jews lived continuously for over 3,000 years2 until they were ethnically cleansed by invading Jordanian troops. This area includes the ancient Jewish Quarter (which the Jordanians destroyed in the 1948-49 war). It also includes the rest of East Jerusalem, that in1948 had a Jewish population of 100,000. Israelis call this area by its ancient names, Judea and Samaria. During the illegal Jordanian occupation of 1948-1967 no one thought to call this an occupation.
Is Israel’s current control of this area an occupation in the legal sense? Many scholars think not.
In the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Great Britain promised this land to the Jewish people for the establishment of a Jewish home.3 In 1922, the League of Nations passed a Resolution at the San Remo Conference, incorporating the Balfour Declaration and authorizing the reestablishment of a Jewish home in Palestine.4 Subsequently, when the United Nations superseded the League in 1945, it incorporated the San Remo Resolution. Thus, today’s Israelis have a strong legal claim to this land. Israelis say that Judea and Samaria are disputed, not occupied.
Obama’s description of the daily humiliations suffered by Palestinians would lead one to think that Arabs living in Judea and Samaria are under tight control of Israeli authorities. In fact, the great majority of Arabs in Judea and Samaria live in Areas A and B (established under the mutually agreed-upon Oslo Accords)5. Area A is under complete Palestinian autonomy and Area B is administered by both the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The Palestinian Authority allows no Jews to live in Areas A and B. Israeli forces only enter Areas A and B in unusual security situations, such as the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers by the terrorist group Hamas. Travel within Judea and Samaria is currently unrestricted (no checkpoints, no controls of any kind). In the past, checkpoints were set in place due to terrorist attacks against Jews, and removed when the security situation permitted.
In the speech, Obama argued that the Palestinians could “point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding.” Here Obama has uncritically adopted the Arab narrative about the cause of the conflict. He refers to the displacement of Arabs, but says nothing of the many thousands of Jews displaced by invading Arab armies…and certainly nothing of the 850,000 Jews subsequently forced to flee from surrounding Arab countries after Israel’s founding in 1948.6
Obama was wrong. Arabs were not displaced by the founding of Israel. They were displaced as a result of the genocidal war launched by Israel’s five Arab neighbor states in order to achieve their loudly proclaimed goal of “driving the Jews into the sea.”7
Had the Arabs not attacked, no one—-neither Arab nor Jew—-would have been displaced. To the Arabs’ surprise, they did not succeed in their goal of killing or expelling the Jews. But in the process, hundreds of thousands of Arabs fled, mostly because their leaders frightened them into doing so, or because they were forced to flee active war zones.8
For the most part, Israelis did not allow the Arabs who fled their homes to return. Doing so would have been a suicidal act. After all, Jewish communities and Jewish traffic on the roads all over Israel had been attacked from dozens of Arab villages, each with its own militia. During the Arab attacks these villages served as military staging areas, training sites and arms depots. Israel paid a bitter price for repelling the Arab invasions: It lost one percent of its population.9 That is comparable to a loss of 3.5 million American lives today, if America were to repel a similar invasion.
Have the “Settlements” Prevented Peace?
President Obama argued further that Israeli “settlements”, that is, Israeli building of homes east of the 1949 armistice lines (the lines agreed to by Israel’s neighbors after Israel defeated invading Arab armies) “violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace.”
In reality, almost all settlement construction has taken place in “blocs” that both sides have agreed will remain part of Israel in any future accord (which will include compensating land swaps for the Palestinians). Building of Israeli homes in Judea and Samaria does not violate previous agreements. In 2004 US President George Bush signed a Letter of Memorandum with the Israeli government10. The letter provided that, in exchange for withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, Israelis received recognition from the US government that the major settlement blocs would remain a part of Israel in any peace agreement.
Again, President Obama adopted the Arab narrative that “settlement construction” undermines a peace accord. This argument is belied by the fact that, in 2009, when the Israeli government announced a ten month freeze on new housing construction in the settlements,11 the Palestinian Authority continued its refusal to come to the negotiating table. Sixty percent of Judea and Samaria is virtually unpopulated.12 Even if Israel were to continue settlement construction, there would be no impediment to establishment of a Palestinian state……contrary to Obama’s many claims to this effect.
Many observers have correctly stated that the true obstacle to peace is Arab rejectionism, rather than a failure to agree about land and borders. Palestinian leaders have consistently refused to recognize the existence of a Jewish state in Palestine within any borders.13
Why Has Palestinian Development Been So Slow?
In his speech, President Obama exhorted Israel to “live up to its obligations to ensure that Palestinians can live, work, and develop their society,” implying that Israel is to blame for the lack of economic and social development in Palestinian areas.
There is no question that the conflict has taken its toll on the economic well-being of both Israeli and the Palestinian areas. But Obama failed to cite the single greatest cause for the lack of development in Palestinian areas: egregious Palestinian Authority corruption and lack of basic freedoms.
Given the billions of dollars of direct foreign aid to the Palestinians (more than to any other group in the world) the Palestinian standard of living is much lower than it could be, in large part because a small cadre of corrupt PA leaders has pilfered huge sums of aid.14 They have become millionaires and many live in lavish personal villas. Resentment about this on the Palestinian “street” is so great that it is the largest destabilizing factor in Palestinian society today. Loathe to relinquish the gravy train of foreign aid, the present Palestinian Authority government and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, are now in the thirteenth year of a four year term. The PA has simply declined to hold national elections for new leadership.
Saudi Peace Initiative or Fraud?
In the speech, President Obama put forth the “Arab Peace Initiative” as an important start for peace. The Initiative was proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002. According to the Initiative, in exchange for Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice lines, Arab states would recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it. Many, especially in the West, have hailed this as a great opportunity for peace. But were the Saudis serious about peace? Or was the Initiative merely a public relations ploy to rehabilitate Saudi Arabia’s tarnished image, after sixteen of the nineteen September 11 terrorist hijackers were revealed to be Saudi nationals?
Recently, news reports revealed that the Saudis never intended their “Peace Initiative” to resolve the conflict. At about the same time as the Saudis proposed their Peace Initiative, the Saudi king summoned a senior Palestinian official to Riyadh and offered one billion dollars to the Palestinian Authority to continue its murderous Intifada against Israel.15 Over eleven hundred Israelis died as a result; many more were injured.16 Funding terror is not the act of a peacemaker.
Is there any reason to believe that, if Israel had foolishly agreed to the Saudi’s Peace Initiative, Saudi Arabia would not have continued its massive funding of Palestinian terror? And how well would Israel have been able to defend itself, as a newly reduced and vulnerable nation, smaller than the size of New Jersey, and with entirely indefensible borders?
Minority Religions Under Israeli and Palestinian Rule
President Obama’s speech envisioned a peace agreement under which “Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims.” But anyone familiar with the history of the Middle East knows that it has been only in Israel that people of all religions are secure in their homes, houses of worship and holy places.
Arab rule has not been good for minorities. In 1948, Jordan invaded Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter, ejected its Jewish population, looted homes and businesses and destroyed every synagogue. Since the Palestinian Authority was established, Christians living in PA controlled areas have experienced anything but security. For example, since the PA assumed control of the formerly Christian-majority city of Bethlehem, the Christian population has been reduced from about 60% to 15%.17 In contrast, in Israel, the Christian Arab population has grown over 300% since the founding of the state.18
Obama’s message of peaceful co-existence among Jews, Christians and Muslims should be directed toward the Arabs. The Jews already got that memo a long time ago.
Do Palestinian Arabs Want a State?
In the speech, Obama cited the suffering of Palestinians “in pursuit of a homeland.” But have the Palestinians pursued a homeland? Their leaders have not.
The Arabs have repeatedly turned down offers of statehood. The Arabs rejected the 1937 Peel Commission recommendation to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish states; they rejected the 1947 United Nations plan that would have done the same. In the 1950s, Arabs in Judea and Samaria did not seek statehood, preferring to remain part of Jordan. In 2000, at the Camp David negotiations, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat turned down an Israeli offer of statehood in almost all of Judea and Samaria. Instead, the Palestinians chose to launch a murderous Intifada or terrorist campaign that killed over a thousand Israelis. In 2008, the Palestinians turned down an even more generous Israeli offer.
Was Israel Established Because of the Holocaust?
Obama adopted the Arab narrative that the state of Israel resulted from the need of Jewish Holocaust survivors for a country of their own. If that is the case, Arab apologists are correct when they argue: “Why should the Palestinians suffer for European crimes?”
Certainly, the Holocaust animated the Jews’ desire for a re-establishment of their homeland. But the Jewish claim to a country in Palestine is not based on the Holocaust. Rather, it is rooted in over 3,500 years of Jewish history and a continuous Jewish presence in the area. This history includes the centuries-long independence of the Jewish nations of Judah and Israel. Obama’s narrative also ignored the vibrant Jewish communities that existed throughout Palestine in the years prior to the Holocaust.
Like all other national groups, Jews have a right to national self-determination. It is at the core of Jewish faith and practice. For almost two millennia Jews have prayed every Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) for “Next Year in Jerusalem.” It is a refrain seared into the memory of millions of Jews around the world.
In the end, Obama’s speech—-with its fine words and misinterpretations of history—-yielded nothing.
- Text: Obama’s Speech in Cairo, New York Times, June 4, 2009. Retrieved from:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/us/politics/04obama.text.html
- Israel Timeline: Celebrating Over 3,000 Years. Stand With Us, Los Angeles, CA. Retrieved from: www.standwithus.com
- Bard, M.G. Myths and Facts: A Guide to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, Chevy Chase, MD, 2012, p. 4.
- The Mandate for Palestine, Jewish Virtual Library, Retrieved from:
“On July 24, 1922, the council confirmed the Mandate for Palestine, which included the Balfour Declaration, and the British government was thereby committed ‘to place the country under such political, administrative, and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish National Home.’”
- West Bank Areas in the Oslo II Accords. Wikipedia. Retrieved from:
“Area A comprises approximately 18% of the West Bank and Area B about 22%, together home to some 2.8 million Palestinians. As of 2015, Area C is home to 150,000 Palestinians in 532 residential areas. “
- Israel Pocket Facts, Stand With Us, Los Angeles, CA. Declining Jewish Population in Middle Eastern Countries.
“In the wake of the 1948 War, over 850,000 Jews were forced to leave Arab countries where Jews had lived for two millennia.”
- Bard, M.G. Myths and Facts, pp. 31-33.
- Morris, B. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. Vintage Books: New York, 2001.
- 1948 Palestine War, Wikipedia. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1948_Palestine_war#Casualties
- Letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, dated April 14, 2004. The White House website. Retrieved from: https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040414-3.html
“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”
- Ravid, B. and Agencies, Netanyahu Declares 10 Month Settlement Freeze ‘To Restart Peace Talks.” Ha’aretz, November 25, 2009. Retrieved from:
- Israel Pocket Facts, Stand With Us, Los Angeles, California. West Bank Palestinian Communities.
- Toameh, Abu K. Palestinians: We Will Not Accept a Jewish Israel. Gatestone Institute International Policy Council, April 15, 2016. Retrieved from:
- The Palestinian Authority: The West Bank Tires of Its Government: Extravagance and Graft Fuel a Growing Disenchantment. The Economist, October 2, 2015. Retrieved from:
“The Palestinian Authority (PA), the limited self-governing body in the occupied territories, has been plagued by waste, graft and accusations of both since its inception in 1994 following the Oslo accords. When auditors looked at the books three years later, they concluded that nearly 40% of the budget had been frittered away. By 2006, according to the PA’s own attorney-general, officials had embezzled some $700m.”
- Flatow, S.M. Thomas Friedman Lied About the Saudis. Jewish News Service. March 8, 2017. Retrieved from:
‘For the past 15 years, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has been promoting the so-called “Saudi Initiative,” a plan which he says proves that Saudi Arabia sincerely wants peace with Israel. But this week, a senior Palestinian leader revealed that at the very moment the Saudis were launching that plan, they were financing a major wave of terrorism against Israel.’
- Civilian Casualties in the Second Intifada. Wikipedia. Retrieved from:
- Rennert, L. Christian Exodus From Bethlehem. American Thinker, December 23, 2013. Retrieved from:
Arab apologists like to blame Israel for the Christian exodus from Bethlehem. For example, they cite the effects of Israeli checkpoints and security barrier in restricting free movement. The reality is more complex.
Christian flight also has been motivated by an anti-Christian environment created by Muslim hostility and characterized by extortion, kidnappings, intimidation, land theft, denial of employment and firebombing of churches. In addition, the Palestinian intifadas played a role in Christian flight. Frequent Arab bombings and riots severely damaged the tourist industry, adversely affecting hotels, shops and tour agencies. Because the owners of these businesses were often Christians, many found themselves in dire economic straits and as a result, chose to leave the country.
- Van Zile, D. Grudging AP Clarification on Israel’s Christians Falls Short. Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). September 11, 2015.