Friday, July 31, 2009

Part 2 of An Open Letter to ADL Leader Abe Foxman: A Response to Obama's Critics on Israeli-Arab Peace, by Gidon D. Remba

Continued from Part 1
The Urgency of Peace: Palestinians, Syria and Iran

Abe, you're worried that "the administration is putting too much weight on solving the conflict"--as if the malign neglect of the Bush Administration was good for Israel. True, you aren't opposed to "the administration view that the US must be much more engaged to achieve progress." What troubles you is "when the president says that he expects the problem to be resolved in two years." But you can't have it both ways. If you think that President Obama is ignoring the lessons of recent Palestinian-Israeli history, don't begrudge him for grasping that one of the reasons peace efforts have failed was that the US and its allies were unwilling to press both sides to make the compromises needed to bridge the remaining gaps in the way of an agreement. And don't object when the President holds both sides' feet to the fire about fulfilling their Road Map obligations, as Bush promised to do.
If the president announces a two-year deadline--a real deadline, not the kind of fluffy time-lines we've had until now--and if the parties fail to move towards a deal, he may signal that the US and its allies will present a plan, backed by virtually the entire world and by real diplomatic muscle.

You would be among the first to remind us that the clock is ticking on Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. But that clock is also ticking on the very possibility of Israeli-Palestinian peace; and there is indeed a palpable link between the two. A solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with Hamas' support, and a comprehensive peace with the entire Arab world including Syria and Lebanon, will put an end to the chronic plague of attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel. An Iran that can no longer exploit these tensions by fueling radical Arab forces will be far less a threat to Israel. An Iran that can no longer exploit Arab anger at Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, no longer living under Israeli occupation, will lose much of its appeal in the Arab world, where those who stand up for Arab and Muslim dignity and rights are viewed as heroes. A Hezbollah that has forfeited its arms flow from Syria will be far less dangerous to Israel, as will a Syria which has moved out of Iran's orbit into the US-Israeli-Sunni Arab camp. An Iran that no longer has Syria as its main ally and collaborator will be weaker than ever before.

You doubt that these things can happen? We have yet to find out by putting the full range of US, international, Arab and Israeli political, military and economic incentives on the bargaining table with Syria. Israel alone cannot lure Syria away from its Iranian embrace; it needs our help to loosen that hold. If Iran does acquire a latent capacity to produce nuclear weapons in the coming year or two, it will redound to Israel's benefit if that comes about once Arabs and Israelis are moving towards rapprochement, not mired in perpetual confrontation. Israel's northern and southern borders would no longer erupt in periodic attacks on its towns and cities, prompting repeated Israeli invasions of Lebanon and Gaza. It would, in short, pave the way to a more secure Jewish state, able to focus a greater share of its resources on renewing Jewish culture and education, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

Perhaps you would rather see Israel preemptively strike Iran to delay its nuclear program. But as Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen have both warned, an attack on Iran will be profoundly destabilizing, with very grave and upredicatable consequences. That's "diplospeak" for the fact that an Israeli strike on Iran will drag the US into an unwinnable, devastating new Mideast war which will engulf the region, jeopardizing the lives of many US troops along with innumerable Israeli and Arab civilians. Nor is such an Israeli assault likely to succeed even in delaying Iran's nuclear program, according to many military analysts. It would give a giant boost to Iran's hardliners, further undermining the reformist movement, while driving underground a newly accelerated nuclear program, as Secretary Gates has warned. And when Iran does reach nuclear weapons capacity, its hardline leaders will now be bent on revenge against Israel.

Israel's former chief of military intelligence, Major General Aharon Zeevi-Farkash, recently gave voice to the majority view of its intelligence community that Israel is in fact not the primary motive, or target, for Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. Israeli intelligence believes that Iran seeks a nuclear weapons capability mainly to deter any American move to overthrow the Islamic regime; they oppose a preemptive Israeli attack. An Israeli strke would create a self-fulfilling prophecy, making vengeance and retaliation on Israel a more central priority for Iranian leaders.

By insisting that the Obama administration close the door to nuclear negotiations with Iran's "delegitimized government," you are ignoring the history of successful US negotiations with other even more repressive and unrepresentative governments like those of post-Tianenmen China and Soviet Russia, with whom we achieved d├ętente or arms control agreements, clearly serving America's national security. What's more, you would hamper the president from showing China, Russia and our European allies that he had indeed afforded Iranian leaders every reasonable chance for dialogue, truly exhausting the diplomatic option. By insisting on prematurely removing diplomacy from the president's arsenal, you would undermine the prospects for broader international cooperation on more painful sanctions on Iran, without which such measures stand little chance of bearing real economic sting.

And there is yet another ticking clock in Israel and Palestine. The window is rapidly closing on the very possibility of a two-state solution. Every month that goes by without a solution, Israel's settlements grow, as its hold on Palestinian areas of the West Bank becomes harder to reverse. Before Obama, Israelis and Palestinians were rapidly losing hope, Hezbollah and Hamas radicals were gaining strength, as the chance for workable compromise grew more remote.

President Obama is right to impose a two-year deadline on his push for peace. Without both stringency and urgency, and a willingness to make demands on both Israeli and Arab leaders, Obama cannot overcome the deep cynicism engendered by the Bush administration's showboat diplomacy. Under Bush, "commitments were routinely ignored without consequences," as the Center for American Progress notes in a new report. "The president should affirm that there is a short time-frame for negotiations," concludes the report, "and that there will be rigorous monitoring and enforcement of any agreement."

Abe, are you really against the US, European Union, Russia and the Arab League telling the Palestinians that once Israel has displayed, in both word and deed, a genuine willingness to create a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the time has come for them to give up on claims of a "right of refugee return" to Israel? The time is approaching when the US will work with its allies to pass a binding new UN Security Council resolution putting to rest, once and for all, claims by Palestinian refugees and their descendants that they are entitled to return to homes in Israel. As you know, such demands are incompatible with the very notion of partitioning the land into a Jewish and an Arab state.

A new resolution will also make clear that Israel must, for its part, remove Israeli settlements from a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with mutually agreeable land swaps. Just as an influx of Palestinian refugees is inconsistent with a viable Jewish state, so too hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers, living in Israeli settlements throughout Palestinian territory, are incompatible with a viable, and even smaller, Palestinian state poised to absorb Palestinian refugees. A new resolution will affirm that Israel must share sovereignty with a Palestinian state in East Jerusalem, ceding Arab neighborhoods to the new Palestinian polity, while Jewish neighborhoods will remain part of Israel, as reflected in the Clinton parameters.

President Obama is right to pursue these goals with a genuine sense of urgency. For Israel's sake, for the Palestinians and our Arab allies--and for America's need to promote stability in a region that is vital to US and global security, as Admiral Mullen has recently emphasized.

Is Israel's insecure status quo, scarred by chronic conflict, really preferable?

B'virkat shalom,

(Gidon) Doni Remba

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