Reflections on Obama and Israel

These coming days, before the eve of the sacred Jewish observance of Yom Kippur, are considered days of reflection. This, then, would be a propitious time for the Obama administration to engage in soul searching regarding American policy towards Israel and the long on-going conflict with its Arab neighbors.

In his Cairo speech to the Arab world, President Obama discussed, among other things, Democracy, human and women's rights. It seems to me that the president found an interesting venue to speak about all these ideals, given the fact that there is not even a single Arab democracy.

With all due respect, it is similar to discussing virginity in a house of ill-repute.

In an Arab world where there are no free political parties, no free press, where women are being oppressed and young girls are sometimes forced to go through cruel circumcision; where corrupt regimes brutally suppress any opposition, lofty speeches such as the one President Obama gave, seem out of context.

In his speech, the president's wish to establish closer relations between the Muslim world and America is clear and understandable, but it should not be achieved at the expense of Israel. This is both a moral as well as practical misstep... There is no justification whatsoever for Israel to pay the bill for the efforts to cement these relations.

In his speech Obama emphasized the point that "the aspiration for Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that can not be denied. Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries. And anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust."

As much as I appreciate his sentiments, the historical imperative for a Jewish homeland is not based on seeking a refuge from anti-Semitism.

As a matter of history, the Jewish people maintained a sovereign and independent state in the Land of Israel already 3000 years ago. This land is the birthplace of the people of Israel and it is their ancestral homeland. Jewish holidays and prayers are all related to the land of Israel. Jerusalem-- the eternal Jewish capital-- is mentioned in our prayers at least 20 times a day; these are our roots and bonds to this land.

The attempt to draw a corollary between the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering is, to put it simply, infuriating.

One cannot ignore the historical fact that the Palestinians have rejected, time after time, the possibility of establishing a state of their own--including the partition resolution of the Peal Commission in 1937, and the partition resolution of the U.N. in 1947 (resolution #181), both of which the Jews accepted.

For 19 years, between the War of Independence in 1948 and the Six Day war in 1967, during which the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria were in Arab hands (Egypt and Jordan) the Arabs did not establish a Palestinian state. Why, for heaven's sake, didn't they establish their own state? The very same territories that are demanded today from Israel were then in Arab hands.

In more recent history, there were the Camp David talks in 2000, during the term of Ehud Barak's government and after that the talks during the term of Ehud Olmert.

During these negotiations, the Palestinians rejected, out-of-hand, far reaching proposals which were offered, without even being mandated by the Israeli public. In simple terms, it is not because of Israel that there is no Palestinian state today, but because of Arab actions. They are the ones who bring about their own sufferings as a result of their attacks on Israel time and again.

The Jews who lived in Europe before World War II did not oppose Germany's right to exist and did not act in any way against it. Yet, they were murdered. Therefore, any comparison between the Holocaust and Palestinian suffering is not only historically inaccurate, it is also enraging.
There are many who think, for whatever reason, that the moment Israel agrees to relinquish those territories that it acquired in 1967, all the problems will be solved, the conflict will terminate and peace will reign in our region with a positive affect on the entire world.

This is not the reality of the situation. If this was the case, why did the Arabs attack and invade Israel immediately after it was established in 1948? We had no territorial dispute with any of the Arab countries; there was no provocation on Israel's part.

Why were there repeated terrors attacks in the 50's? Why was Israel attacked in 1967? The territories, which allegedly were the root cause for the conflict, were not even in our hands.
The answer is that all these attacks have only one purpose: the destruction of Israel. The Arabs have rejected Israel's right to exist regardless of borders and territories.

It is not an error that Israel is conspicuously absent from any of the maps on geography lessons in schools in Arab countries, including Egypt and Jordan, countries with whom Israel has peace treaties. Thus we have not reached the point where the conflict between Israel and the Arabs is a territorial one. The fundamental issue remains the fact that the Arabs do not recognize the natural right of the Jews to a state of their own in the land of Israel.

This might also be a good time for the Obama administration to reflect on the issue of settlements. Israel's territory is even smaller in size then the state of New Jersey. It is impossible to securely live within the pre-1967 borders. The Arabs cannot use aggression against Israel as a way to improve their negotiating positions, without paying a price for these attacks. Israel can not return to those same borders from which it was attacked for 19 years.

Indeed, the United States recognized and accepted this principle among others, as set forth clearly in President Bush's letter of April 14, 2004, to Prime Minister Sharon. This letter was ratified and approved by an overwhelming majority of the two houses of Congress: the vote was 95 to 3 in the Senate and 407 to 9 in the House of Representatives.

"In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population center, 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..."

As for new construction in existing settlements, the Bush administration reached an understanding with the Sharon government as described in a June 26, 2009 Wall Street Journal article by Elliott Abrams. There is logic and rationality to these understandings. In places that are going to remain in Israel's hands in any future permanent agreements, there is no reason to deny the residents a normal life according to the conditions that were set forth: no new settlements, construction only within the built up line of the settlements with no additional land confiscation for that purpose.

Claims made by Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton -- that there were no such understandings -- are simply not true. It is crucial for any administration to honor past understandings in the same way as is expected of Israel.

Otherwise it would be impossible to expect Israel to rely on American commitments and guaranties in any future agreements.

Gilad Sharon, is the youngest son of the former Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. In his book about the situation in the Middle East, based on his father's never-before-seen private papers and correspondence, will be published in 2010.