This has been an amazing turnabout. A few sentences in Barack Obama’s speech at the UN represented the most articulate and explicit summary of the case for Israel ever uttered by an American president at the UN.
It demonstrated that the US president is not a hidebound ideologue and once again exemplified his willingness to adjust in accordance to the demands of his constituents. He did so once previously prior to the elections when he pledged to support Israel after having expressed views that had shocked the Jewish community and American friends of Israel. There are grounds for hope that on this occasion he will not again politically zigzag – at least not until after the elections.
His statement is a triumph for Netanyahu’s diplomacy and can be attributed to the extraordinary bi-partisan reception he received when he stood up to Obama’s unreasonable demands and delivered his stunning address to a combined session of both houses of Congress.
This encouraged Jewish activists and Israel’s growing American support base to publicly express its concerns about Obama’s negative stance towards Israel. Some Jewish leaders claim that their quiet lobbying behind the scenes persuaded Obama to change course. My gut instincts suggest that with an approaching election, it was rather a combination of the by-election upheaval when a Republican candidate was elected in a heavily populated NY Jewish district, the remarkable impact of Congress, and in particular pressure from Democratic politicians feeling the heat from their constituents.
Whatever motivated Obama is irrelevant. Some complain that Obama could have said much more and that he still failed to condemn Palestinian intransigency. That may be so, but what he did say about Israel was extraordinarily important and Jewish organizational spokesmen, irrespective of their personal opinion of Obama or how they intend to vote at elections, are obliged to publicly express the appreciation of the Jewish community and urge that he continues along this path. This is crucial for the retention of bipartisanship to Israel, a vital asset for us which elements of the far left have attempted to undermine – so far unsuccessfully.
Of course, we should not become euphoric. We are engaged in a bitter struggle and this is merely the first round of a long, protracted global battle in which ongoing US support remains critically important. We must not underestimate the potential for trouble likely to emanate in the future from the Quartet, some of whom are opposed to the new Obama approach.
Nor should we underestimate the pressure from the administration to force Israel to make further concessions to placate the Palestinians.
But the main challenge will be attempts by the Europeans, led by Russia and France to persuade the US to endorse a UN Security Council resolution effectively rescinding Resolution 242, which calls for negotiations between Israel and Palestinians over “territories” and substituting it with Obama’s formula accepting 67 borders (the 1949 armistice lines) with swaps as the basis for negotiations. That would make Israel reliant on Palestinian goodwill to “swap” territories in order to retain the major settlement blocs, defensible borders, and even, the most sacred Jewish sites in Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and Temple Mount. In his UN address, Abbas was adamant that the Palestinians would not concede on any of these issues and would only enter into negotiations if Israel agreed to forego these basic demands.
Indeed, in his bitterly confrontationist address to the UN, in which he referred to the “occupation” dating back to Israel’s birth 63 years ago, Abbas stated that the future Palestinian state must be based on the 1967 borders incorporating the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He also pointedly omitted any mention of Jewish links to Israel and was adamant that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. He accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing”, destroying Islamic holy sites and assassinating Palestinian civilians. He also reiterated his determination to achieve unity with Hamas, which as Netanyahu pointed out, is armed with “10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran”, remains committed to destroying the Jewish state and endorses the murder of all Jews.
In what was once more a tour de force, Netanyahu made a magnificent presentation at the UN of the case for Israel, pointing out that the Palestinians wanted a state but not peace. He also spoke the truth and did not mince words about the criminal activities of the Palestinians. Needless to say, whereas Abbas obtained standing ovations, Netanyahu faced hostility from the majority of hostile Islamic and undemocratic states and was received in silence. However, he was essentially addressing a global audience and those who were open minded and heard him, would undoubtedly have been deeply impressed by his moving presentation of the case for Israel.
It will be awkward for Obama to backtrack over what he has previously expressed. However in the weeks and months to come, US support will be crucial to oppose rescinding UN Resolution 242 and imposing indefensible borders upon us. In his UN address, Netanyahu offered to commence negotiations with no preconditions. The Palestinians on the other hand, have adamantly rejected the Quartet proposal for setting an agenda for new peace talks unless it was preceded by another settlement freeze and an agreement by Israel to withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines. In other words, only if Israel is willing to accede to all their demands, effectively bypassing negotiations, would they agree to “negotiate”. Surely even Israel’s strongest critics must realize the absurdity of these pre-conditions. It is simply beyond comprehension how so many politicians and media commentators still continue to blame Netanyahu for being an obstacle towards peace talks when it is the Palestinians who for over 18 months have point blank refused to engage in any form of negotiations.
Netanyahu and the government of Israel have done as well as could be hoped for in this, the first round.
To ensure that the Obama administration does not passively enable the Europeans to pressure Israel to make further unilateral concessions to the intransigent Palestinians, our government will be obliged to clarify its policy and inform our allies where we stand. We cannot expect Congress to promote policies unless they can be assured in advance that Israel’s government will not pull the carpet from under them and leave them in the lurch by backing down under pressure.
Now is the time to explicitly call on Jewish supporters and friends of Israel to encourage the US to stand by us on a global level or we could still be engulfed by a hostile political tsunami.
This column was originally published in Israel Hayom