President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu each gave two significant addresses concerning Israel within a week. While the President’s speech given Thursday created a great deal of controversy, the President’s speech given on Sunday before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference was far better received by Israel advocates and more clearly articulated President Obama’s position on the future of a two state solution. Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke Monday night at the AIPAC Policy Conference as well as Tuesday morning to a special joint session of Congress. PM Netanyahu’s speech before Congress greatly expanded upon what he said on Monday night and was perhaps the most generally well received address ever delivered before the Congress with 29 standing ovations. You may find the video and a transcript of PM Netanyahu’s speech to Congress here.
I suggest that you watch the speeches so that you might see and hear the reactions to them. In fact, suggest it to your friends and colleagues.
I will address PM Netanyahu’s speech in a separate article.
Regarding President Obama’s speech on Sunday morning, I thought it was quite good and appreciated greatly what he said for the most part. Did President Obama throw Israel under the bus as some have charged? Not in my mind. I thought that his speech was generally very pro-Israel, strong in support of Israeli security and good in regard to clarifying that there is no expectation that Israel would have to return to the exact 1967 lines among other things. I felt that it was a much stronger speech than Thursday’s.
There is however something problematic that was said both Thursday and Sunday by the President that needs to be clarified. What is the impact of the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas?
The President implied on Thursday and repeated more strongly on Sunday that this reconciliation would be problematic:
And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years…
Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.
Yet he also said, without making any allowance for this issue at all that:
And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under the current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option.
The reality is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas, meaning precisely that not trying is the only option that may be expected until that changes. The President said this himself only moments earlier. In fact, the United States itself cannot continue to support the Palestinian Authority, the rest of it, if the entirety includes Hamas, a terrorist organization. How can America demand that Israel, its friend, negotiate with the Palestinian Authority under those conditions?
I can understand what President Obama is saying, namely that while Israel may not want to negotiate toward creating a Palestinian state with Hamas playing a role, he believes it is in Israel’s interests in the long term to work toward the creation of a Palestinian state. That is what he means by “failing to try is not an option.” However, the long term is irrelevant if the short term cost is too high. A Hamas controlled Palestinian Authority would mean significant suffering both inside the Palestinian Authority and inside Israel at a minimum through terrorism and rockets and at worst the likelihood of warfare that would make previous battles pale by comparison and could threaten the existence of the state of Israel. For Israel, negotiating with Hamas as it is today would be “trying to fail.”
Meanwhile, an overwhelming number of members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, not only disagree with the President on this issue, but do so strongly. Numerous Democratic Senators and Congressmen and Congresswomen have issued statements to this effect and legislation has been introduced both in the House and the Senate supporting Israel’s position against negotiations with Hamas that will likely pass overwhelmingly.
Israel cannot be expected to negotiate means to grant advantage to an enemy bent on its destruction (creating a state within which Hamas could operate more easily and do more damage to Israel) and the United States needs to support Israel’s decision not to negotiate under those conditions as a friend would support a friend in a time of need.
Personally, I believe that President Obama seeks a solution that will bring peace and security to both Israelis and Palestinians. In order to do that there must be negotiations, as the President affirmed, but these negotiations to change the status quo in the peace process cannot happen until the status quo of the Palestinian side changes.
The United States must demand that the Palestinians return to the negotiating table without preconditions and do so after Hamas has agreed to the conditions set forth by the Quartet, namely to recognize Israel, renounce violence, and accept the previous agreements.
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