America and Israel are Inseparable/Partners for Peace


America and Israel are Inseparable

Why Republicans and Democrats praised Netanyahu’s speech

Der Tagesspiegel  May 26, 2011   By David Harris

Six days of high-profile Middle East drama have just ended in Washington. Framed by President Obama’s speech on the region, on May 19, at the State Department and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks to Congress on May 24, observers were taking careful note of words, temperature and body language in the complex interplay between the two leaders.

But the overarching story remains the same as always: The United States and Israel have forged a unique relationship, supported by the overwhelming majority of Americans. Whatever the occasional differences in policy, normal even for the closest of friends as we have seen between Washington and Berlin, the key point is what unites, not divides, the two countries. The rousing ovation by the Congress for the prime minister said it all – shared values, outlook and threats.

Some observers in Europe see it differently. They scratch their heads when Democrats and Republicans alike give repeated standing ovations to an Israeli prime minister they view with suspicion. They despair that Israel, in their eyes the main obstacle to “perpetual peace” in the region, is lauded for its pursuit of peace and right to defend itself in the Congress. And they offer theories of “Jewish power” in a vain attempt to explain America’s identification with the Jewish state.

Those observers are missing the bigger story. America does not support Israel just because of American Jews, who comprise only two percent of the population. Rather, it is because Americans of many backgrounds identify with Israel as a liberal, democratic society in a sea of tyrannies; understand Israel’s struggle, from day one, to defend the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in a tough neighborhood; and grasp that Israel seeks peace and a two-state solution, but its main problem today is the absence of peace-seeking partners.

But then again some of those observers missed earlier stories.

They believed in Yasser Arafat long after it became clear that he was a corrupt, duplicitous leader.

They refused to see the change in Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, whom they despised, when he came to power in 2001 and that later led him to withdraw Israel from Gaza.

They insist that the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is settlements, thus putting the entire onus on Israel, when, in reality, the crux has always been the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own.

And they won’t give Prime Minister Netanyahu the benefit of the doubt, though it will take someone with his credentials to persuade Israel to take risky steps for peace, if peace is possible.

Meanwhile, Americans see a country, Israel, seeking peace and, with committed partners, as in the case of Egypt and Jordan, ready to pay the territorial price. They also see a country faced with existential threats to which there are no easy answers, no alluring “soft-power solutions.” Hamas seeks Israel’s elimination. Its charter makes that amply clear. So does Hezbollah. So does Iran. And the Palestinian Authority sends mixed messages – peace one day, glorification of terrorists the next; compromise one day, reconciliation with Hamas the next.

On June 1st, Israel will mark ten years since a terrorist attack on a Tel Aviv discotheque. Twenty-one Israeli youngsters were killed. Joschka Fischer, then Germany’s foreign minister, happened to be near the scene. He rushed over and saw the carnage. He understood what Israel faces when suicide bombers want to kill Israelis anywhere, anytime.

No country desires peace more than Israel. No other country faces calls for its destruction from another UN member state. No other country has its right to defend itself so microscopically challenged.

If any part of the world should understand Israel and its journey, it is Europe. If any part of the world should understand the Jewish people’s vulnerability, it is Europe. And if any part of the word should understand the need to support liberal, democratic societies as a foundation for peace, it is Europe.




Partners for Peace

Despite differences, US and Israel have common goals

Boston Globe Op-Ed  May 26, 2011   By David Harris

 ONCE AGAIN, the Middle East is in the news. President Obama gave a much-anticipated speech on the region on May 19. A day later, the president met in the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Then Obama appeared before AIPAC to further explain his views, followed the next day by Netanyahu.

Much attention has focused on the differences that reportedly exist between the United States and Israel. Of course, every country has its national interests, and no two sets of national interests are completely identical, especially when applied to a region as complex and multi-faceted as the Middle East. But what is far more important is the convergent thinking between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu on a number of key issues.

First, the recent meetings and speeches reveal once again US-Israeli agreement on the pressing threat posed by Iran. Both countries are warning that an Iran with nuclear-weapons capability would present a major threat to regional and global stability, and that all options must remain on the table to prevent such an outcome.

Second, both countries agree that the recent “reconciliation’’ agreement between Fatah and Hamas constitutes a major new problem. Hamas is not a partner for peace. It is a terrorist group, recognized as such by the United States and European Union. It is committed to the destruction of Israel and the extermination of the Jewish people, which is exactly what Hamas says in its charter. Thus, Washington and Jerusalem both believe that Palestinian Authority President Abbas will have to choose between an alliance with Hamas and peace talks with Israel. He cannot have it both ways.

Third, Obama and Netanyahu share the belief that peace between Israel and the Palestinians can only come about through direct talks between the parties. It cannot result from a Palestinian campaign to avoid negotiations and instead seek a unilateral declaration of independence with UN General Assembly support. That would be a path to conflict, not coexistence.

Fourth, the United States and Israel are in full accord that the outcome of any peace process should be two states for two peoples — Israel as the homeland for the Jewish people, and a “non-militarized,’’ to use Obama’s language, Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians must understand, therefore, that the solution to their refugee question lies in the new state of Palestine, not Israel.

There were two refugee populations created by the Arab declaration of war against Israel in 1948 — Arabs caught in the war itself and Jews forced to leave their ancestral homes in Arab countries. Both populations were of roughly equal size. But there was one fundamental difference. Whereas the Jewish refugees were absorbed in Israel, the Palestinian refugees were deliberately kept in refugee camps for generations in neighboring Arab countries. Incidentally, no other refugee population in the world experienced the same cynical manipulation.

Fifth, both sides agree that the final border between Israel and Palestine must be negotiated, not unilaterally declared. Moreover, as Obama said on Sunday, to clarify concerns generated by his remarks three days earlier, the mutually agreed boundary will have to take into account realities on the ground, including demographic changes and Israel’s compelling security needs in a shrunken state. The so-called 1967 line was nothing more than the armistice line at the end of the fighting of the Arab-instigated war of 1948, whose goal was to destroy the embryonic state of Israel.

And sixth, in recent days in Washington, we have witnessed a reaffirmation of the enduring strength of the American-Israeli partnership. Those who focus on the inevitable disagreements miss the larger picture. The enthusiastic bipartisan reception accorded by Congress to Netanyahu also spoke volumes about the strength of the link.

This is a relationship built on shared democratic values, a common assessment of threats and dangers posed by radical state and non-state actors, and a desire to usher in a new Middle East built on a solid foundation of peace, democracy, and prosperity.

More than anything else, the deep ties that unite the United States and Israel, again on display in recent days, are what’s really newsworthy — and able to stand the test of time.

David Harris is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.


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