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By Arlene Kushner
On October 23, the profoundly anti-Israel New York Times ran an op-ed by Ephraim Halevy – former head of Israel’s Mosad and national security advisor to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – titled “Who Threw Israel Under the Bus?”
His thesis is that it has always been Republicans who have been bad for Israel; and he provides examples of how this has been the case.
I do not presume to know what motivated Halevy to write this badly biased piece, but what seems clear is that it requires a response, especially in the week before election day, when everything has become grist for the campaign mill.
The fact that three named Republicans were allegedly problematic for Israel says less than nothing about whether Romney would be, and certainly does not vindicate Obama.
One of the “problematic” Republicans Halevy fingers is Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush. Halevy’s attempt to assess Obama by looking at Bush’s record, rather than Obama’s, is rather foolish: Bush is bad, so ipso facto Obama is good.
In a few instances, however, we can learn by looking at Bush’s positions and then how Obama subsequently acted. These instances show that Bush was far more pro-Israel than Obama, no matter what Halevy claims:
On April 14, 2004, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was in the midst of his plans for a disengagement from Gaza, he and President Bush exchanged letters. The letter from Bush said in part:
In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, 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.
This was important on at least two counts. First, it spoke about armistice lines of 1949 – which is what is actually meant when people today refer to the “1967 borders.” There were no borders, only temporary armistice lines – and Bush was acknowledging this historical fact with accuracy.
What is more, he was saying that Israel would not be expected to return to those armistice lines because of new realities on the ground. This was an acknowledgement that in a final settlement with the Palestinian Arabs, were it to happen, major settlement blocs would be retained by Israel.
The exchange of letters that took place between Bush and Sharon (who spelled out plans for the disengagement in his) is known as a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – an executive agreement not ratified by Congress. It carries less weight than a treaty that is ratified, but is still broadly understood to reflect the authority of the executive office.
Bush’s letter, however, was totally rejected by Obama as being without import. Obama refers to the armistice line as the “1967 border” (an historical inaccuracy that tilts to the Palestinian Arabs), and has declared repeatedly that Israel must return to this line in a final settlement.
This is particularly startling because – even beyond the Memorandum of Understanding – there is considerable precedent for earlier US presidents acknowledging that Israel cannot be asked to return to that armistice line. Among them, Republicans Nixon and Reagan.
Quite simply, Obama’s position is anti-Israel.
While he claims to be in support of security for Israel, he pumps for a resolution of negotiations that would push Israel behind a border that is not defensible. The left-wing Abba Eban called this line “Auschwitz borders.” They would render Israel nine miles narrow at one point, and vulnerable to being over-run by enemies from the east. But Obama says Israel must do this. It is not a coincidence that what he has declared is exactly what the PA demands. He has promoted their position shamelessly.
And there is more. No president before Obama ever demanded a full freeze on Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria as a precondition for negotiations. The Palestinian Arabs themselves never demanded this – they sat with Israel repeatedly while building in settlements was taking place.
Abbas started demanding this because Obama set it as a precondition. How could Abbas demand less?
Elliott Abrams, who handled Middle East affairs at the (US) National Security Council from 2001 to 2009, has written that Bush agreed to “natural growth” in the settlements, within existing settlement lines. But Obama would not agree to even this. The position he demanded meant deprivation to Israeli citizens living in those settlements, who were being told they couldn’t build a new school for their children, or a new clinic or even a new room on a house for a new baby.
Whatever disagreements there have been between various presidents and Israel, until the Obama administration there has always been an implied sense of a bond between America and Israel because of shared values, goals and destiny. Obama broke with this. He let it be known that it was a good thing for there to be “daylight” between Israel and the US. After a meeting Obama had in 2009 with Jewish leaders, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, reported that Obama had said:
Look at the past eight years [referring to the George W. Bush administration]… During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.
“Credibility with the Arab states.” Never has there been a president who has so courted the Islamic world. This is at the heart of the matter. It’s impossible to attempt to secure the approval of various Islamic and Arab states and to also be pro-Israel. Obama knew this and made his choice, even though he pretends otherwise during this election season when Jewish votes count.
Remember that for his June 2009 speech to the Muslim world in Cairo University, a Muslim Brotherhood hotbed, he specifically invited members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to destroy Israel. This is not something a friend of Israel would have done. This was the beginning of US positions that put the Brotherhood in power in Egypt. During that speech he already called for a “stop” to settlements, and actually equated the “suffering of the Palestinian people in pursuit of a homeland” with the horrors of the Holocaust.
As well, after his inauguration, some four months previous, the very first international “leader” he called was Mahmoud Abbas of the PA. A rather pointed statement.
An observation I made about Obama when he was still a candidate provided broad hints as to what he was:
He came here to Israel when he was campaigning. There had been a terror attack just blocks from the hotel where he was staying; it occurred roughly about the time he arrived. He knew about it. He had to know about it. Then he went to Sderot, which is near the border with Gaza, and he spoke about how the people there suffer because of rocket attacks. He knew, and he was courting Jews with his sympathetic words.
From Israel, he went to Germany for a major speech, which included a discussion of terrorism in the world and how it must be combated. He listed countries struggling with this – the UK, Spain, etc. etc. But he left out Israel.
Damn, I thought then. This is not an oversight. He just came from Israel, he just saw for himself. He cannot have forgotten. It would have added powerful rhetoric to his speech, had he talked about what he had just seen first hand. But he did not want to appear sympathetic to Israel before the world.
I called it then, and I have not been wrong about him. In truth, he has been far worse than I had feared. Who would have imagined, four years ago, that President Obama would establish the Global Counterterrorism Forum in 2011, and then, in June of this year, actively block participation by Israel – the world’s greatest expert on terrorism – when the Forum had its first meeting in Istanbul?