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Facts and Logic About
the Middle East
P.O. Box 590359
San Francisco, CA 94159
(415) 356-7801


November 24, 2009

Obama's Strategy for Forging a Middle East Peace Is So Far Fruitless and Apparently Futile: Is It Time to Back Off?

Dear Friend of FLAME:

The Obama administration's attempt to break the logjam in Middle East peace by taking a completely different tack than that of George W. Bush has no doubt been well-intentioned. However, it seems to have been based on some profoundly misguided assumptions and no small measure of naivete (on this we'll give the President the benefit of the doubt and spare him the accusation of arrogance).

We must admit that most U.S. presidents in recent times have initially believed they could achieve a Middle East peace where their predecessors had failed. But Obama was even more ambitious, having what Policy Watch commentator Robert Satloff calls an "inclination to engineer a 'big bang' in peacemaking that would transform the regional environment, launch high-level talks, and give a huge boost to the goal of reaching a final-status agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians."

Yet Obama's efforts to force quick reconciliation in the Israel-Palestinian conflict have consistently met with failure. Saudi Arabia, for example, has refused to consider even baby steps toward normalization of relations with Israel. Egyptian sentiment toward Israel hasn't thawed in the least.

Even more importantly, Obama's early and abrupt demand to a halt of any further housing developments on Israel's eastern reaches, even in east Jerusalem, was flatly rejected by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has continued Israel's growth policy there that has been in place since 1967. Netanyahu did, however, eventually agree to restraining some future settlements, but this gesture was scoffed at by all Arab nations.

Similarly, the Palestinians have thwarted Obama. They have steadfastly refused any call to negotiations until all Israeli settlement activity is halted and (as they fantastically declared at their recent ruling Fatah party convention) they are given full control of all Jerusalem. Fatah did briefly cooperate with Obama's request to reject pursuit of the infamous Goldstone Report at the U.N., but President Mahmoud Abbas backtracked on that commitment within a few days.

Of course, the terrorist Palestinian group Hamas, with which Obama has had no communication and which rules Gaza, has only one goal: Destroy Israel and create an Islamist state in Palestine. (No negotiations necessary, thank you very much.)

Not only have Obama's expenditures of political credibility delivered no dividend in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but he hasn't made any progress in slowing down Iran's head-long drive to develop nuclear weapons. Indeed, U.S. overtures toward "constructive engagement" with Iran have been rebuffed by the Islamic republic with disdain.

Yet among all of Obama's foreign policy challenges, the issue of Iran's nuclearization looms as the one with the greatest import and consequences for the U.S., for Israel and other Middle East nations, and for the entire world. Is this not where Obama should be focusing his energies? Is it not time for the administration to step back from the Israel-Palestinian conflict and focus on a pressing problem to which the world truly and desperately needs a solution?

This week's FLAME Hotline features a bold proposal by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, with whom we rarely find ourselves in agreement. In it, Friedman suggests that the U.S. leave Israel and the Palestinians to their own devices for now---that Obama back off. While Friedman sounds almost disappointed and a bit cynical about this prospect---almost as if he doesn't want to believe in the wisdom of his suggestion---we think he's right on target. Certainly Israel is better off without pressure from the U.S. to make unrequited concessions, and the Palestinians clearly have demonstrated no motivation to conduct peace talks.
I think you'll enjoy this refreshing perspective.

Best regards,

Jim Sinkinson
Director, FLAME


Have you seen the latest FLAME hasbarah message? Here's an advance preview: It's titled "Arabian Fables (II): More fanciful Arab myths to sway world opinion," and it exposes the popular fictions of "Arab East Jerusalem," "the settlements," and the Palestinian "refugees." I suggest you review it immediately, since these myths are being perpetuated daily in the press and perhaps among your less-informed acquaintances. To help set the record straight, this editorial piece has just started to run in national media delivering more than five million impressions, including to college students and all U.S. Senators and Representatives. If you agree that FLAME's outspoken brand of public relations on Israel's behalf is critical, I urge you to support us. Remember: FLAME's ability to influence public opinion---including the administration's tendency to hold Israel solely responsible for peace in the entire Middle East---comes from Israel's supporters like you, one by one. I hope you'll consider giving a donation now, as you're able---with $500, $250, $100, or even $18. (Remember, your donation to FLAME is tax deductible.) To donate online, just go to Now more than ever we need your support to ensure that Israel gets the support it needs---from the U.S. Congress, from President Obama, and from the American people.



President Obama has asked for input from U.S. citizens on his Middle East policies. To give him your opinion about the need to stop pressuring Israel for concessions and start focusing on the higher-priority issue of Iran's development of nuclear weapons, please write the President---immediately.

Call White House, Ask for Barack
by Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, November 8, 2009

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a bad play. It is obvious that all the parties are just acting out the same old scenes, with the same old tired clichés — and that no one believes any of it anymore. There is no romance, no sex, no excitement, no urgency — not even a sense of importance anymore. The only thing driving the peace process today is inertia and diplomatic habit. Yes, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left the realm of diplomacy. It is now more of a calisthenic, like weight-lifting or sit-ups, something diplomats do to stay in shape, but not because they believe anything is going to happen. And yet, as much as we, the audience, know this to be true, we can never quite abandon hope for peace in the Holy Land. It is our habit.

Indeed, as I ranted about this to a Jordanian friend the other day, he said it all reminded him of an old story.

"These two guys are watching a cowboy and Indian movie. And in the opening scene, an Indian is hiding behind a rock about to ambush the handsome cowboy," he explained. " 'I bet that Indian is going to kill that cowboy,' one guy says to the other. 'Never happen,' his friend answers. 'The cowboy is not going to be killed in the opening scene.' 'I'll bet you $10 he gets killed,' the guy says. 'I'll take that bet,' says his friend.

"Sure enough, a few minutes later, the cowboy is killed and the friend pays the $10. After the movie is over the guy says to his friend, 'Look, I have to give you back your $10. I'd actually seen this movie before. I knew what was going to happen.' His friend answers: 'No, you can keep the $10. I'd seen the movie, too. I just thought it would end differently this time.' "

This peace process movie is not going to end differently just because we keep playing the same reel. It is time for a radically new approach. And I mean radical. I mean something no U.S. administration has ever dared to do: Take down our "Peace-Processing-Is-Us" sign and just go home.

Right now we want it more than the parties. They all have other priorities today. And by constantly injecting ourselves we've become their Novocain. We relieve all the political pain from the Arab and Israeli decision-makers by creating the impression in the minds of their publics that something serious is happening. "Look, the U.S. secretary of state is here. Look, she's standing by my side. Look, I'm doing something important! Take our picture. Put it on the news. We're on the verge of something really big and I am indispensable to it." This enables the respective leaders to continue with their real priorities — which are all about holding power or pursuing ideological obsessions — while pretending to advance peace, without paying any political price.

Let's just get out of the picture. Let all these leaders stand in front of their own people and tell them the truth: "My fellow citizens: Nothing is happening; nothing is going to happen. It's just you and me and the problem we own."

Indeed, it's time for us to dust off James Baker's line: "When you're serious, give us a call: 202-456-1414. Ask for Barack. Otherwise, stay out of our lives. We have our own country to fix."

The fact is, the only time America has been able to advance peace — post-Yom Kippur War, Camp David, post-Lebanon war, Madrid and Oslo — has been when the parties felt enough pain for different reasons that they invited our diplomacy, and we had statesmen — Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, George Shultz, James Baker and Bill Clinton — savvy enough to seize those moments.

Today, the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians are clearly not feeling enough pain to do anything hard for peace with each other — a mood best summed up by a phrase making the rounds at the State Department: The Palestinian leadership "wants a deal with Israel without any negotiations" and Israel's leadership "wants negotiations with the Palestinians without any deal."

It is obvious that this Israeli government believes it can have peace with the Palestinians and keep the West Bank, this Palestinian Authority still can't decide whether to reconcile with the Jewish state or criminalize it and this Hamas leadership would rather let Palestinians live forever in the hellish squalor that is Gaza than give up its crazy fantasy of an Islamic Republic in Palestine.

If we are still begging Israel to stop building settlements, which is so manifestly idiotic, and the Palestinians to come to negotiations, which is so manifestly in their interest, and the Saudis to just give Israel a wink, which is so manifestly pathetic, we are in the wrong place. It's time to call a halt to this dysfunctional "peace process," which is only damaging the Obama team's credibility.

If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don't want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they'll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table. Let's fight about something big.

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