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
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
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
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
I think you'll enjoy this refreshing perspective.
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 http://www.factsandlogic.org/make_a_donation.html.
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
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.