After his inauguration, President Obama made it his business to end the Mideast conflict within two years. To achieve that end he embraced the “Saudi peace plan” and put enormous pressure on Israel to accept it.
The hallmark of this plan was “ending the occupation that began in 1967″ and the division of Jerusalem.
Can we conclude from this that Obama is anti-Semitic, just hostile to Israel, or intent on changing U.S./Israel relations? The answer is not immediately self-evident.
Let’s go back to Israel’s founding, when these relations began.
Richard Holbrooke, in a fascinating article titled “Washington’s Battle Over Israel’s Birth,” explains the tug of war President Truman and Clark Clifford were involved in at that time: one side favored recognition, while Secretary of State George C. Marshall and his entourage at the State Department favored a UN trusteeship instead of partition.
Secretary of Defense James Forrestal explained to Clifford what motivated his group:
There are thirty million Arabs on one side and about 600,000 Jews on the other. Why don’t you face up to the realities?
According to Holbrooke, what motivated Truman and Clifford was moral conviction. Acting on their convictions was made more problematic by “the substantial anti-Zionist faction among leading Jews, [including] the publishers of both the Post and the New York Times.”
Nevertheless, the U.S., under Truman, was the first country to recognize Israel. Holbrooke concluded:
[To] this day, many think that Marshall and Lovett were right on the merits and that domestic politics was the real reason for Truman’s decision. Israel, they argue, has been nothing but trouble for the United States.
But Holbrooke begged to differ:
Truman’s decision, although opposed by almost the entire foreign policy establishment, was the right one — and despite complicated consequences that continue to this day, it is a decision all Americans should recognize and admire.
In the intervening years, the State Department has done its best to prevent Israel’s expansion. Presidents, to one degree or another, have lent their support. The U.S. maintained an arms embargo on Israel which commenced before the War of Independence in 1948 and ended after the Six Day War in 1967. During that period, Eisenhower forced Israel to retreat from the Sinai in 1956.
After Israel’s stunning victory in 1967, the State Department collaborated with the Arabs to prevent Israel’s expansion. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 started with the recital “Emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” before going on to envisage secure borders which envisioned the retention of some land. Thus, full withdrawal was not intended. The Arabs were livid and refused to negotiate. As a result, the U.S. proposed the Rogers Plan in 1969, which adopted the Arab position with these words:
We believe that while recognized political boundaries must be established, and agreed upon by the parties, any change in the pre-existing lines should not reflect the weight of conquest and should be confined to insubstantial alterations required for mutual security. We do not support expansionism.
Why not? Under international law, Israel, because it fought a defensive war, had the right to retain territory.
On Jerusalem, it provided:
We cannot accept unilateral actions by any party to decide the final status of the city. We believe its status can be determined only through the agreement of the parties concerned.
Specifically, we believe Jerusalem should be a unified city.
It left unresolved how to reconcile withdrawal to the 1967 borders and Jerusalem being a unified city. As the Obama administration has now highlighted, there is a conflict between the two. Similarly — is a “unified” city synonymous with a “united” city?
You will recall that Israel annexed East Jerusalem lands right after the war, but such annexation was not recognized by the U.S. and most other countries. So on the subject of Jerusalem, the U.S. has been consistent.