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.
When Israel was attacked in 1973 by Egypt and Syria, Kissinger did his best to put Israel at a disadvantage. Thanks to General Haig, and later President Nixon, Israel turned defeat into victory. But Kissinger was there to limit the victory. This was not good enough for the Saudis, who imposed an oil embargo on the West.
In The Vast Power of the Saudi Lobby, written in response to the publication of The Israel Lobby, John R. MacArthur notes:
As the historian J.B. Kelly recounts, the U.S. ambassador to Riyadh, James Akins, did his best to placate King Faisal by urging the Saudi’s American-owned oil concessionaire ARAMCO to, in Aken’s words, “hammer home” to the White House that the embargo wouldn’t be lifted unless “the political struggle [between Israel and the Arabs] is settled in [a] manner satisfactory to [the] Arabs.”
In 1975, Kissinger advised an Iraqi diplomat:
On the contrary, Israel does us more harm than good in the Arab world. … We can’t negotiate about the existence of Israel but we can reduce its size to historical proportions. … I think the Palestinian identity has to be recognized in some form. … No solution is possible without it.
Thereafter, the U.S. worked — surreptitiously at first, and then openly — to cultivate the Palestinian identity and entity. Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, and Bush 43 all did their part.
In the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003, Thomas Friedman introduced the Saudi plan and advised that he got it from King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. But I think that it was in fact drafted by the State Department, who for one reason or another did not want to take ownership of it. I set out my reasons in my blog post “Unifying Theory.” The plan called for:
Israel’s full withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied in 1967 in implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, backed by the Madrid conference resolutions in 1991 and the principle of land for peace, and for Israel’s acceptance of the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state, whose capital is East Jerusalem, in return for the Arab states’ establishment of normal [tabi’iyah] relations within the framework of a comprehensive peace with Israel.
Its intent was to make a claim on East Jerusalem and to emphasize full withdrawal.
The State Department, in exchange for getting Saudi agreement for the invasion of Iraq, agreed to incorporate the Saudi plan in the road map — which also was in the process of being drafted. The road map was announced one week after the invasion.
The road map covered new ground in requiring that an independent Palestinian state be created which was contiguous and viable. Normally these three matters would be subject to negotiations. No longer. By incorporating the Saudi plan, it also endorsed the division of Jerusalem and insubstantial changes in the 1967 borders. If that weren’t enough, it required Israel’s commitment to stop settlement construction pursuant to the Mitchell Report. Israel’s fate and Kissinger’s prophecy were sealed.
When Sharon announced his disengagement plan, he negotiated for the support for such a move by President Bush. This support took the form of a letter from Bush to Sharon in ’04 in which Bush softened the State Department’s position with this paragraph,
As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations 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, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.
Notice, he did not reference the Saudi plan and rejected the idea of a full withdrawal. While this wording may fall short of a binding commitment, this sentence in the letter doesn’t: “The United States will do its utmost to prevent any attempt by anyone to impose any other plan.”
Obama took the position that the U.S. was not bound by this letter as he wished to return to the Saudi plan with its “insubstantial changes” and division of Jerusalem. Elliot Abrams, who was involved in the negotiations surrounding the letter, was of the opinion that the letter did in fact amount to an agreement.
By rejecting this letter as binding, Obama was now free to permit the imposition of another plan, i.e., the Saudi plan. By doing so he is also negating all the caveats inserted by Bush for Israel’s protection.
President Obama does not have a new plan in mind. He just wants to force Israel to agree, and failing this, to impose a solution on Israel, thereby removing her one remaining right: the right to negotiate. This includes the right to reject offers.
Throughout the years, the American people and their representatives in Congress and the Senate have been very supportive of Israel, though they never confronted, much less thwarted, the State Department as Truman did.
Obama is not sensitive to American public opinion, but he is sensitive to Arab opinion, just as the State Department is. He is prepared to go to the mat on this. And why not? He has the backing of the liberal/left in America, Jews included.
The time has come for Israel to say “no” to further concessions or the imposition of a solution not to her liking. She must appeal to the American people to thwart the Arabist State Department. It is not enough to get Congress to pass resolutions supporting Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel, which they have done a number of times in the past.
Congress and the Senate must commit to making it a reality.