On September 2nd, direct talks began between Arabs and Israelis. During the August 20 press conference announcing the talks, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell was asked by a reporter whether President Obama would be seen as an “honest broker” by the two sides. In the case of Israel, the answer, to put it bluntly, is no.
There are, of course, the obvious concerns about our current president: His acceptance of the Palestinian-Arab narrative, revealed during his Cairo speech when he rejected “the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” his attempt to make political hay out of Israel’s announcement of new home construction in Jerusalem, and his obnoxious behavior towards Israel’s prime minister during their March meeting. The pieces create a whole that would disturb any Israeli negotiator’s night’s sleep.
But the fact of the matter is, regardless of whether a U.S. president is more or less favorably disposed to the Jewish state – and in this case, certainly less – the United States has consistently pursued a policy that is inimical to Israel and accepting of the Arab position. This policy entails Israel’s return to the strategically indefensible 1949 Armistice lines – what Abba Eban called a “death trap.”
Since 1967, every administration has put forth plans that pushed for Israel’s surrender of the territories it captured in the Six Day War. Policy-makers ignore the fact that areas like Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) never belonged to the Arabs. Legally, they remained part of the British Mandate for Palestine. They were seized illegally by Jordan in a war of aggression. They were then wrested from Jordan by Israel in a war of defense. The idea that these are ‘illegally occupied lands’ is the language of anti-Israel Arab propaganda, a figment of a fictional history.
Yet, it’s on this fabrication that the U.S. bases its policy, arguing for Israeli withdrawal. What happens when Israel does surrender territory is clear from the case of Gaza – now a Hamas launching pad for missiles into Israeli population centers. Gaza’s decline has not shaken the belief of American policy-makers that Israel must continue to cede captured territory.
Largely to blame is the State Department, which has a well-documented antagonism to Zionism dating from the First World War. Its motives are two-fold: A desire not to antagonize the Arabs and a fear of risking the flow of oil. For each incoming president, it trots out the same old policy dressed up in new clothes. Unless a U.S. president has strong views to the contrary and the will to impose them, the State Department’s policy will emerge triumphant.
From the start, America has shown itself to be an untrustworthy ally. In 1948, only three years after the Holocaust, when five well-armed Arab states with the support of the British attempted to annihilate the newly formed Jewish state, the U.S. incongruously declared an arms embargo on both sides. In 1967, America attempted to restrain Israel even as Arab forces gathered on its border.
In the Yom Kippur War, it was the U.S. that turned Israeli victory to defeat by pressuring Israel to refrain from destroying the Egyptian Third Army. Nor let us forget how Israel was restrained by the first Bush administration from retaliating when Iraqi Scud missiles rained down on it.