Phil-osophically Speaking: September 22, 2011

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Mideast Peace Process: Autopsy or Resurrection?

So we’re getting more drama at the United Nations this week as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas makes a unilateral push for statehood. It’s a ruse for world attention since the United States has made it clear it would veto such a move as long as the call for Israel’s destruction persists. And persist it does. But it’s a move on the international chessboard that will put the spotlight on the Palestinian Authority’s effort to end the Israeli occupation and create a homeland for the Palestinian people. At least that’s how they deftly but erroneously state the proposition. While statehood for the Palestinians will not become a reality anytime soon, it’s altogether possible that the PA will receive non-membership status from the General Assembly, putting it on par with the Vatican.

To think that the United States masochistically funds this dysfunctional global entity, far greater proportionately than any of the UN’s other members, is ludicrous. Take the UN’s Human Rights Council for instance, whose sitting members have been among the most conspicuous violators of human rights. Why does this farcical council have any place in the UN? It’s not unlike putting gangsters Bonnie and Clyde, John Dillinger and Willie Sutton on the Federal Reserve Board. 

This venom the UN habitually displays toward Israel and the United States is depressing but, for technical reasons, I don’t favor the U.S. exiting the UN’s doors bidding it the good riddance it justly deserves. For all its defects, there are just too many ways in which this body can be useful in defusing international crisis even though the U.N. is often drowning in a miasma of virulent lies and untruths.

Take, for example, Abbas’ blatant falsehood that the Palestinians have been under Israeli occupation for 63 years. The West Bank and Gaza were occupied after the dramatic Six Day War in 1967 when the Arab powers in the region tried to destroy Israel. Since then, Israel has constructed settlements on those lands but only because these same forces refuse to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and while not officially at war are often engaged in an unrelenting jihadist campaign against the only civilized democracy in the entire Middle East. 

The history of the conflict is unclouded: In 1948 the UN, pursuant to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, named after its architect British Foreign Secretary James Balfour, in recognition of Judaism’s ancient roots in the land, recommended the partitioning of the former British mandate into two states: one Jewish, one Arab. Since then the area has simmered into a cauldron of murderous hatreds that has resulted in several wars, jihads and Intifadas. While the Israelis have produced a healthy democracy, a vibrant economy, transforming a veritable desert into real estate that hums with life and vitality, the Arab world struggles with despotic rule, oppression and poverty. The Arab nations unable to achieve their goals by military conquest are now engaged in nefarious tactics of political subtlety. Abbas’ strategy is to turn Israel into a Palestinian state, which would not only mean the obliteration of the Mideast’s only Jewish homeland, but it will provide a fresh coat of paint for more despotism and destitution. This is the idea behind the PA’s international recognition of a Palestinian state that does not require them to have a negotiated peace with Israel. Abbas wants to make the PA’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist contingent on allowing 4 million refugees to swarm into Israel; in effect to acknowledge it with a death warrant.

That’s not going to happen and it’s time the U.S. made it clear that we are only going to entertain serious proposals or the $600 million in aid we give the Palestinians will be in jeopardy. The closest Israel and the PA came to an agreement was in 2000-01 when Yasir Arafat, whose peregrinations in the Mideast made him a sort of itinerant Arab pope, flatly rejected the very generous terms of the Clinton – Barak peace plan in order to perpetuate dissension and his own self-aggrandizement. Even Saudi Arabia was compelled to call Arafat’s actions a crime against the Palestinian people. The rejection resulted in the Intifada and another collapse into bloodshed.

There was a time, not terribly long ago, where many intelligent people said the United States’ relationship with Israel needed to be re-thought since it ostracized us from the Arab oil producing nations, as well as world opinion. A well-known New York City congressman once asked why he felt comfortable criticizing the President of the United States but not the Prime Minister of Israel. During the Six Day War, when American liberals were crucifying President Johnson about American involvement in Vietnam they were at the same time clamoring loudly about getting the American military seriously involved in the Mideast. Professor John Roche of Brandeis saw the delicious irony and, much to their chagrin, labeled them, “Doves for War.” Later, columnist Patrick Buchanan referred to segments of Congress as the “Amen corner” because they gave their benediction to whatever the Israeli lobby wanted.

As I look at the geo-political situation today, all of that seems like ancient history. Israel is in a terribly unenviable position. President Obama has said several times that Israel needs “a period of reflection” a euphemism for repentance. For a country that is endangered from all sides, Israel is an extraordinarily open and liberal society (indeed I think they’re a bit too permissive and indulgent) as opposed to the iron-fisted, procrustean Arab elites that flatter their plutocracy while heartlessly snubbing the multitudes of the indigent and repressed that makes up the vast majority of that population. The president, unsatisfied with Israel’s progress on the diplomatic front, then pressed Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for direct negotiations with the PA and gave him the proverbial cold shoulder when he visited Washington.  All this after Hamas and other terrorist groups fired some 8,800 rockets from the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip at Israeli towns and civilians. Just recently, there was the shocking sacking of the Israeli Embassy in Egypt.

As if Israel did not have enough problems with its neighbors, it now seems Turkey, with its formidable military, is gearing up for war against Israel. Meanwhile, the temperature of the Arab spring has not thawed out the frozen tundra of ancient vendettas. More than ever the U.S. must unwaveringly stand with its allies and forget all this rhetoric about saving the world. Israel has been a valuable ally, serving as a counterweight to a region characterized by upheaval and instability. This is no time to abandon them. The White House is doing the right thing by saying it will veto any attempt by the UN Security Council to award Palestinian statehood, but it has done so belatedly and after sending signals that American support for Israel has weakened.

The very nature of statesmanship is to send the right messages, consistently and firmly, so to avoid any miscalculation by opposing forces. We can’t take any chances in this charged global environment. Not with a shaky Pakistan that has nuclear weapons; an Iran who has been desperately trying to get them as well as an assortment of terrorists who see an apocalyptic showdown with these weapons as a divine summons.

I have a friend familiar with Mideast politics, who told me if the Arabs unilaterally disarmed there would be peace in the region; if Israel unilaterally disarmed there would be extermination. That might seem like an extreme oversimplification, but it nonetheless has the distinct odor of veracity. I haven’t felt this uneasy about this volatile region since the Yom Kippur war in 1973. Perhaps the president will salvage a damaged foreign policy in the Middle East; politically he has been pounded here in N.Y. for his phlegmatic attitude toward the travails of the children of Abraham. He will have a chance to rehabilitate himself this week when he addresses the UN. While he is sure to proclaim the ideals of freedom and human equality, the president must also make common cause with Israel, the sole country in the entire region that has not only promoted these humane ideals but has lived by them.

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