Jun 16th 2009

Barack Obama, Israel’s True Friend

by Abraham B. Yehoshua

A. B. Yehoshua is one of Israel's pre-eminent novelists. His latest novel is Friendly Fire.

HAIFA - How do you tell a true friend? By the fact that he believes and has confidence in you, cares about your true needs, and honestly tells you your mistakes, which he tries to help you correct. That is the kind of friend I want at my side, not one who automatically approves of whatever I do, declares his love for me, and accepts me as I am.

Ever since its great military victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, when it repelled the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, which had openly proclaimed their desire to destroy the Jewish state, Israel has been in the throes of an ideological and military confusion resulting from the conquests it made during that conflict.

Following the Six-Day War, Israel did not consider the conquered lands as something to be traded for peace, and thus induce the Arab world and the Palestinians to recognize its legitimacy and ensure the demilitarization of Palestinian territories after their restitution. Instead, Israel - either because of its distrust of its enemies and of their commitment to respect any future peace agreement, or because of a desire to annex some of the territories - began to pursue a policy of settlements. But, in doing so, it created a reality that is difficult to reverse.

Israel's non-military settlements are, and have always been, irrelevant to the country's security. On the contrary, because the settlements are located in the heart of the Palestinian population, they are convenient targets for terrorist attacks and require special defensive measures, including the deployment of large military forces engaged in patrolling and surveillance. Even on the Golan Heights, where there is no Syrian presence, the settlements, located only a few kilometers from enormous Syrian troop concentrations, create a heavy burden, because, in the event of war, the Israeli army would be forced to evacuate them quickly, as was the case during the Yom Kippur war of October 1973.

The settlements intensify Palestinian hatred toward Israel. In addition to occupying Palestinians' land, using their water, and imposing limits on their freedom of movement, the settlements symbolize Israel's intention to remain, and thus its reluctance to concede independence to the Palestinian people, even if they were to recognize Israel's legitimacy and show themselves disposed to peaceful coexistence.

Israel has invested great financial resources in the settlements, often ignoring important needs in Israel proper. The settlers, predominantly supporters of religious-nationalist movements and parties, often flaunt an attitude of superiority in their relations with Israeli authorities, pretending to have a special status with respect not only to Palestinians, but also to other Israeli citizens. Indeed, a substantial number of them don't even recognize the Israeli state's legal authority.

The greatest problem with the settlements is that if they continue to expand, the two-state solution will be compromised and, sooner or later, lead to a unitary state - one populated by two ethnic groups - between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Because simple demographic implies that Palestinians would gradually come to constitute a majority, a unitary state is a recipe for the end of Israel.

The majority of Israelis understand this. But, like an incorrigible drug addict, they are unable to say, "Enough. We have made a mistake, and we have to remedy it before it's too late."

To be sure, when a peace treaty was signed with Egypt, Jewish settlers were forcibly evacuated from the Sinai. Similarly, when Jewish communities in the Gaza Strip became unsupportable, the leader of the right, Ariel Sharon, forced out the 9,000 settlers who lived there among 1.5 million Palestinians - a dramatic event that has left deep scars on both sides. But there are 250,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Any attempt to evacuate them could escalate into a civil war.

The world, including the United States, disapproves of the Israeli settlements. But, despite past US administrations' opportunity to make their influence felt, they preferred to permit Israel, an allied, friendly state, to do what it wanted.

So a moment of truth has arrived. Barack Obama, a wise and courageous leader, is - I have no doubt about it - not merely interested in improving America's image in the eyes of the Muslim world. He also seeks Israel's welfare and security, and says to us, "Enough. Stop harming yourselves and your own future. Even if you don't believe in Palestinians' real desire for peace, their capacity to hold terrorist organizations at bay, or their renunciation of the alleged right of return, you can always protect your security with a military presence in Palestinian territories rather than prejudicing the future peace and the two-state solution by expanding useless settlements."

With such a clear and direct appeal to the Israeli government, America's president not only expresses what a majority of Israelis know. He also proves his profound friendship for the Jewish state.


Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2009.

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