Yesterday on May 19, President Obama gave a speech on recent events in the Middle East. This address may well shape events unfolding in the near future which pertain to Israel. While most of the President’s speech concerned the “Arab Spring” uprisings throughout the region, the last quarter of the speech related to Israel. That is the part addressed here. What did he really say, what didn’t he say, and what is still not understood about the conflict?
Obama’s speech was not delivered at the White House, but at the US State Department. The State Department is tasked with implementing the President’s foreign policy. Traditionally, the State Department is typically more left leaning and pro-Arab than the White House. In fact, in the 1940s the State Department was opposed to the establishment of the State of Israel. It was vehemently against President Truman’s recognition of the Jewish State. Obama’s choice of location as the site of a major foreign policy address could point to further changes in US policy toward Israel.
What Obama said
President Obama, consistent with earlier speeches and US policy, reiterated his support for the security of Israel. “As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums”.
These are somewhat encouraging words, especially since he went so far as to admonish the Palestinian plan to seek United Nations approval for a state in September. He indicated, “For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state.” Obama acknowledged that there will not be a Palestinian state so long as Hamas continues in its present path of terrorism and rejection of Israel. He said he shares Israel’s concerns over the recent Fatah-Hamas agreement.
However, the President also expressed his frustration with Israel over “settlement activities”, “occupation”, and general lack of progress. For the first time, he publicly stated his contention that a new Arab state of Palestine should be constituted based upon the borders in 1967, when Israelis were excluded from the Old City of Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (West Bank), the biblical heartlands of Israel. Mr. Obama also stated that the contentious issues of Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees should be left for later discussion, after the Palestinian borders have been established. “But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.” He recognized that the disputes over Jerusalem and any alleged Palestinian “right of return” are not easily solved. Making them preconditions, as the Palestinians insist upon, is a dead end.
What did he mean?
It seems that President Obama may have grown so frustrated with the inability of Israelis and Palestinians to resume discussions that he feels the need to start them himself. In doing so, however, he appears to have abandoned some of his prior-stated principles. For instance, in September, 2010, when he met with Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House, Mr. Obama said “The time has come to re-launch negotiations, without preconditions, that address the permanent-status issues: security for Israelis and [for]Palestinians, borders, refugees and Jerusalem.” But yesterday’s address went so far as to in effect establish major preconditions—a state of Palestine based on borders predetermined by America, calling for the turnover of territory gained in full accordance with international law.
Obama is not the first US president to state support for a Palestinian state; President Bush did so in 2004. However, Mr. Bush called it “unrealistic” to expect Israel to return major population centers (another term for legal settlements). Nevertheless, like Obama, he too said the final-status negotiations should include mutually agreed land swaps.
Mr. Obama seemed to indicate the US would be willing to block Palestinian efforts at the UN in September to establish statehood apart from negotiations with Israel. However, he may well demand that Israel first agree to his (1967) borders for that veto at the UN. The timing of his speech is telling: Netanyahu announced last month he would deliver a key statement in the US on May 24 concerning Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. He scheduled discussions with Obama on this matter on May 20. Because of its timing, many Israelis perceive the president’s speech as a preemptive measure toward Netanyahu’s address, also setting firm preconditions to their private talks. It would seem the Israeli Prime Minister now faces the threat of abandoned US support in the UN unless he agrees to the borders Obama wants. In any case, Obama’s public declaration of what Israel’s borders should be will surely become yet another precondition to negotiations on the part of the Palestinians.
What he didn’t say
Mr. Obama did not address the recent attempts by Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian Arabs to stampede across Israel’s borders on May 15, known in the Arab Middle East as Nakba Day. “Nakba” is the Arabic word for catastrophe. On May 15, 1948, the day after Israel declared its independence, the invading armies of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq attempted to destroy the Jewish state. The catastrophe which the Arab Middle East commemorates is their failure on that day sixty three years ago to annihilate Israel. Palestinian violence on Nakba Day—not to mention numerous acts of terror against Israelis earlier this year—reflects a reality Mr. Obama did not address.
In addition, the President’s speech failed to acknowledge the consequences of Israel’s prior efforts at giving up land for peace. In 2000 Israel withdrew its military from a previously established buffer zone in Southern Lebanon. The result was the creation of a terror zone for Hezbollah to rein rockets down on Israel. Similarly, Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 only to find itself to this day the recipient of endless rocket fire from Hamas. There is no indication that an independent Palestinian state would not result in the creation of yet another base for military operations against Israel.
What we need to understand
Imagine a woman who is offered a marriage proposal by a man, but who decides to spurn the offer, thinking someone better might be out there for her. Twenty years pass, she remains unmarried, and decides to accept the proposal. She tracks down the man, only to find him married with a family. The realities have changed, and she is not going to be able to marry him. She cannot turn back the clock and redo her decision.
In 1937, and again in 1948, when Jews were offered a state in the Middle East, the Arab world was also offered a Palestinian state. This offer included much more land than is presently being considered; nevertheless, the Arabs rejected it. The reason is that the offer to them was tied to the promise of a Jewish state.
A Palestinian state would exist today had the Arabs accepted either of the offers made by the international community in the last century. The Jews, meanwhile, accepted the offer made to them on a sliver of real estate (which originally did not include Jerusalem). They built their land into a thriving nation through blood, sweat, and tears. Now, many years later, on-the-ground realities have changed. Asking Israel to abandon Jerusalem as well as major population centers in Judea and Samaria, is unrealistic. The previous opportunity has passed.
The President did not directly or indirectly address the Palestinian “Phased Plan”. This plan was adopted by the Palestinian National Congress after the failed Arab attempt to annihilate Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973. The plan’s stated goals, which delineate the Palestinian strategy to eradicate the Jewish state are these:
- Through an armed struggle to establish an “independent combatant national authority” over any territory that is liberated from Israeli rule;
- To continue to struggle against Israel, using the national authority as a base of operations;
- To provoke an all out war in which Israel’s neighbors destroy it entirely, thereby liberating all of Palestine.
Yasser Arafat, in 1993, stated that the “phased plan” served as the basis for the Oslo Accords negotiated between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Oslo began the process of creating the base of military operations, and Mr. Obama’s borders would further it.
Mr. Obama’s speech is being dissected by both Israelis and Palestinians and neither is happy with him. The Palestinians claim he has said nothing new and suffers from pro-Israel bias. The Israelis feel he has in effect unilaterally drawn borders for the future state of Palestine. The borders left for Israel—which he has also drawn—are regarded as not militarily defensible. Some Israeli commentators have gone so far as to say that President Obama’s words will prove the inspiration for the next regional war.
How to Pray
The season ahead for Israel is very precarious, and therefore equally important to the nations of the world. Please pray the leaders of nations, especially those founded on biblical values, will be guided by the Word of God and Spirit of God, or be replaced by others who will. Pray that Mr. Obama would turn from directing his nation onto a collision course with the Creator. “I will also gather all nations, And bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; And I will enter into judgment with them there On account of My people, My heritage Israel, Whom they have scattered among the nations; They have also divided up My land.” (Joel 3:2)
Please pray for Prime Minister Netanyahu as he travels to the US to speak. May he recognize God’s will and calling for the nation he leads. Pray he will courageously stand firm in God’s mandate to Israel. Ask God to grace him with words of wisdom reflecting timeless truth. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. “For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, Until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, And her salvation as a lamp that burns.” (Isaiah 62:1)
Thank you for aligning with God’s heart and mind for Israel!