Kurt Mitman | A wasted opportunity
Sorry to be Kurt | Obama should have used his visit to Israel to propose steps towards peace in the Middle East
March 22, 2013, 12:39 am·
Sorry to be Kurt
This week, Barack Obama made his first official visit to Israel as president.
The trip was filled with fanfare and photo ops, but was light on policy and absent of any new proposals to solve the enduring conflict between Israel and her neighbors.
Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised — after all, he is a president that has always been high on rhetoric and light on actual solutions.
I have often wondered why, as Obama recently put it, we have “an unbreakable bond” with Israel.
It is true that Israel does have a Western-style democracy, and the United States promotes the establishment of free societies around the world. Israel also faces an existential threat from its neighbors.
But consider the case of Taiwan. It also has a Western-style democracy and faces an existential threat. While we do provide support to Taiwan, I don’t think anyone would characterize our relationship with it as being an “unbreakable bond” — we don’t even have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Moreover, like what diplomatic relations with Taiwan would entail, there are obvious costs to our unwavering support for Israel. Obama rightfully noted the persistent suffering of the Palestinian people during his 2009 speech in Cairo and how our perceived indifference to it has strained relations with the Muslim world.
All sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have blood on their hands — the Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians and Lebanese have all engaged in reprehensible acts of violence. My point here is not to say that one side is right or somehow has the moral upper hand in the ongoing conflict.
Israelis have a right to live in peace, without fear of rocket attacks or suicide bombers. Palestinians have a right to self-determination. Both sides are at fault for failing to achieve peace.
This puts the United States in the difficult position of weighing the respective rights of the two peoples. We shouldn’t support Israel just because it has been our ally when it comes to human rights issues.
What is clear is that it is in the best interest of our country to have a lasting peace in the Middle East.
What is also clear is that we provide a significant amount of aid to Israel, and we provide them with technological advantages in the conflict. The director of the Israel Missile Defense Organization, in reference to improvements in rockets fired at Israel, recently said, “Without the support of the United States, we will not be able to cope with this rate of change.” This should at least give us a seat at the table in pushing for peace.
As such, Obama should have used his visit to put forth a comprehensive proposal for peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state. A reasonable starting point would be: 1) An Israeli withdrawal to its 1967 borders; 2) Disband all settlements across the Israeli West Bank Barrier; 3) An exchange of equal area of land for settlements currently within the barrier; 4) Significant financial incentives to both the Israelis and Palestinians in exchange for peace, similar to the Camp David peace agreements.
Neither Lebanon nor Syria will ever agree to a much-needed peace without a return to the pre-Six-Day War borders, which were established by the 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and its neighbors. They want a Palestinian state, which requires the Palestinian people having substantial and continuous land. This would necessitate, in large part, the first three points mentioned above. While there is no guarantee this would ensure lasting peace, it’s a step that will eventually be taken and what Israel should do.
Obama should make clear that the continued U.S. support of Israel cannot and will not last indefinitely without significant progress toward peace. We have been a staunch ally of Israel for decades, but I do not believe that continuing the status quo will give any side cause to bring about peace.
Perhaps the Israelis or Palestinians would rebuff our efforts. The coalition cobbled together recently by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not be cohesive enough to achieve a lasting peace. But supporting the status quo is not in our best interests. If it isn’t going to change, why should we still be choosing sides in a conflict in which everyone is wrong?
Kurt Mitman is a 6th-year doctoral student from McLean, Va. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him @SorryToBeKurt. “Sorry To Be Kurt” appears every other Friday.