Shooting himself in the foot politically, President Barack Obama proposed May 19 that Israel should make peace with the Palestinians by returning to the pre-Six-Day-War borders. A lot has changed since Israel was ambushed by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Jordan’s King Hussein and Syria’s Hafez al-Assad with support from Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, all trying to fulfill Nasser’s promise of pushing Israel into the Mediterranean Sea. When the dust settled June 10, 1967, Israel had captured Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, Syria’s Golan Heights and Jordan’s West Bank, all becoming spoils of war. While Palestinians fought along side Egyptians, Syrians and Jordanians, they didn’t lose one inch of sovereign territory, though many Palestinians fled and were expelled from their homes inside Israel. All U.N. or U.S. sponsored peace proposals involve swapping land for peace.
Obama’s recent proposal was a well-intentioned but failed attempt to bring Palestinians to the bargaining table. Obama spoke in his May 19 speech about ending Israel’s “permanent occupation,” referring to Israel’s spoils from the 1967 War. Returning to the pre-Six-Day-War borders would necessitate relocating about 300,000 Israeli settlers currently living in the West Bank. Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in its historic 1978 peace accord, negotiated by the late Egyptian President Anwar Sedat, late Israel Prime Minister Menachem Begin and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Israel built up Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula into one of the world’s premier resorts before returning it to Egypt. Israel eventually left Gaza Sept. 12, 2005, only to find the terrorist group Hamas winning internationally monitored parliamentary elections Jan. 26, 2006.
Hamas forcibly seized control of Gaza June 14, 2007, beginning the current Palestinian civil war, where the late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat handed power to West Bank-based Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas has worked for years toward Palestinian statehood, accepting Arafat’s prior U.N. agreements recognizing Israel’s right to exist. Hamas continues to call for Israel’s destruction, regardless of current Egypt-brokered reconciliation talks with Fatah. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Obama’s proposal “indefensible,” recognizing that rolling back to 1967 borders is unfeasible. All the false starts and delays in peacemaking have left the Palestinians desperate for a quick-fix, including bypassing the peace process entirely, going to the U.N. and declaring an independent state naming East Jerusalem as its capital.
Barack’s proposal, though met harshly by Netanyahu, was a well-meaning effort to get Palestinians back to the bargaining table. He’s playing good-cop with the Palestinians, hoping to cajole them into discussions. Barack walked out on a limb politically, after a game-changing victory of getting Osama bin Laden May 2. “We accept two states based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps . . . and we want Mr. Netanyahu to say this sentence,” said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, speaking only for Fatah, not Hamas. Fatah senior political advisor Nabil Shaath expects Abbas to endorse in quick order a plan to get a vote in the U.N. for an independent Palestinian state. Obama’s latest peace overture attempts to preempt Abbas’ attempt to get a U.N. vote. Abbas knows that the U.S. will veto any U.N. attempt to declare an independent state without negotiating with Israel.
Obama knows that nothing can be done before Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist. U.S. and U.N. negotiators can’t create an independent state with 50% of the Palestinian people. Palestinians reacted harshly to Netanyahu’s rejection of Obama’s proposal. “It’s very clear that Obama’s attempt to [to restart talks] was shot down by Mr. Netanyahu,” said Shaath, promising to take the proposal for an independent state to the U.N. in September. Shaath knows that any such attempt would be vetoed by the U.S. in the U.N. Security Council. “Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create and independent state,” said Obama. Without a Palestinian unity agreement with Hamas recognizing Israel’s right to exist, discussions can’t start. No one from Fatah can speak for Hamas while they’re divided. Palestinians must resolve their civil war first before talking peace.
` Obama’s latest peace proposal accomplished its goal of getting a rise out of Israel. Invoking strong condemnation from Netanyahu placated the Palestinian street, proving the U.S. isn’t biased toward Israel. Middle East experts know that the U.S. and Israel are inseparable, especially when it comes to U.S. defense and security. Palestinians have no real hand to play other than going back to the peace table. Threatening to declare an independent state won’t go anywhere. Nor will threatening to resume the Intifada or guerrilla war with Israel win concessions or a Palestinian state. Palestinians need to resolve their civil war with Hamas accepting Israel’s right to exist before worrying about land-for-peace deals. Gone are the days when the U.S. can support terrorists, however noble the cause. If a two-state solution is possible, Palestinians need to stop making demands and get back to the table.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.