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In His Cairo Speech, Did President Obama Get It Right? After Decades of Stalemate, He Deserves Our Steadfast Support

June 11, 2009 By:
Theodore Mann
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Is there anyone who can provide a solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that is not based on the creation of two separate states -- one Israeli and one Palestinian?

This is what our new president is trying to bring about. To get a negotiation going, he insists that Israel stop building new settlements or expanding settlements that already exist. He's not demanding that settlements be evacuated. Whether all or any of the settlements should be closed down will depend on where the Israel/Palestine border will be, and that is to be decided by the parties in negotiations mediated by the United States.

I know how hard it is for American Jews to come down on one side or another when there is a confrontation between an Israeli prime minister and a U.S. president. It's so painful that there is a temptation not even to think about it. But think about it we must, and this time, unlike in the past, we must support our president.

Two presidents -- Jimmy Carter and the first George Bush -- confronted Israeli premiers. As a result, both lost the support of American Jews, and both succeeded in greatly benefiting Israel.

Back in 1978-79, Israel Defense Minister Ezer Weizman and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan ascribed the success of the Egyptian/Israeli negotiations to Carter's "bulldog-like persistence." His very public, abusive rhetoric, which sometimes falsely blamed Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin's "intransigence" for any delay or breakdown in the negotiations, turned most American Jews against him. No Democrat in the past 85 years has lost the Jewish vote, except for Carter in his unsuccessful bid for a second term in 1980.

Yet the peace treaty President Carter brought about between Israel and its most powerful enemy has lasted for 30 years. With the exception of former President Bill Clinton, who helped enable the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, no American president since Carter brought Israel even one inch closer to peace with its Arab neighbors, even though all of them admired Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East.

The elder President Bush was so concerned that the vast number of Soviet Jews emigrating to Israel would be resettled in the West Bank --thereby preventing peace from ever being achieved -- that he refused to guarantee repayment of a $10 billion loan Israel badly needed for resettlement purposes unless then-premier Yitzhak Shamir agreed that no more settlements would be built. Shamir could not bring himself to make such commitment.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, with not a single dissent, supported Shamir in what came to be called the "nonlinkage" campaign. During that time, many Jews felt that the president and Secretary of State James Baker had made abusive comments about the Jews. Yet when Yitzhak Rabin succeeded Shamir in 1992 and agreed that Israel would not resettle Soviet olim in the West Bank, Bush provided the requested guarantee. The second President Bush clearly loved Israel, yet did absolutely nothing to bring about peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians.

Even though America is Israel's best friend and an indispensable ally, nine successive U.S. presidents over a period of 42 years have opposed Israel's expansion of settlements in the territories. For those four decades, Israel has ignored all of them. Now it is President Obama's turn. Can he be ignored? I do not think so, and I hope he's not.

Is there anyone who really believes that there is even the slightest possibility that our grandchildren will be living in a peaceful world if Israel continues to occupy the West Bank? I can't even envision it.

Is there anyone who really believes that our grandchildren will even want to be associated with Israel 15 or 20 years from now, when the majority of the inhabitants of the land between Jordan and the Mediterranean are Palestinians, most of whom will not permitted to vote and will be ruled over by a Jewish minority?

This remarkable new president is the first since Carter to bet his second term on achieving peace in the Middle East. He will have my support all the way.

Theodore Mann, a retired Philadelphia attorney, is a longtime leader of several national and local Jewish organizations.

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