Obama and Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

President Barack Obama says he will be more honest than past presidents with Israel. Israel, a great friend of the United States and a country we like and admire on its merits, has nevertheless dug itself into a very deep hole with its determination to colonize the West Bank and to keep the Palestinians stateless. These policies are what is wrong, not anything essential about Israel or the Palestinians. Both peoples deserve to live in peace and with dignity and human rights and without fear of violence. But that ideal situation cannot come about unless Israel comes to terms with a simple fact: It will never be accepted in the region and will never really be secure, unless and until it stops depriving the Palestinians of their resources, their land, and their right to be citizens of a recognized state. (And, no, it cannot be Jordan, either). Not only is Israel hurting itself with this reckless drive to colonize others’ land and so rob them, but it is deeply harming US interests in the Muslim World. Why would a friend do that to us–harm itself and harm us? Israeli settlement policy is the Amy Winehouse of foreign affairs.

Obama has already ruffled the feathers of Israeli hawks by forthrightly asking for an end to the building of new settlements, and a freeze on the growth of existing ones. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is insisting that “natural growth” must be allowed in the existing settlements, but this stance is widely considered a ruse intended to allow for settlement expansion through relocating people, not just having babies. Obama is not falling for it, and continues to argue for a settlement freeze.

This is what I said at CBS about what Obama should tell the Muslim world on Thursday:

‘ In order to make a genuine and lasting impact, Obama needs to tell the Muslim world that the long years in the desert for the Palestinian people are over and that he will devote his energies to ensuring the establishment of a viable Palestinian state by the end of his first term. No one in the region believes in the so-called peace process any more, inasmuch as progress has been scant and the condition of the Palestinians has steadily worsened.’

In fact, I think Obama should make it clear that by 2011 he will simply recognize as the Palestinian state the government of the Palestine Authority that is elected next January. That would be an excellent way of forcing all the parties to make sure those elections are not handled carelessly. And it will put everyone into over-drive in making sure the transition goes well. I have been saying for some time what Ahmed Qurei recently did, that if the Israeli settlers want to stay in the West Bank, they must accept Palestinian citizenship. A government of Palestine that has Jewish constituents might anyway be a good thing.

Obama has an opportunity, through making sound and wise policy on this issue, to resolve 80 or 90% of the problems the US has with the Middle East. It looks as though he is going to give it his best shot.

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