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President's Chosen Path Paves the Way for a Secure Jewish State

June 29, 2011 By:
Stuart E. Eizenstat
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As a government official in several administrations, an American and a Jew, I see Israel from multiple perspectives. Israel plays a strategic role in advancing American interests in the Middle East; Israel and the United States share a common set of democratic values; Israel is the Third Jewish Commonwealth, returning the Jewish people to their homeland after 2,000 years of exile; and it is the home of relatives and friends, as well as the final resting place of my great-grandfather and grandfather.

I believe that President Barack Obama's course is essential to achieve the hopes I have for Israel's future -- notwithstanding the recent controversy over the president's remarks about Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

First, the Obama administration has generated international pressure to confront Iran, Israel's most dangerous threat. The president is determined to "prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."

As a result of U.S.-orchestrated sanctions, Iran is cut off from large parts of the international financial system, its economy hobbled. Most American and European companies have departed.

The administration has taken on Islamic terrorism, from weakening al Qaeda with drone attacks and killing Osama bin Laden to providing support to help governments in the Middle East and North Africa combat radicalism.

Second, with congressional support, the president has increased military assistance to Israel to $3 billion and provided an additional $205 million to help produce an Israeli-developed short-range rocket defense system, Iron Dome, which already has intercepted rockets from Gaza and saved Israeli lives.

Third, the administration has taken head-on the campaign to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state. He told the U.N. General Assembly that "Israel's existence must not be a subject for debate" and said, "Efforts to chip away at Israel's legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States."

The controversy over the president's position on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has colored the view of some Israel supporters, who did not listen to what the president said. His May 19 speech on the Arab Spring and his May 22 AIPAC speech are bookends that should be reassuring to Israeli supporters and are in Israel's best interests.

It is critical to understand that the president was not only trying to reignite the stalled peace process, but also to head off a serious looming danger to Israel: a unilateral declaration by the U.N. General Assembly in September recognizing Palestinian statehood.

By giving the Europeans an alternative, the president's approach gives him leverage to urge them to join him in voting against the U.N. resolution.

Israel is isolated because of its policies on settlements in the West Bank. The Obama initiative provides the opportunity for key nations to support the U.S. government's effort to support Israel at the United Nations.

In his speeches, the president emphasized that peace could not be imposed on Israel and that Israel should not be expected to negotiate with Hamas so long as it is committed to Israel's destruction. He said that the withdrawal of Israeli military forces from the West Bank should occur only when the Palestinians can keep the peace, and that their state should be "non-militarized."

He stressed that the status of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees should be left to later.

What he did not say was that Israel should be required to withdraw to pre-1967 borders; quite the contrary. He said that negotiations should be based on "the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps."

As the president stressed at AIPAC, this means "by definition" that the "parties themselves will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed" before the Six-Day War in June 1967.

Lost in the fog of controversy is the fact that expansion of settlements does not strengthen Israel's security; it makes a two-state solution more difficult.

It's time for the American Jewish community, and Israel supporters everywhere, to recognize that the president 's broad principles -- apparently accepted by the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saab Erekat -- provide the key to a safe and secure Jewish state.

Ambassador Stuart E. Eizenstat is now a partner at a Washington law firm.

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