Mr. President, Now’s the Time to ‘Recalibrate’ on the Mideast


I was privileged on July 13 to be invited, along with 16 other Jewish leaders, to meet with President Barack Obama at the White House. Much has been written about this historic meeting; it's hard to believe there have been so many commentaries on a one-hour session.

Everyone there has a version of what happened; I'm no different.

For me, the meeting was a chance to talk with a new administration, and to make sure that the views of the Orthodox Union and our constituent body are represented. Afterwards, I felt that the administration was asking a great deal of Israel, while requesting little from the Arab world.

President Obama likes the word "recalibrate." He said: "We have to recalibrate the perception that little is being asked of the Arab world, and specifically the Palestinians."

The president assured us that in private discussions, Arabs have agreed to stop the incitement and to recognize Israel's legitimate right to be a homeland for the Jewish people, but they have yet to express this publicly. We were assured that in the near future, there would be significant changes in the news releases and speeches given by moderate Arab leaders. The president felt that with a more evenhanded diplomatic posture, the Arab world would rise to the occasion.

Since our meeting, I have not heard one Arab leader publicly recognize Israel's legitimate right to be a Jewish homeland and a free democratic society in the Mideast. I have not heard one Arab leader publicly recognize that Israel is a nation among the nations of the world. I have not heard one Arab leader call for the elimination of incitement and hatred against the State of Israel.

I have not heard one Arab leader recommend that the educational tools used to indoctrinate hatred against Israel be eliminated and new textbooks published in which the State of Israel is displayed on the geographic map of the Mideast.

Also, I did not hear any words of conciliation and moderation at the recent Fatah convention. What I did hear were statements praising suicide-bombers and threatening violence, as well as the ridiculous claim accusing Israel of assassinating Yasser Arafat, though Fatah delegates acknowledged there was no proof.

What I did hear is that Palestinians who supposedly were expelled in 1948 should be able to return to their homes. What I did hear is that Israel had no justification to defend itself after waiting seven years and absorbing tens of thousands of missiles fired at its people.

And I did hear a Palestinian leader warning the Arab states not to normalize their ties with Israel. ("Normalization of Israel's ties with the Arab countries before the occupation ends in the Palestinian areas is the last thing that the Palestinians should have to experience," said Abu El-Izz Dajani, a former PLO ambassador.) I did hear Jordan calling on Saudi Arabia to publicly reject appeals to improve relations with Israel.

After meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jordan's Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told her that confidence-building measures that America wants the Arab states to take will not produce a resolution to the conflict.

So it seems that the Arab world has rejected the president's requests. It has sent a clear message: "We will not change our rhetoric, and we will not change our positions. Continue to press Israelis, force them to give back land and compromise their security in exchange for words of hatred from moderate Arab leaders."

So I now ask you, Mr. President, if you are truly sincere about finding peace in the Middle East, is it not the time to recalibrate your position again? May I suggest that you make it abundantly clear that the opportunity for peace rests on the shoulders of the Arab world. Once it accepts Israel completely — and rejects terrorism and incitement — then and only then can the seeds of peace be planted in the Middle East.

Stephen J. Savitsky is the president of the Orthodox Union.


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