Time for a Realistic Middle East Policy

On Tuesday, I participated in a joint meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to receive Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  This should have been a positive meeting with America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.  Instead, the tension in the room was palpable, because everyone there was conscious of President Obama’s speech on Israel last week.

I was shocked to hear the President make the unprecedented suggestion that Israel should revert to its 1967 borders.  Israel is not only our best friend in this volatile region, but the freest nation.  In fact, Freedom House, an independent organization which rates countries based on their protection of political and civil rights, rated Israel as the only “free” country in the Middle East last year. 

That the President outlined such a troubling policy with regard to our friends in Israel defies imagination.  It goes against our belief in freedom to ask this tiny beacon of human liberty, alone in an area known for violence and chaos, to retreat.  It goes against our responsibility to the world to ask our strongest ally in the region, a nation that has fought for its right to exist from its very creation, to withdraw to indefensible borders.  As Mr. Netanyahu said in his speech, “Imagine that right now we all had less than 60 seconds to find shelter from an incoming rocket.  Would you live that way?  Would anyone live that way?  Well, we aren’t going to live that way either.”

Under the 1967 borders, the Israelis would be shut out of East Jerusalem, which contains some of the holiest sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims—including the Temple Mount, Western Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  This is unacceptable.  The Prime Minister pointed out that only in Israel have Jews, Christians and Muslims been free to worship as they please. Jerusalem must never again be divided!

The 1967 borders are significant because that year saw hundreds of thousands of Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, and Iraqi troops massed along those borders, intent on invading and destroying Israel.  It is disturbing that the President would even speak of forcing our ally back into such a position. 

The President refers to a non-militarized Palestinian state, but only mildly condemns the Palestinians for accepting Hamas, a recognized terrorist group that openly supports the destruction of Israel, as a governing partner.  The 1967 borders would place Hamas within an 11-mile march of Tel Aviv, one of Israel’s major economic and cultural hubs. 

The President expects Israel to reduce its security while Iran is building a nuclear weapon and has made clear that Israel is its preferred target.  Iran ships missiles and weapons to Hezbollah in Lebanon, supporting a heavily armed hostile force on Israel’s northern border.  Iran supports Hamas in the Gaza strip, from which rockets and missiles are launched into Israel daily. 

Israeli children wait in bomb shelters for the school bus.  Rocket and missile attacks are a constant and reliable terror.  Recently, as Mr. Netanyahu told the President, one such rocket hit a school bus and killed a 16-year old boy.  We would not tolerate such a thing in our country, and it is unthinkable for us to ask our ally to do so.  Now is not the time for political fantasy, it is the time for policies that will bring about peace and stability.

The President spoke of the advancement of democracy in Egypt, but failed to recognize concerns that the Muslim Brotherhood could seize power.  This group poses a serious threat to global security and especially to the safety of our ally Israel.  The President continues to talk about our intervention in Libya, but the fact is that President Obama risked American lives there needlessly and without congressional authorization.  Gaddhafi remains alive, and the situation has become a stalemate.  The President’s own Secretary of Defense admits that we had no pressing political or security interests in Libya. 

The President stated that his outline on Israel’s border is a starting point for negotiations.  But I would prefer that negotiations start not with massive and dangerous concessions, but with each side recognizing the other’s right to exist in peace.  Israel has done this.  But Hamas, Hezbollah, and others have not.  As Mr. Netanyahu pointed out, when Arab states expelled their Jewish populations in 1948-49, Israel gladly took them in.  Meanwhile, over six decades later, many Arab countries still leave their Palestinian populations in refugee camps.  It is completely unacceptable that the President expects massive sacrifices from the only nation who has acted responsibly in the matter.

During his meeting with President Obama last week at the White House, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that “a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality.”  He’s right.  It is time for the White House to shape a policy based in reality.  Americans and our allies deserve a policy that will protect us from the very real dangers and threats in the Middle East.