Obama Administration to Israel: Stop Isolating Yourself

Defense Secretary Panetta says Israel must be a better partner in the region.

President Obama's new defense secretary, Leon Panetta, has bought into the myth that Israeli inflexibility is the source of the Palestinian conflict. He is publicly saying that the ball is in Israel’s court, and it is now the Jewish state’s responsibility to advance the peace process. He warns that it is becoming more isolated, and Israel must be a better partner in the region. In other words, Israel is to blame.

On Sunday, Panetta said, “[T]he question you have to ask: Is it enough to maintain a military edge if you're isolating yourself in the diplomatic arena? Real security can only be achieved by both a strong diplomatic effort as well as a strong effort to project your military strength."

In what the Associated Press called an “edgy warning,” he said that Israel must try to rescue its relations with Turkey and Egypt. Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan interpreted Panetta’s statement to mean that the U.S. was taking Turkey’s side in its confrontation with Israel. Playing off of Panetta’s words, Erdogan said, “Israel has chosen isolation by losing a friend like Turkey.” Erdogan has reduced Turkey’s ties to Israel because of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to apologize for the controversial Gaza flotilla raid last year. Panetta also said that the U.S. should not cut the amount of taxpayer money given to the Palestinian Authority to retaliate for its provocative bid for U.N. membership.

“There is a need and an opportunity for bold action on both sides to move towards a negotiated two-state solution,” Panetta said during his press conference with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. He urged both sides to restart negotiations, without acknowledging that Israel has always been willing to negotiate. On Sunday, Israel said it wanted to restart direct negotiations, just as Panetta insisted. As a matter of fact, Netanyahu offered to immediately meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his speech at the U.N. on September 23.

“In two and a half years, we met in Jerusalem only once, even though my door has always been open to you. If you wish, I’ll come to Ramallah. Actually, I have a better suggestion. We’ve both just flown thousands of miles to New York. Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s met here today in the United Nations,” Netanyahu said.

If Abbas had said what Netanyahu did, the international community and world media would have been electrified. Yet, Netanyahu was met with a collective silence. On the same day as his speech, Al-Jazeera interviewed a member of the Fatah Central Committee. The official, Abbas Zaki, unequivocally stated that negotiations based on two states are only an interim, practical step towards destroying Israel. “Everybody knows that the greater goal cannot be accomplished in one go,” he said.

“If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, evacuates the 650,000 settlers, and dismantles the wall—what will become of Israel? It will come to an end,” Zaki said. He previously said the same thing as the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon in May 2009. And he admitted that the Palestinians were keeping quiet about this strategy.

“If we say that we want to wipe Israel out…C’mon, it’s too difficult. It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself,” he said.

The Palestinian Authority’s position is that no Jews will be allowed to live in an independent Palestine. This means that the Palestinians are requiring that Israel forcibly remove potentially hundreds of thousands of its citizens from their homes as a condition for peace. Abbas says he’ll never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Israel, on the other hand, welcomes its Arab minority to stay and enjoy the benefits of life in its democracy. The Palestinian Authority celebrates terrorists who have murdered innocent Israelis, even naming streets after them. But somehow, Israel is blamed for being uncompromising.

Then there is Hamas, the Islamist terrorist group that Fatah has decided to bury the hatchet with, at least for now. Hamas doesn’t hide the fact that it views the peace process as a staged strategy to destroy Israel. The Hamas chief in Gaza said in June 2010, “This is our plan for this stage--to liberate the West Bank and Gaza, without recognizing Israel’s right to a single inch of land.” Just over the weekend, a top Hamas leader was in Iran saying, “Palestinians must resort to resistance no matter how costly it is, until Palestine is free and Israel is destroyed.” Netanyahu has accurately equated Hamas with Al-Qaeda, noting that it mourned the death of Osama Bin Laden.

The list of Israeli concessions in the name of peace goes on and on, as Netanyahu recounted in his speech at the U.N. In 2000, Israel offered Yasser Arafat practically everything he asked for and was rejected, and the Palestinians launched a terror offensive. Likewise, in 2008, Abbas did not consider a similar proposal. Israel left Lebanon in 2000, only to be forced to reenter temporarily in 2006 because of attacks by Hezbollah. In 2005, it abandoned the Gaza Strip, demolishing homes and synagogues and throwing the lives of the Jews there into disarray. Hamas took over and used the territory for its campaign to destroy Israel.

Since Netanyahu became Prime Minister again, he’s requested negotiations without prior conditions or concessions from the Palestinian side, just as Panetta is urging. Israel has dismantled hundreds of security checkpoints and the Palestinian economy is growing because of Israeli business. “I took the unprecedented step of freezing new buildings in the settlements for 10 months. No prime minister did that before, ever…No response,” Netanyahu recalled.

“The core of the conflict is not the settlements. The settlements are a result of the conflict,” he said.

And he’s right. There’s only one side whose policy is to destroy the other, and that side is not Israel. The Jewish state is more than ready to facilitate the creation of a non-threatening Palestinian state. Peace is craved by Israelis, but they understand the ultimate concession that the other side seeks: The elimination of Israel.