Words of Caution

An Open Letter to the President Obama
By David Suissa

Dear Mr. President:

Now that you have brought your can-do spirit and sense of optimism to that most intractable of conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, I thought I’d share a few words of caution.

First, Mr. President, be prepared to fail and to cut your losses. Be open to the possibility that this conflict is bigger than you are and there is nothing you can do to “solve” it.

When I hear you wax eloquently about creating a Palestinian state, I see you holding a flower in your hands. This flower, which represents the Palestinian state you so yearn for, needs to be planted, watered and nourished.

For several decades now, whenever anyone wanted to plant that flower, no matter how hard they tried, they couldn’t do it. The flower had no roots, and the ground was full of sand. Nobody cared enough to give the flower the key nourishment it needed — preparing the Palestinian people for peace with their Jewish neighbors.

Today, as I see you holding aloft this rootless flower, I see you falling into the same trap.

Which brings me to my second point: Don’t be so sure everyone wants peace. When you hear Arab and Muslim leaders tell you that “if only you could solve the Palestinian problem,” they would have better relations with America, help you fight terrorism, help you confront Iran, etc., be skeptical. They will do anything, including exploit your weaknesses and put you on the defensive, in order to stay in power.

For most of those leaders, power comes before peace. The Palestinian conflict is their suckling milk, their Al Jazeera-fueled drama that diverts attention from their own brutal and oppressive ways.

Listen to the words of one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, your special adviser on Iran, Dennis Ross:

“Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were solved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away. This is the argument of ‘linkage.’”

Of course, as you have often reminded us, a peaceful Palestinian state would be in Israel’s interest, as it would ensure that the country stays Jewish and democratic.

So here’s my third point: Don’t assume the Palestinians want a state as badly as you do.

Consider this fact. The last Israeli administration made unprecedented concessions to the Palestinians, offering 97 percent of the West Bank, the evacuation of tens of thousands of settlers and even offering what was previously unthinkable: accepting the principle of a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees and offering to resettle thousands of Palestinians in Israel.

The offer was rejected by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who said that “the gaps were too wide” and who later added, “No to the Jewishness of the Israeli state.”

These latest Palestinian “nos” from our “moderate partner” continue a pattern of rejection that started more than 60 years ago, way before the first Jewish settlement was ever built, and traces to a poison you recently noted — anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement.

There’s a perverse logic at work here. If you constantly demonize Jews in your schools, media and mosques, glorify suicide bombers and teach your children that there was never a Jewish presence in the land where Israeli Jews now live, how can you then turn around and tell them you will now make peace with these evil “foreign invaders”?

This Jew-hatred is independent of Jewish settlements, and is the longest-running impediment to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The fact is, the Palestinians have invested a lot more energy in hating the Jewish state than in trying to create their own.

With that as background, Mr. President, perhaps you can understand why many of us don’t see how a showdown with Israel over “natural growth” in the settlements will improve the prospects for peace. Israel hasn’t built a new settlement in years. How will your relentless pressure on existing settlements help deal with the Hamas charter calling for the destruction of Israel or the ongoing Palestinian refusal to accept a Jewish state?

A more even-handed approach would have been to put equal pressure on both sides to begin a “dismantle for dismantle” plan: Israel dismantles the buildup of illegal outposts while the Palestinians dismantle the teaching of Jewish hatred.

As it is, your single-minded pressure on Israel has backfired. Instead of encouraging the Palestinians to move forward and offer their own concessions, it has emboldened them and other Arab leaders to set new conditions for restarting peace talks, and given them a perfect excuse to do nothing.

“I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” Abbas told The Washington Post. “Until then, in the West Bank we have a good reality…. The people are living a normal life.”

Unfortunately, there are others who are not living a normal life, and those are Jews in places like Sderot and Ashkelon, who over the years have been at the mercy of thousands of Palestinian rockets from Gaza that have rained down on their homes, schools and synagogues.

Which brings me to my final word of caution: You might not like the status quo, but believe me there’s worse, like the West Bank turning into a terrorist state with a thousand rocket-launchers pointed at Israel’s major population centers.

If you can find a way, Mr. President, to convince a few million Israelis that the Palestinian state you have in mind will be free of the Jew-hatred that is behind all these rockets, you will find plenty of Jews ready to help you water that plant.

David Suissa is the founder of OLAM magazine and is a weekly columnist at the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. He can be reached at dsuissa (at) olam (dot) org. This article was reprinted with his permission.

About tolerantamerica

On her recent tour for her book, Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe, Lisa was inspired by the inauguration of Barack Obama, the first African-American elected president of the United States, to encourage cross-cultural dialogue about multiculturalism in America. To increase tolerance and understanding across communities, Lisa launched "A More Tolerant America" to feature guest bloggers, authors, activists, artists and other writers, who, like her, are multicultural. Klug's father is a German-Jewish Holocaust survivor from Poland and the descendant of a Spanish Jewish family that escaped the Spanish Inquisition. During her tour, Lisa encountered ignorance and bigotry toward Jewish Americans. As part of her campaign, this blog will giveaway books and other materials that promote cross-cultural dialogue.
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