Mr. Obama, I Fear You May Provoke a War

by Gedalyah Reback

Dear President Obama,

I, writing as a concerned and educated citizen of the United States and as a constituent on Israeli Religious Nationalist parties, implore you to ease pressure on Binyamin Netanyahu’s new government and policies that it supports. Your overt pressure is in line with the failed policies of international organizations, whose credibility has long decayed in the eyes and ears of Israelis.

Their overt pressure unjustly and arbitrarily gave legitimacy to charges of Israeli war crimes during the Second Intifada and during the Second Lebanon War in 2006. Such accusations, baseless, discouraged Israel’s citizens and government officials from listening to those bodies, and exacerbated the Israeli responses in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Those wars, fought under the legitimate pretenses of self-defense, were slandered as illegally waged or disproportionately brutal, while the commanders and soldiers who fought the war have never recognized such accusations with any credibility; thusly, nor have Israel’s 7 million citizens. The media pressure applied to Israel was itself disproportionate to the amount of blatant crimes of war committed by Hizbullah and Hamas with their indiscriminate attacks on civilian population centers. Remember no investigations are necessary to investigate those crimes, but such behavior is hardly scrutinized as much as Israelis’ legitimate counter-offensives in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.

Undue pressure on the Israelis to accept a two-state solution, a track whose support had been dwindling among Middle East-focused think tanks and their reputable experts, will continue to push Israelis away from the international community. That community has lent no flexibility or legitimacy to Israelis’ needs, much less various Israeli governments’ legal arguments regarding issues of the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

I recently attended AIPAC’s annual policy conference. On the final day of the conference, speakers Senator John Kerry and Vice President Joseph Biden spoke to a crowd of about 5,000 people. The reactions to the two speakers were very different, and you must take note of why.

Senator Kerry, whose support for the two-state solution may not have drawn a resounding applause from the crowd, still demonstrated an appreciable knowledge and reasoning for his personal stances on the conflict. He asked Israel’s government to stop building new settlements, and pointed to a potential new settlement, to be built in the E1 sector northeast of Jerusalem, that he thought would be the most problematic of new settlements or their adjacent expansions.

But his keen understanding was not matched by Vice President Biden, whose abrasive speech reflected the now oft-ignored “demands” of the international community. He *demanded* Israel not only stop construction of new settlements, but dismantle old, established ones that are themselves over 30 years old and have already seen third generations born into them. He showed with his choice of words no empathy for the displaced civilians of the Gaza Strip, 8,000 in all. He demonstrated no concern for the potential 200,000 Jewish refugees who have lived all their lives in large communities that sit on land that had been privately purchased from Palestinian landlords. The Vice President received a cold reception to his comments to dismantle settlements.

Mr. President, would you undermine the legitimate purchase of property by well-meaning devout citizens who themselves have undertaken business ventures with their West Bank Palestinian neighbors in years past? Would you encourage Israelis to continue to rely only on themselves and to conceal themselves from the world because their concerns are constantly overlooked? Mr. Obama, I implore you to remember why the West Bank was occupied. It was not for some fictional imperialist venture, but for the defense of Israel’s 1949 boundaries, boundaries that so many Israelis and American thinkers see as indefensible.

Your predecessor said publicly Jewish population centers in the West Bank should not be dismantled. He understood the potential for social upheaval, perhaps civil war if there was ever demand Israel uproot 500,000 people.

In response to your pressure, in response to European pressure, in response to United Nations Security Council resolutions and the like, Israel’s national government will more effectively pursue Fatah and Hamas militants. It will clear areas adjacent to settlements of potential threats, and there will be a Palestinian response. The integrity of Israel’s landholdings, which have no controversy attached to them, will be protected lest Israelis’ rights to purchase and live in property be totally destroyed.

The extremes of these views will encourage more settlers with deeds in hand and debt from legitimate purchases to take up arms to guard their settlements, to take up arms and contemplate defending towns like Bat Ayin from Palestinian raiders, to take up arms and turn the West Bank into a smoldering wasteland of civil war between Israelis and Palestinians.

Not so much your policies, but the attitude that is coming with them will foster such events to happen. Abrasive presentations from Vice President Biden and Advisor Emanuel to the Jewish community and non-Jewish Israel supporters at AIPAC’s recent conference are provoking great anxiety for me.

I sit among the sizable demographic of Jewish Religious Zionists, and within it actively encourage land purchase as the optimal outlet of expressing our deep commitment to settling the land of Israel. But my demographic is not restricted to the Orthodox, or to a minority. That demographic extends beyond, into the liberal sectors of Judaism – the Conservative and Reform movements. It extends into both liberal and evangelical sectors of Christianity. We as a collective pursue peaceable ties between Israeli Jews and the various sub-sectors of the Arab community in Israel – Bedouin, Druze and Palestinians.

The issues surrounding Jerusalem are for discussion among the city’s Jews and Arabs – the two most rapidly expanding populations in the country. The eastern half of the city has long been attached to Israel as its united capital, and has seen much development. Your policies of peace will go further if you see the pragmatism in getting Jewish and Arab interest groups in Jerusalem to be involved in the city’s planning process. To have an influence by recognizing Israelis’ anxieties as legitimate, to denounce politicized accusations of war crimes, and to publicly support the concerns of Israel’s civilian settlers. Those settlers have gone into the West Bank on the coattails of an argument by Israel in international law that views the territory as unclaimed, and open to sovereignty. Even if you disagree with the details of the argument, it is not one that can be ignored to justify creating a refugee catastrophe 30 times the scale of the Gaza disengagement.

Mr. President, there is great concern in Israel, and I fear the approach of the US government is counter-productive. I fear the attitude in itself is enough to encourage a war between Israelis and Palestinians in the next year or two, just as King Hussein of Jordan has predicted.

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