From the Rabbi - June/July 2011 Print
Dear Friends:

As I write these words, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are sitting the White House, discussing their significant differences.  I listened with care to what our President said about Middle East peace yesterday (Thursday, May 19) and then read both the transcript of his speech and various commentaries about it.  As you know, he certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy with his suggestion that the only borders that could serve to define Israel and a new Palestinian state are the 1967 borders.

    It is entirely possible that a return to the 1967 borders could serve as a framework for peace between Israel and its neighbors.  Certainly, it is what the Palestinians have been saying for decades, at least in their public pronouncements.  (What they say privately may be altogether different.)  I want to give you my analysis, including the reasons why I am enormously skeptical about our President’s proposal.

I am not, it should be noted at the outset, opposed either to the creation of a Palestinian state (It’s coming, whether we like it or not.) or to the assignment of some of the land captured in 1967 to such a new state.  The land cannot, I suggest, be “returned,” since it never belonged to a Palestinian state before 1967; it was part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and no one is proposing that we return the land to Jordan.

The 1967 borders were not constructed on a rational basis, but because they happened to be the cease-fire line between the Arab armies and the Israel Defense Forces after the War of Independence in 1948-1949.  They were not justified then on the grounds of defensibility, nor are they today.  To go back to them just because that’s where the troops stopped fighting does nothing to enhance Israel’s ability to defend itself against further attacks.  The first criterion of any new geographical arrangement needs to be Israel’s military security, and the 1967 borders make no sense in that regard.

In the thirty-five years since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Israelis, mostly Jews, have settled in areas that are outside the 1967 lines.  Some of them did this illegally, and I have no brief for their rights; they can be removed at any point and probably ought to be.  They are a significant impediment to peace.

But there are many more who were settled in the territories with the permission and encouragement of the State of Israel.  Among the areas under question is a large tract just east of Jerusalem called Ma’alei Adumim which forms both a major bedroom suburb for the capitol city and a defensive bastion, high on a hill overlooking the Jordan valley.  The rights of people like these must be taken into account, and it would be foolhardy for Israel to expect them to relocate.  Unless the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate modifications of the 1967 lines to accommodate these residents, the proposal of President Obama is a dead letter.

Speaking of negotiations, one might wonder if the new alliance of the Palestinian government of the West Bank and the Hamas government of Gaza bodes well.  Hamas has been intransigent in its insistence that it would never recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.  Israel is 100% right to refuse to sit down with anyone who states so categorically that it will not recognize one partner in the discussion.

Further, every time the Palestinians have seemed ready to make a deal with Israel, they have changed the rules of the game, added new conditions or otherwise made it impossible for the negotiations to reach a positive conclusion.  It is hard to know why they ought to be trusted as legitimate partners in any serious discussions; nothing of which I am aware has changed.

Finally, one might be entitled to suspect that the so-called Palestinian state is not the real goal.  Hamas has made it clear that their ultimate ambition is to complete eradication of any Jewish state and either the expulsion or destruction of the Jewish population presently in the area.  Until that ambition is retracted and denied, there is no reason to negotiate with Hamas or any of its partners.

    As much as I respect our President and assume that, at least in his view, he has the best interests of the Middle East and world peace at heart, in this instance I think he is naïve and wrong.  This is, as we are wont to say in this region of the country, a dog that will not hunt.  I am going to stand by Israel and its security until such time as a credible proposal that respects the integrity of the Jewish state is laid on the table.  I hope you will take the same position.  
     
                            Shalom,
                            Kenneth D. Roseman