Monday, May 23, 2011

A historical perspective on why Obama is wrong about Israel

President Obama made a very controversial statement in a speech last Thursday: that Israel should return to its pre-1967 borders as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

To be fair, the President did qualify that statement by mentioning that  "land swaps" would have to be part of the deal, and he seemed to take a somewhat less aggressive stance in his speech to AIPAC yesterday, but still mentioned the 1967 borders as his reference point.

Not an effective foreign
policy strategy.
President Obama is engaging in a dangerous little dance as he attempts to shape world policy while simultaneously pretending the history of that same world didn't happen.

In my opinion, openly suggesting that Israel go back to the 1967 borders is, at best, dangerously naïve, does nothing to advance the goal of obtaining realistic peace for the region, and only emboldens Israel's enemies who would seek to push the borders further and further back until Israel disappeared from the map altogether.

Let's remember why Israel's borders changed in 1967: the Six-Day War.

Israel, at that time not even two decades into its modern existence, was facing increasing aggression from its Arab neighbors. In just six days in early June 1967, the tiny nation successfully defeated Egypt, Jordan, and Syria (along with numerous other allies who were fighting with them). Israel's victory was decisive, shocking the Middle East, and as a result, Israel gained control over an increased territory. Israel officially expanded its borders eastward, and retained control over a larger area that would provide a valuable buffer zone to its residents.

Israel, pre-1967, was less than nine miles wide. To retreat back to the pre-1967 borders would create additional and unnecessary military vulnerabilities, including leaving the entire land area of Israel vulnerable to the Hamas rockets, which have a range of about 10 miles.

Another noteworthy development happened last month, when Fatah, one of the major Palestinian political parties announced it had made an alliance to join with Hamas to form a government.

Hamas is, plain and simple, a terrorist organization. They do not bother to play  semantic games like the Irish Republican Army did with the Sinn Féin political party. Hamas issues their death threats against the people of Israel in their own name, they launch rockets at schoolyards in their own name, they send suicide bombers to shopping centers in their own name. 

There is no room for confusion. This is a black-and-white issue. Hamas is a terrorist organization that has declared war on Israel and is actively engaged in violence and bloodshed as I type this post here today.

In the context of this history, Obama's Thursday speech seemed to oversimplify the situation and he was accused of being out of touch with reality.  One notable critic was   Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had a visit with the President the next day. Netanyahu strongly rebuked Obama, saying that the 1967 lines were "indefensible" and did not take into consideration the situation on the ground.

Here's the video of Netanyahu's meeting with Obama. There's a line he says near the end that is especially chilling:
We don't have a lot of margin for error. And...Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.

Netanyahu is correct. What Obama is asking is for him to risk the survival of his entire nation, and he's right to take what some are calling a "defiant" tone here.

It is almost unprecedented to expect the victor of a war to return territories won in the conflict, especially when such lands are obtained from an aggressor and viewed as strategically essential territories for future defense.

In the entire history of human civilization on this planet, I'm aware of one country, just one, that was victorious in war and then voluntarily gave up conquered territory: The United States. 

After World War II, America not only agreed to allow Germany and Japan to retain their independence, but also supported a significant portion of their rebuilding through the Marshall Plan and related programs.

Note, however, that we didn't call up Hitler in 1943 and try to "negotiate" peace.  We fought on land, sea, and air until the German military could take no more. We did not stop fighting until Hitler had committed suicide and the Germans had officially and formally surrendered.

We carpet-bombed German cities - including civilian areas. In this modern age where we send attorneys to the front lines and futilely attempt to fight politically correct wars, it can be difficult to appreciate what this really means. Photographs can only capture a small piece:

Berlin, May 1945 - View of Unter den Linden and the Brandenburg Gate
Film gives a fuller perspective. There's a great movie with Jean Arthur,  Marlene Dietrich, and John Lund called A Foreign Affair that takes place in Berlin right after World War II. The opening scenes include several aerial shots taken from airplanes flying over the city, showing a Berlin that had nearly been leveled by Allied bombs.

Here's a clip from the beginning of the movie. Note especially the sections at 1:40 and 3:35.

YouTube | A Foreign Affair 1/12 (!948)

Likewise, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, we didn't sit down at a table with Emperor Hirohito and try to draw up a contract for peace. We didn't whine and wish upon a star for them to not bomb us any more. We flew across the Pacific Ocean and bombed them. A lot.

Of course, the circumstances under which we obtained Japan's surrender are well-known. What is less remembered is that, before we dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, the United States had intensely firebombed sixty-seven Japanese cites for six months. resulting in an estimated 500,000 Japanese deaths (the two nuclear attacks killed less than half that).

Appeasement doesn't work. This does.
We did not back down until the Japanese agreed to unconditionally surrender  on our terms.

After the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, President Truman gave a radio address in which he announced that America had used this weapon for the first time in world history, and vowed that we would "continue to use [the bomb] until we completely destroy Japan's power to make war."  We even had plans to drop another atomic bomb on a Japanese city in August 1945, and then three more per month after that, until they surrendered.

My point is that, regarding this unprecedented and historically unique voluntary grant of territory by a victor after a war, the United States ceded control only after a complete and total defeat and surrender of Germany and Japan's fighting forces, and not a minute before. 

Today, Israel is being asked to negotiate with a Palestinian government that has openly and proudly allied itself with Hamas, which, I repeat again for emphasis, is a terrorist organization.

Israel is being asked to retreat to indefensible borders without any real reassurances that the attacks will cease. Worse, Israel is being asked to make this retreat while the violence is still happening.

Israel is being asked to surrender territory that it rightfully won in war, in the hope that it will appease the bloodthirsty killers who deny Israel even has a right to exist.

Appeasement didn't work when Neville Chamberlin tried it with Adolf Hitler. It won't work with Hamas either. The only way to "appease" Hamas would be for the people of Israel to stand at the border and slit their own throats. That's a brutally graphic metaphor, I know, but we're talking about a group that believes bombing school buses full of children is a valid negotiating tactic. 

I am thankful that the people of Israel have a leader like Netanyahu who is grounded in reality and fully dedicated to the preservation of their nation. It breaks my heart to say that I fear our President does not share his views.
Peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us.
- Golda Meir
If Palestine were to lay down their guns tomorrow, there would be no war. If Israel were to lay down theirs, there would be no Israel.
- Benjamin Netanyahu

[Cross-posted at RedState, RedCounty, and The Minority Report]


  1. Should America go back to its pre-1492 borders? I'm sure a lot of Native Americans would like that too!

    BTW, we didn't conquer Japan in WW2.

  2. A friend just sent me a message, noting that even without the alliance with Hamas, Fatah has its own problems. Fatah's official charter still calls for Israel to be destroyed (

    This is one of many reasons why Netanyahu is correct to say that officially and publicly endorsing Israel's right to exist must come before any land is surrendered.

    Think about do you negotiate with someone who does not believe you have a right to be ALIVE?!

  3. So are you suggesting that if Fatah, Hamas, and other Palestinian organizations agree to a peace treaty in return for recognizing Israel as a sovereign nation that the 1967 borders would then be acceptable?

  4. No, that's not what I'm suggesting. What I am saying is that there cannot be any meaningful, realistic and stable peace agreement as long as the Palestinians are still stuck on insisting that Israel does not have the right to exist.

    Acknowledging Israel's right to exist is a necessary first step to any agreement. However, it is not enough to solve all problems and is not sufficient to then give in to all Palestinian demands. Israel must have defensible borders.

  5. This is just wrong.

    A clear explanation is here:
    With support from The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg (linked in that post.)
    I am glad you at least mentioned "with land swaps" - but then you just brush it aside.

    Obama even asks your question: "how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?"

    So really, dial it back a notch, and examine things more calmly.

  6. Yeah, sorry but Doug Mataconis' article is not enough to change my mind on this. The dangerous part of Obama's speech is that he said, clearly and distinctly, that Israel needed to go back to the 1967 borders, then adding a quick afterthought of "with land swaps." He also failed to mention in that speech anything about demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel's right to exist or for their government to disassociate from Hamas.

    Obama may have tempered his comments when he spoke at AIPAC and other later events, but the reality of how Middle East politics works is that he provided them a powerful soundbite in that initial speech, thereby encouraging and supporting the worst radical elements of Islamic society.


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