The Obama administration and the diplomatic tsunami
By: Danny Danon
While Obama was trying to build new bridges to the Arab world, his approach underscored the fact that this administration seems not to understand the Arab mind.
From the beginning of President Obama's tenure he made a series of missteps. The first was perhaps his willingness to accept the Nobel Peace Prize a few weeks after his inauguration for the Middle East peace process. This cart before the horse move was a purely political act on the part of the Nobel committee and Obama should have seen it for what it was. A polite and grateful decline would have been more appropriate so that the world could wait for the results of his foreign policy.
The second error he made was in his address to the Muslim world in his Cairo speech of June 2009. In it he expressed a wishful-thinking vision of peace that was naive and that dangerously lifted the hopes of Palestinians. Obama reiterated his support of a Palestinian state, and he firmly rejected any construction by Israel of new communities in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, thereby going to the side of Palestinians and their demands.
PHOTO: YURI GRIPAS / REUTERS
People in the region viewed the speech as weak. While the president was trying to build new bridges to the Arab world, his approach underscored the fact that this administration seems not to understand the Arab mind. We know from talking to people in the Middle East that their respect is won in two ways: by showing strength and honoring yourself. The president did neither.
After 9/11, president George W. Bush's approach was to confront radical Islam head on. President Obama was trying to open a new era between the two civilizations that was less confrontational.
He thought by reaching out to the Arab world he would be able to build a new path based on dialogue and understanding – and maybe to calm down the atmosphere. But it didn't work because the Muslim world is not something that can be affected or moved by words. In fact, I would argue the opposite happened, and the fundamental sectors of the Islamic world were in fact galvanized and bolstered.
Of course, there are elements within the Arab community who are pro-Western and understand the benefits, but the other strong elements of radical jihadists and other extremist forces are not moved by any speech or outreach that comes from Western society. It is dangerously naive to think that a charismatic speech would be able to bridge or narrow the clash of civilizations.
The third and most crucial mistake Obama made was to adopt many of the demands of the Palestinians, unlike other US presidents, who tried to play the role of the mediator between the two parties.
Perhaps this was because such mediation resulted in few results – I am thinking for example of 1991, just after the first Gulf War, when president George H.W. Bush called a conference in Madrid between Israel and the Arab nations that were directly involved in the conflict. Talks continued afterward in Washington, but nothing substantial was accomplished. Then, in 2000, president Bill Clinton convened a peace summit between Palestinian president Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. Barak was willing to compromise on all major issues, including going back to the 1967 lines and compromising on part of Jerusalem; however, Arafat was not willing to continue and in fact walked out of the talks.
When Barak returned to Israel he was thanked by being booted out of office.
Perhaps the Obama administration decided it was more expeditious to simply adopt the demands of the Palestinians by calling in May 2011 for a return to the 1967 borders and the division of Jerusalem. In his May 2011 speech on the Middle East at the State Department Obama said, "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states."
This statement made the Palestinians feel as if they no longer have to negotiate, and that they could win all their demands at no cost or concession whatsoever. What Obama did with that statement was accept borders that are often described as the "Auschwitz lines": Indefensible borders that would put Israel in an untenable position, easy to attack from all directions. Moreover, a withdraw to the 1967 borders would mean a forced evacuation of over 300,000 Israelis.
Is this realistic or even desirable? This was done without insisting that Palestine recognize Israel or make a concerted effort to end incitement. In fact, Obama didn't ask for any compromise on the Palestinians' part. In other words, the Palestinians want recognition of their state without ever having to recognize the State of Israel. Obama provided a tall and convenient ladder to climb toward this goal and it is going to be very hard to bring them down. It was an effort to build confidence in the Arab world; it was his way of saying, we don't automatically side with the Israelis.
Look what has happened in Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and the region since then. The Middle East has its own dynamic and doesn't run according to guidelines set in Washington.
The assaults continue
In December 2011 US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta demanded that Israel "just get to the damn table" to negotiate with the Palestinians and "mend fences" with Turkey, Egypt and other Islamist regimes by "performing more gestures" – the code for more concessions. The deeper meaning to his outrage is that Israel singularly stands in the way of peace because of a refusal to negotiate and because it antagonizes its neighbors with hostile overtures. Mr. Panetta conveniently forgets it was the Palestinian Authority that walked away from peace talks. And Israel's "gestures" or concessions include the aforementioned 10-month construction freeze, which held the promise of getting Palestinians back to the table. It did not. As far as our other neighbors are concerned, it's hard to know exactly what Panetta is talking about.
Radical Islamists, whose stated foreign policies are hostile to Israel, influence the new governments in both Turkey and Egypt.
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to increase naval surveillance patrols of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, freeze defense trade with Israel, and allow Turkish gunboats to accompany Turkish "humanitarian" vessels –that is, illegal flotillas – the next time they set sail for Gaza. These are just a few examples of the prime minister's animosity toward Israel. Egypt's Arab Spring resulted in an attack on the Egyptian Israeli Embassy, increased violence in Sinai, and a loosening of borders that allows Hamas easier access to weapons.
Howard Gutman, US ambassador in Belgium, blamed Israel for anti-Semitism at a conference in Brussels. He basically said that Muslim anti-Semitism was understandable and tolerable (unlike traditional anti-Semitism) – and Israel's fault. He also argued, with a straight face, that an IsraeliPalestinian peace treaty would significantly diminish Muslim anti-Semitism while speaking in front of the same Jewish conference on anti-Semitism organized by the European Jewish Union.
If there were no Israel there would still be anti-Semitism, as there was before the state was created. The Palestinians would be no happier since they are raised on hatred. The Middle East would be no more peaceful – the region would simply revert to infighting.
It is a fight of cultures that is not about land or where borders will be drawn – both convenient ruses. The idea of an Israel-free utopia is a ridiculous ideologically driven fantasy.
In fact, well before there were any "Palestinians," in 1929, Arab mobs murdered more than one hundred Jews, the majority of them in Hebron, an ancient community where Jews had lived among Arabs peacefully for centuries. The mufti of Jerusalem enthusiastically urged his ally Hitler to wipe out European Jews during World War II, before the State of Israel was established, while the mufti promised to do the same for Jews in the Middle East. Ambassador Gutman needs to brush up on his history.
These US incidents all may seem like small examples, and as such are easily trivialized and dismissed. But taken together they create a picture in which the Obama administration has a dim view of Israel. Such interactions chip away at an important relationship and also undermine our trust in the United States.
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Obama abandons Israel
By: Danny Danon
For more than 60 years, the relationship between the United States and Israel is one of the few issues in American politics on which both major parties almost always agree. While there may have been policy differences over the years between specific U.S. and Israeli governments, the close alliance is a "special relationship" akin to what America enjoys with the United Kingdom.
This time-honored tradition is being challenged during the U.S. presidential election. For the first time, candidates are taking conflicting positions on what America's relationship with Israel should look like. One advocates a continuation of the traditional line, while the other views Israel as but one of numerous U.S. interests in the Middle East.
There are many reasons for the close U.S.-Israeli relationship. Both countries enjoy a cornerstone heritage of shared Judeo-Christian values. We both cherish democracy, liberalism and human rights. Most importantly, we are strategic allies in defending the western world from tyranny and oppression. No country in the world is as supportive of the U.S. on national security matters as Israel.
The two presidential candidates have articulated very different strategies. Mitt Romney has vowed to consult first with Israel on key national security issues, ensuring the world understands "that the bonds between Israel and the United States are unshakable." During a recent visit to Israel, senior Romney aide, Dan Senor, even said that a Romney administration would respect a future Israeli military strike at Iran's nuclear program.
President Obama, has taken his party in a very different direction. From the time he first ran for president, it was clear that he planned on a more balanced approach to the Middle East. Despite perfunctory comments about safeguarding Israel, Obama in 2008 said that "nobody's suffering more than the Palestinians from this whole process."
During his 2009 Cairo speech, President Obama went further than his predecessors in stating that the U.S. "does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."
The peak of this changed U.S. policy was Obama's speech at the State Department in May. The president attempted to strip Israel of its main negotiating assets (land) before the Palestinians even agreed to come to the table. By stating that "the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based upon the 1967 borders," Obama upended years of U.S. policy and raised the Palestinian narrative to the same level as Israel's historical claims.
For decades, Americans who cared about Israel could feel comfortable in voting for any of the major candidates. It appears this is no longer true. In the upcoming elections, friends of Israel will have a clear choice between a candidate who values the unique alliance with the Jewish state and one who prefers a relationship that is little different than those of other countries.
Let me be clear, I am not a Democrat or a Republican — I am a proud Israeli. I am, however, ready to cooperate with any candidate who supports a sovereign state of Israel and our rights to make the tough decisions that are necessary to keep our people safe and secure.
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Mitt Romney: A true friend of Israel
By DANNY DANON
Obama, on the other hand, has been anything but resolute in his support for Israel since he was elected in 2008.
The American presidential elections are upon us, and as with every four-year cycle, each candidate and both parties try to convince voters in the US that they are the true pro-Israel candidate.
In this election, those who want what is truly best for Israel are presented with a starker choice than usual. On one hand, there is Gov. Mitt Romney, who is taking the time to visit us at the moment, and who time and again has spoken out strongly for Israel’s rights to safeguard our own interests.
On the other hand, incumbent candidate President Barak Obama has all but adopted the Palestinian negotiation position and given Israel the cold shoulder on every possible occasion.
Romney has decided to visit us just three short months before the most important election of his life.
By coming here, Romney is indicating to his Israeli friends his deep commitment to the State of Israel and the importance that he places on his friendship with the Jewish people.
Not only is the governor taking the time to visit the Jewish state in the midst of his campaign, but he has also stated repeatedly that should he win the presidency, his first official trip abroad would be to Israel. It is these types of pledges – along with his steadfast statements affirming Israel’s right to defend itself from all threats, both near and far – that is convincing so many Democratic pro-Israel voters to switch sides and vote for the Republican candidate in the upcoming election.
Obama, on the other hand, has been anything but resolute in his support for Israel since he was elected in 2008. In his now infamous Cairo Speech, the president put the onus of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict squarely on the shoulders of what was once called America’s only true ally in the Middle East.
When later pressuring Israel into the ill-advised construction freeze, Obama was the main reason that for the first time since the establishments of the State of Israel, that Jews were outlawed from building homes in their historic homeland.
At the same time, it was considered completely legitimate for the Palestinians to continue building (legally and illegally) and creating their “facts on the ground” throughout Judea and Samaria.
To add insult to injury, Obama was able to find the time to visit many of Israel’s neighbors during his first term – including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey – but he could not fit a quick stop to Israel into his schedule to discuss these new policies with his Israeli counterparts.
It is my belief that the State of Israel should not be involved in our allies’ elections. We should, however, be ready to cooperate with any candidate who supports our cause.
There are too many enemies in our region and around the world who threaten our very existence to ignore such friends as the United States.
That being said, we do have the right to examine each candidate for who they truly are, and to state clearly when one is a greater friend of Israel than the other.
Welcome to Israel, Gov. Romney!
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The integrity of ‘no’
by Danny Danon
Do not negotiate on your core ideology. This is what guided Shamir in his steadfast defense of the rights of the Jewish people.
The people of Israel lost a true leader with the passing of Yitzhak Shamir. Before assuming the reins as our seventh prime minister, Shamir dutifully served his people and his country first as head of the underground Lehi, then in the Mossad where he was responsible for tracking down and eliminating some of our worst enemies including Nazi war criminals who had fled to Egypt, and finally in the political arena where he served as a member and then speaker of Knesset, foreign minister and finally prime minister after the resignation of his mentor Menachem Begin.
Upon the death of a loved one, we often take the time to look through the memory book of their life and search for the
lessons their legacy can teach us. In the case of Yitzhak Shamir, a multi-volume set of thick-bound tomes might be more a appropriate metaphor. These books are filled with the earth of the whole land of Israel, and immersed in values and an understanding of our unique place in history. His spirit and his values are an inspiration to all of those who love this land, and especially to the members of his beloved Likud movement that strives to stay true to Shamir’s teachings.
You do not negotiate on your core ideology.
This is what guided Shamir in his steadfast defense of the rights of the Jewish people to their historic homeland. In the years he guided Israel’s foreign policy, he would not compromise on this basic tenet. In 1992, under intense pressure from the American administration, Shamir stood fast and made clear to the world that money cannot buy values. He bravely rejected the US demand that he stop building in Judea and Samaria in return for loan guarantees.
This money was very much needed to absorb our brothers who were then coming home from the former Soviet Union, but Shamir knew that such an act on his behalf would be a slippery slope that would set a terrible precedent for the future leaders of Israel. Such a move would have endangered his beloved settlement enterprise which he knew was invaluable for the future wellbeing of the state.
Shamir’s decisions and policies were not always popular or politically correct. There was no end of criticism both in Israel and from the international community. In fact, there were times when his refusal to abandon his core values probably cost him at the ballot box, such as when he lost to Yitzhak Rabin in the 1992 elections. Nevertheless, over time, his steadfastness disproved today’s assumption that you must be guided daily by opinion polls to obtain power, and then govern.
Without ever abandoning his beliefs, Shamir was able to not only reach the highest office in the land, but he also ended up serving in office longer than any other prime minister since David Ben-Gurion. Moreover, because of his intellectual honesty and core decency, since leaving office Shamir was admired by all Israelis – whatever their political persuasion – for the great leader that he was.
To better convey Shamir’s unique foresight and leadership capabilities, I must share a short story. In the early 1990s, while serving as a Betar emissary in the United States, I invited one of my childhood heroes to come speak to my host community. Yitzhak graciously agreed to speak at an event I had organized promoting Israel and aliya. When he was asked for his opinion about the demographic threat that is so often raised, Shamir answered with full confidence that we must remain steadfast and work tirelessly to bring millions of Soviet Jews home to Israel.
At that time, such a prediction seemed completely unrealistic, and even a tad naïve. Nevertheless, Shamir’s analysis proved with time to be completely accurate and proved how important it is for a leader to remain true to his values. By believing and planning, one million Russians ultimately came to live in Israel, changing our core demographic reality forever.
That night, after he had finished addressing the group, I had the honor of spending an evening with the former prime minister. I was enthralled with his stories and life lessons, especially with his core conviction that a leader must truly believe in and be ready to defend his policies. If a leader does so, he told me, there is no need to worry about the criticism that will inevitably follow any brave decision.
Yitzhak Shamir was truly made of the very fibers of which history is woven. We must all strive to fulfill the legacy of Prime Minister Shamir. He starkly proved that sometimes in history, saying “no” is the best possible way to achieve “yes.” We should all do our best to remain true to our beliefs and none of us should go to sleep at night without asking ourselves: “What have I done today for the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and what can I do tomorrow to ensure the safety and wellbeing of these two unwavering commitments of the beloved Yitzhak Shamir.”
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By Danny Danon
What would you think if I told you of a country that, in the middle of its financial and cultural center, allowed the existence of an autonomous district in which the laws of the state do not apply? What would you say if I informed you that more than 25,000 residents of this urban area – the same population size as an average city in this country – are illegal residents of the State of Israel?
There are over 80,000 illegal infiltrators in Israel. In 2011, that number increased by 17,000, and since the beginning of 2012 more than 8,000 people have crossed our borders illegally. We are at a critical crossroads with a strategic demographic threat developing within our borders that may upend our country’s very character as a Jewish and democratic state. It is nonsensical that such large numbers of illegal infiltrators from Africa are settling permanently in our country and so little is being done to rectify this problem. This is especially highlighted when taking into account that the crime rate among the infiltrators is almost double the rate of that in the general population. The desperately necessary solution is a three-pronged program to end this dangerous phenomenon: stop, arrest and deport.
We have begun to make progress on the first element of this plan. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, an historic project is being completed along our southern border. Millions of shekels have been budgeted to build a (hopefully) impregnable fence between Egypt and Israel.
Together with an intensified effort by the IDF and the Border Police, we may soon see a shifting of the tide in terms of the numbers of infiltrators who are able to cross into Israel undetected.
Regarding the second element, arrest, we are also beginning to see more action from the government. Whenever infiltrators succeed in eluding capture and make it safely into Israeli territory, they must be immediately detained. Understanding the strain that a large increase in arrests will exert on our prison services, the government has approved the building of an advanced detention center. Once completed, excuses about lack of space and resources needed to house those who break our laws by sneaking into our country will no longer be valid.
While we are slowing the flow of illegal infiltrators and detaining those who do gain entry, we must simultaneously begin to seriously implement the third part of this strategy. All illegal infiltrators in the State of Israel must be deported immediately. Some will go home to Africa, while others may be sent to Eastern Europe once repatriation and compensation agreements are reached. But in the end, they all must go. This may sound like a complicated process, but through increased, stricter enforcement, along with smart new legislation when needed, we can quickly simplify the process. Most importantly, it must be carried out properly and swiftly.
Some on the extreme left cry out that it is unfair to demand that we send these people home. While opponents may be trying to score cheap political points against the Likud government, we must not get bogged down by responding to their simplistic and often blatantly false accusations. We do not have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand and ignoring the burgeoning threat to our society that is making headlines on an almost daily basis.
The Likud government has begun to take important steps to implement this plan, but there is much to do and not much time left. Every day that goes by in which infiltrators are not stopped, arrested and deported merely encourages an increase in the number of Africans who attempt to reach Israel. We must make clear to ourselves and to the world that we will no longer tolerate this attack on our sovereignty.
The State of Israel has never been known to shy away from strategic threats that endanger the existence of the Jewish homeland. Just in the past few months, our leaders have made it abundantly clear that we are willing to do whatever it takes to stop such a threat a half continent away. There is no reason that the issue of illegal infiltrators should be treated any more lightly. We must all unite and increase the public pressure on our government to ensure that it acts immediately on all necessary fronts to end this threat once and for all.
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Flytilla: Prevent, arrest and deport
By Danny Danon
The unfortunate incident which took place in the Jordan Valley on Saturday where an IDF officer was forced to fight off an anti-Israel activist has proven once again that we are not dealing correctly with this latest attack on the very legitimacy of our existence.
We witnessed this regrettable phenomenon gain this week with the ludicrous internal debate that has surrounded the “flytilla” attack on Israel. Our society is busying itself with an absurd internal debate that includes calls from the extreme Left to welcome these anti-Israel activists and open a dialogue with them.
This is not only misguided, but actually endangers the foundations of our society.
Attempts to explain the rationality behind the Zionist dream of building a state in our historic homeland will simply not work with those who are attempting infiltrate Israel’s borders only to attack us from within.
It is time that we recognize the reality we are faced with. The State of Israel is at war. This war is being fought on a completely different battlefield than in the past, one in which the word de-legitimization has replaced bullets and provocative actions such as the flotilla have replaced tanks and fighter planes.
Nevertheless, we must not be confused by this new type of warfare. Just as we did not hesitate to confront to violent acts perpetuated by our enemies in the past, we cannot waver in our resolve against this new threat.
Would we allow a suicide bomber into our country so that we could attempt a “dialogue” with him? Of course not.
Here, too, we must not be naïve and bury our heads in the sand. While the “delegitimization battle” may be sometimes confusing and seem less dangerous then actual acts of war, the implications of capitulation will be just as dire for Israel’s future as a military loss would be.
TO COMBAT this new form of warfare we must be just as creative now as we have been in the past on the traditional battlefield.
We must immediately implement a three-pronged approach to keeping these terrorists out of Israel: prevent, arrest and deport.
Our diplomats and envoys abroad must work with our allies around the world to ensure that these troublemakers never make it on a plane in the first place, and our security and immigration officials here in Israel should ensure that those who do get through are arrested and then either jailed or deported.
During this past week Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers prepared well for the current onslaught and the results of having a well thought-out policy are evident in the fact that the “flytilla” we were warned so much about ended relatively quietly. They should be commended for their vigilance.
Still, as we saw with the Jordan Valley incident these steps must be further strengthened and stringently implemented.
The militant activist from Denmark who attacked the IDF officer should have never been in a position to do so. He never should have been allowed entry into Israel. Once he was allowed in, he should have been arrested and tried at the first sign of illegal activity. Even now, it is unacceptable that he is walking free in our country after violently attacking an officer. He must be arrested and deported immediately.
The State of Israel must defend itself against anarchists and all those who openly state that their only reason for entering the country is to work from within to ensure its destruction. We have seen what has happened in the past when we allow such activities to go on unchecked. What began as “non-violent” protests against our right to build a security fence to defend against suicide bombers has turned in to weekly riots in places like Bil’in where rocks, concrete blocks and firebombs are regularly hurled at our soldiers.
Theses so-called activists not only take part in these violent attacks on our security forces, but also gather intelligence against Israel and donate to organizations that bankroll terrorism against our citizens.
While I am a fervent advocate of hasbara (public diplomacy) outreach – I have personally spent countless hours, days and weeks traveling around the world speaking out on behalf of our legitimate rights – we must also know when the time for talk has ended. In dealing those who openly call for the destruction of the Jewish state, it is a waste of time to make “the case for Israel.” Instead, we must meet this challenge as we have similar threats in the past, with creativity and determination, to ensure that the interests of the State of Israel and the Jewish people are safeguarded against those who seek to hurt us.