Rather than take the time to think through and elucidate a position, which I don't really have the time to do right now, I'll just plagiarize Steve Huntley's column today in one of President Obama's hometown papers, The Chicago Sun Times. I don't agree with everything in this article, but I do agree with its general theme.
U.S. tough on Israel, light on Palestinians
May 15, 2009
BY STEVE HUNTLEY
Hanging over next week's meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be Obama's June address to the Muslim world.
Outreach to Islam is central to Obama's strategy of shifting away from the foreign policy of George W. Bush. He won't want anything coming out of his Washington session with Netanyahu that could spoil the speech. That kind of thinking had to figure, in part, in Obama's praiseworthy decision to reverse himself and oppose release of photos of alleged detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. Inflammatory images igniting anti-U.S. protests in the Muslim street wouldn't be a good scene-setter for Obama's June 4 speech.
The conventional wisdom in the Muslim world -- shared by much of Europe and left-wing America -- is that Washington tilts too much toward the Jewish state and should adopt an "even-handed" approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
During the campaign, Obama seemed to agree: "I think there is a strain within the pro-Israel community that says unless you adopt an unwavering pro-Likud approach to Israel, then you're anti-Israel, and that can't be the measure of our friendship with Israel."
Netanyahu, of course, is Likud.
Vice President Joe Biden sounded a tough line in a speech to Israel supporters.
"You're not going to like my saying this," Biden stated as he listed things the administration wants Israel to do to promote peace, including freezing settlement construction, removing roadblocks in the West Bank and turning over more security responsibilities to the Palestinians.
Israel has signaled it won't start new settlements in the disputed lands. But it can hardly be expected to stop natural growth in long-established communities. Peace efforts by presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush recognized major settlements would become part of Israel in any solution to the conflict. Those towns are organic communities where families form and new economic endeavors blossom to serve them.
Already, Israel has been trying to make movement easier on the West Bank. For example, two roadblocks near Ramallah, the seat of Palestinian government, were taken down four days ago.
Israel also has handed over some security responsibilities in the West Bank to the Palestinians. But the Israelis won't, and shouldn't, move so quickly that their citizens are again threatened by suicide bombers.
Beyond that, the Israel-must-do-more argument is dishonest.
Already it has done plenty. It pulled out of Lebanon in 2000, soon found itself facing 10,000 terrorist rockets and mortars, and in 2006 was forced into war with Hezbollah. In 2000, Israel offered the most generous terms imaginable to create a Palestinian state, and in return got a suicide-bomb campaign aimed at civilians. In 2005, Israel shut down all settlements in the Gaza Strip and pulled out, only to be confronted with a Hamas terrorist statelet and more warfare.
Where are bold moves by the Arabs? They point to the "Saudi peace initiative." That offers peace if Israel gives up everything it won in the 1967 defensive, existential war -- and more. It demands "a right of return" for Palestinians who fled their homes, often at the urging of invading Arab armies, in 1948. That demand includes descendants of the refugees -- millions of people who weren't born in 1948. Only last week, the Arab states reaffirmed that demand.
The Palestinians are the only people to have been accorded refugee status for six decades and counting. Imagine if Germany declared a right to return for millions of its citizens to the provinces of East Prussia, Pomerania and Silesia it lost in World War II.
Biden is telling Israel supporters things they don't want to hear. Obama and Biden should do the same for Palestinian supporters. A good place to start would be telling them to acknowledge the realities of the world and abandon the "right of return." Don't expect to hear that June 4.