My position on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is nuanced. When I was in college I read a book by Fr. Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian, entitled Blood Brothers that exposed me to a different perspective on the conflict that has existed since 1948. I’m troubled by my fellow evangelicals’ tendency to give carte blanch support regardless of what Israel has done. I’m also troubled by some who try to manipulate their interpretation of biblical prophecy by donating and encouraging the Temple to be rebuilt in Israel as if that would hasten Jesus’ return.
I think that is a misguided approach. I don’t believe we need to be basing our foreign policy on Tim LaHaye’s interpretation of biblical prophecy. I support Israel, but it is with the knowledge that they are an imperfect nation. They have persecuted Christians, and they have at times mistreated Palestinians. In their founding the Zionist movement employed terrorism against the British and they drove (some) Palestinians from their homes (Update: it was pointed out to me that many just decided to leave and that is true as well). That is plainly wrong, and we should be frank and honest with our Israeli allies on such matters.
However, I also recognize that they are a nation under siege. It is easy for Americans to judge the tactics used by the Israelis when we are not under constant threat of suicide bombings and rocket attacks. We don’t know what it is like to be surrounded by nations who are full of people unwilling to recognize their right to exist as a nation.
Palestinians for their part have been their own worst enemy. Electing a terrorist organization to lead you, cheering in the streets after the Twin Towers fell, equipping and encouraging suicide bombers, and launching rocket attacks are not the way to achieve peace or garner sympathy.
I also believe that we in the United States must stand behind our closest ally in the Middle East. They are the only truly functioning democracy in the region. Their security is paramount for our own. Without our support they would face utter destruction by parties wishing to wreck havoc on their nation. God please forbid.
President Barack Obama has been tone deaf in his dealings with Israel until perhaps the New York 9th Congressional District special election. That was a referendum on his leadership and his the repudiation of it was led by the Jewish community. They recognized that the President had thrown their beloved nation under the bus and that calling for a Palestinian state with Israel’s borders resembling the pre-1967 borders was simply naïve and dangerous.
Israel has security concerns that must be addressed. I’m glad that President Obama recognized as much in his speech to the United Nations today. President Obama said:
One year ago, I stood at this podium and I called for an independent Palestine. I believed then, and I believe now, that the Palestinian people deserve a state of their own. But what I also said is that a genuine peace can only be realized between the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves. One year later, despite extensive efforts by America and others, the parties have not bridged their differences. Faced with this stalemate, I put forward a new basis for negotiations in May of this year. That basis is clear. It’s well known to all of us here. Israelis must know that any agreement provides assurances for their security. Palestinians deserve to know the territorial basis of their state.
Now, I know that many are frustrated by the lack of progress. I assure you, so am I. But the question isn’t the goal that we seek — the question is how do we reach that goal. And I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades. Peace is hard work. Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations — if it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.
Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately, it is the Israelis and the Palestinians — not us –- who must reach agreement on the issues that divide them: on borders and on security, on refugees and Jerusalem.
Ultimately, peace depends upon compromise among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied. That’s the lesson of Northern Ireland, where ancient antagonists bridged their differences. That’s the lesson of Sudan, where a negotiated settlement led to an independent state. And that is and will be the path to a Palestinian state — negotiations between the parties.
We seek a future where Palestinians live in a sovereign state of their own, with no limit to what they can achieve. There’s no question that the Palestinians have seen that vision delayed for too long. It is precisely because we believe so strongly in the aspirations of the Palestinian people that America has invested so much time and so much effort in the building of a Palestinian state, and the negotiations that can deliver a Palestinian state.
But understand this as well: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. Our friendship with Israel is deep and enduring. And so we believe that any lasting peace must acknowledge the very real security concerns that Israel faces every single day.
Let us be honest with ourselves: Israel is surrounded by neighbors that have waged repeated wars against it. Israel’s citizens have been killed by rockets fired at their houses and suicide bombs on their buses. Israel’s children come of age knowing that throughout the region, other children are taught to hate them. Israel, a small country of less than eight million people, look out at a world where leaders of much larger nations threaten to wipe it off of the map. The Jewish people carry the burden of centuries of exile and persecution, and fresh memories of knowing that six million people were killed simply because of who they are. Those are facts. They cannot be denied.
The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland. Israel deserves recognition. It deserves normal relations with its neighbors. And friends of the Palestinians do them no favors by ignoring this truth, just as friends of Israel must recognize the need to pursue a two-state solution with a secure Israel next to an independent Palestine.
That is the truth — each side has legitimate aspirations — and that’s part of what makes peace so hard. And the deadlock will only be broken when each side learns to stand in the other’s shoes; each side can see the world through the other’s eyes. That’s what we should be encouraging. That’s what we should be promoting.
This body — founded, as it was, out of the ashes of war and genocide, dedicated, as it is, to the dignity of every single person — must recognize the reality that is lived by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The measure of our actions must always be whether they advance the right of Israeli and Palestinian children to live lives of peace and security and dignity and opportunity. And we will only succeed in that effort if we can encourage the parties to sit down, to listen to each other, and to understand each other’s hopes and each other’s fears. That is the project to which America is committed. There are no shortcuts. And that is what the United Nations should be focused on in the weeks and months to come.
I commend President Obama for recognizing that the United Nations should not be the ones to determine statehood for the Palestinian Authority, and that it is a process that should not be rushed. It should be determined by the parties involved, not the United States or the United Nations. I also commend him for renewing the United States’ commitment to Israel as they have very few friends. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu applauded President Obama’s opposition to Palestinian statehood and I believe we should as well.
The Palestinian Authority has decided to delay a call for a vote on the matter because they lack the votes. I also believe President Obama should have been firmer in calling out the Palestinian Authority’s violation of the Oslo accord where they agreed to not push this matter with the United Nations. It is hard for Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians when they won’t do so in good faith when Israelis have tried to do so in the past. When they refuse to try to understand the Israeli perspective it makes peace difficult. It is also hard to sympathize when our vote in the Security Council is being manipulated by warnings of violence should we choose to veto this measure. He also needs to recognize the UN’s inherent bias toward Israel.
Today was a good first step in repairing some of the damage he has done with his past wrong-headed policy on Israel.