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SECURING AMERICA, STRENGTHENING ISRAEL

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Letter? What Letter?

JINSA Report #: 

1,028
October 1, 2010

The story in Washington is that President Obama, eager to have Israel extend the "settlement freeze" for another two months, i.e., until after the November election, sent Prime Minister Netanyahu a letter offering Israel a heavy list of inducements, including U.S. agreement to:

  • Support the presence of the IDF in the Jordan Valley after the establishment of a Palestinian state;

  • Not ask for any more building freeze extensions;

  • Veto any anti-Israel UN Security Council resolution in the next year; and

  • Deal with the future fate of the settlements only as part of a final status agreement.

Plus:

  • Guarantees to prevent the smuggling of weapons and missiles into a Palestinian state;

  • A lengthy interim period of security arrangements in the Jordan Valley;

  • A comprehensive regional defense pact for protection from Iran following the establishment of a Palestinian state;

  • A promise to upgrade Israel's security capabilities;

  • An increase in the three billion dollar annual security assistance package; and

  • Commitments to advanced weapons and early warning systems, including satellites.

What a bargain! But there are two problems: first, the implicit threat that if Israel doesn't take the deal, it will be punished with the corollary that the United States now conditions its commitment to Israel's security on being obeyed; and second, whether the United States can actually deliver.

Will the United States stand by and watch the Security Council trash Israel? Will we vote with it when it does? Will we refuse to sell Israel weapons it needs while Iran increases its arsenal? We sell to the Saudis, Bahrainis and Emirates; and the Russians sell to Syria.

Will the United States force Israel out of its communities even if there is no "final status agreement"? What about those towns and villages that even the President has said are likely to remain Israeli territory after the "final status agreement," should there be one?

The list also implies that the United States can, in fact, make good on its promises. How will the United States prevent the smuggling of weapons into the new Palestinian state? Israel can't stop the smuggling into Gaza and only does better in the West Bank by being there. Since no one has more incentive to stop the smuggling than Israel, how will American or international troops do it better? Is UNIFIL a good model? What if the Palestinians don't agree to have them? Which Arab states will agree to a "comprehensive regional defense pact" with Israel? How do you know they will and what if they don't?

The American commitment to Israel's security has traditionally been based on shared values and the understanding that Israel needs to defend itself from the countries around it that do not accept its legitimacy and who periodically attack it. The United States should not be promising to "fix" the new security problems that will stem from a deal with the Palestinians, it should be seeking a deal that reduces the security problems Israel already has. Otherwise, it isn't "peace."

"No letter was sent to the Prime Minister. We are not going to comment on sensitive diplomatic matters," said Benjamin Chang, the deputy spokesman for the NSC, when the terms hit the media. What an odd denial, no mention of substance, just format.

Does it matter if it was, or wasn't, a letter? Maybe it does, as the Israelis accepted President Bush's written assurances following the 2005 disengagement from Gaza, but the Obama administration declined to reaffirm the terms, saying a letter didn't define U.S. policy. But regardless of format, these terms appear detailed and deliberate - and very problematic.

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