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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Bard: Time magazine promotes myth about Israel

Time magazine purports to explain why Israel doesn't want peace: That's a dangerous lie

As the author of a book on myths and facts about the Arab-Israeli conflict, I am often asked to identify the most prevalent myth. The answer can be found on the cover of the recent edition of Time magazine, which purports to explain "Why Israel Doesn't Care About Peace."

This assertion reinforces the views of the Arab lobby, especially State Department Arabists, who often work in tandem with foreign interests to frustrate broader U.S. policy goals. They have long believed that Israelis don't know what's best for themselves and must be forced, like recalcitrant children, to capitulate to the demands of the Arabs for their own good.

The Arabists, especially concerned that the creation of a Jewish state would jeopardize our access to Saudi oil, initially tried to prevent the creation of Israel altogether. Since 1948, their consistent posture has been that U.S. interests are best served by distancing the United States from Israel in order to improve our ties with Arab states.

We now have more than six decades of experience, which has utterly refuted this view. During these decades, we've seen U.S.-Israel relations grow closer without adversely affecting either our ties with Arab allies or oil supplies. Moreover, the true threats to U.S. interests have been external powers - the Soviet Union, regional provocateurs like the Iranians, inter-Arab rivalries (e.g., Syria and Lebanon) and terrorism, all of which the Arabists either ignored or downplayed.

Although their fears proved unfounded - the Arab states, especially the Saudis, need our support a lot more than we need theirs - the Arabists have never abandoned the view of U.S. Middle East policy as a zero-sum game in which it is impossible to have  close ties with both Israel and the Arab states. Many are therefore convinced that the United States must save Israel from itself by imposing a peace settlement aimed at satisfying American interests in the Arab world. Consequently, they have advocated pressuring Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians they hope will end the conflict they believe makes our lives difficult in the region.

Unfortunately, this view has come to be shared by many American liberals, including some liberal Jews. The idea promoted by people like Daily Beast commentator Peter Beinart is that Israel needs "tough love" from its American Jewish supporters - because Israelis are too stupid, immature or politically constrained to make decisions people 6,000 miles see as in their best interests. They also naively believe that by piling on with other critics of Israel they can change the policy of Israel's democratically elected leaders.

Israelis need to be pushed now, according to Time, because Israelis are enjoying prosperity and see peacemaking as a low priority. To the contrary, as any serious observer knows, Israelis have not enjoyed a day of peace in 62 years and crave peace more desperately than any other people on Earth.

You can go back as far as the 1937 Peel partition plan to find the first example of Zionists offering to share land with their neighbors. As recently as two years ago, Israel's prime minister offered the Palestinians a state in nearly 97% of the West Bank to go along with the entire Gaza Strip that Israel already evacuated. In between, Israel has offered a variety of other compromises to which the Arab answer has repeatedly been no recognition or peace with Israel.

It is true that Israelis are not in the rush to diplomacy favored by the Arab lobby and adopted by President Obama. It is not that they do not want peace, however, but rather that they have no faith in the Palestinians. What evidence, they ask, can anyone present to suggest that if they did capitulate to every demand of the Palestinians, peace would ensue? Mahmoud Abbas does not control the Gaza Strip, where 40% of the Palestinian people live and the Hamas rulers have made clear they want Israel to withdraw not to the 1967 borders but to the Mediterranean Sea. As we saw from the recent terror attacks, Abbas does not even fully control the West Bank, so what good is his signature on any peace agreement?

Israelis will have to live with the consequences of their decisions for decades to come. What if the "moderate" Abbas is replaced in 10 years by a Hamas-like extremist government? In that decade the quality of weapons will have improved and suddenly Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion Airport will be in the cross hairs of Palestinian rockets.

The Arabists only care that a Palestinian state is created in a year, not whether it will be a threat to Israel then or at any time in the future. Israelis, however, do have to take these possibilities into consideration. It is this calculation that is most affecting Israeli attitudes today. They are no less interested in peace than ever before; they simply want to be sure that before they make decisions that may endanger their security, their partners are equally committed to peace - and the United States has their back.

Bard is a foreign policy analyst whose latest book is "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East" (HarperCollins Publishers).