I have strongly criticized President Obama for his policy toward Israel. In particular — although there are numerous other issues, like his remarkable disrespect for Israel’s Prime Minister — I was unhappy about his pronounced tilt toward the Palestinian position in peace process negotiations. I won’t go into detail here, but I called Obama the most anti-Israel President we have ever had.
Now for the first time it is beginning to seem that Mitt Romney has a good chance to win the election. I’m not suggesting that we can neglect the many other considerations, in foreign and domestic policy, that are relevant for choosing a president, but I want to look at this particular issue — Israel — and examine what we know about Romney’s attitudes.
In May of this year, at the same private fund-raiser at which he made his unfortunate “47%” remark, Romney said this about the “peace process:”
I’m torn by two perspectives in this regard. One is the one which I’ve had for some time, which is that the Palestinians have no interest whatsoever in establishing peace, and that the pathway to peace is almost unthinkable to accomplish.
Now why do I say that? Some might say, well, let’s let the Palestinians have the West Bank, and have security, and set up a separate nation for the Palestinians. And then come a couple of thorny questions. And I don’t have a map here to look at the geography, but the border between Israel and the West Bank is obviously right there, right next to Tel Aviv, which is the financial capital, the industrial capital of Israel, the center of Israel. It’s—what the border would be? Maybe seven miles from Tel Aviv to what would be the West Bank…The other side of the West Bank, the other side of what would be this new Palestinian state would either be Syria at one point, or Jordan.
And of course the Iranians would want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what they did near Gaza. Which is that the Iranians would want to bring missiles and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel. So Israel of course would have to say, “That can’t happen. We’ve got to keep the Iranians from bringing weaponry into the West Bank.” Well, that means that—who? The Israelis are going to patrol the border between Jordan, Syria, and this new Palestinian nation? Well, the Palestinians would say, “Uh, no way! We’re an independent country. You can’t, you know, guard our border with other Arab nations.” And now how about the airport? How about flying into this Palestinian nation? Are we gonna allow military aircraft to come in and weaponry to come in? And if not, who’s going to keep it from coming in? Well, the Israelis. Well, the Palestinians are gonna say, “We’re not an independent nation if Israel is able to come in and tell us what can land in our airport.”
These are problems—these are very hard to solve, all right? And I look at the Palestinians not wanting to see peace anyway, for political purposes, committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel, and these thorny issues, and I say, “There’s just no way.”
And so what you do is you say, “You move things along the best way you can.” You hope for some degree of stability, but you recognize that this is going to remain an unsolved problem. We live with that in China and Taiwan. All right, we have a potentially volatile situation but we sort of live with it, and we kick the ball down the field and hope that ultimately, somehow, something will happen and resolve it. We don’t go to war to try and resolve it imminently.
On the other hand, I got a call from a former secretary of state. I won’t mention which one it was, but this individual said to me, you know, I think there’s a prospect for a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis after the Palestinian elections. I said, “Really?” And, you know, his answer was, “Yes, I think there’s some prospect.” And I didn’t delve into it. [my emphasis]
Here Romney made two very important points which, if we go by their public statements, nobody in the Obama Administration understands:
- The Palestinians do not want a peaceful state alongside Israel, they want to replace it with an Arab state
- A “two-state solution” with hostile Arabs would present insoluble security problems for Israel
Since the 1970’s American policy in the region has been based on the idea that the result of the 1967 war must be reversed (if you are cynical, you may think that this is because of the influence in the US of the Petro-Saudi lobby). This has been expressed since the Oslo accords or 1993 as support for a “two-state solution.”
While events — the Hamas takeover of Gaza, the Second Intifada — have convinced the great majority of Israelis that a practical two-state solution is a fantasy based on wishful thinking, this has generally not penetrated the US media or political establishment. So Mitt’s remarks in May came as a breath of fresh air.
Unfortunately, it seems as though Romney has now changed his mind. In a speech that he gave today at Virginia Military Institute, he said,
I will recommit America to the goal of a democratic, prosperous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel. On this vital issue, the President has failed, and what should be a negotiation process has devolved into a series of heated disputes at the United Nations.
It’s the same old nonsense! (I wonder who the “former Secretary of State” was that may have moved him in this direction — perhaps Saudi Lobbyist James A. Baker?)
Having said this, Romney still seems far more likely to be friendly to Israel than Obama, who Aaron David Miller said “really is different [from other presidents about Israel].” He has a good personal relationship with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. He is not associated with anti-Zionists like Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi or Ali Abunimah, or left-wing Israel-haters like Bill Ayers, or antisemites like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.
Mitt, you were right the first time!