Obama’s trip to Israel and the best path to peace

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton

There are many pro-Israel Americans, including members of the American Jewish community, who believe that the best strategy for bringing Israel and the Palestinians to the peace table is for President Obama to try to appear neutral or even lean toward the Palestinian/Arab world viewpoint, pushing Israel to the peace table and in the negotiating process.

But the truth is, history supports exactly the opposite. History proves that the stronger an American president is in being uncompromising in supporting Israel’s security, the more likely Israel is to take risks for peace. Thus, in 2004-05, with President George W. Bush acting staunchly and unambiguously pro-Israel, Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew Israeli military forces from Gaza, despite the continued presence in Gaza of the terrorist organization Hamas, publicly dedicated to killing civilians and children in the cause of the destruction of Israel.

President Clinton also was strongly supportive of the state of Israel, and developed a particularly close personal relationship with Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who led Israel’s government between 1999-2001. The results in the summer of 2000 at Camp David and in late December 2000 were dramatic — and, amazingly, largely forgotten by those who believe that Israel will make concessions under critical pressure from an American president. It is a fact of history that Barak publicly offered Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat the following remarkable concessions:

● Israel would recognize the West Bank and Gaza and portions of East Jerusalem as an independent Palestinian state — meaning, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Israeli government leader offered to give the Palestinians sovereignty over portions of Jerusalem as their state capital;

● Israel would give 97 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians for their independent state, which would be recognized by Israel and increase the size of the Gaza territory by roughly a third in return for retaining the 3 percent, which comprised settlement lands contiguous with Israel;

● The Palestinian state would comprise all of Gaza and a secured land-link to the West Bank;

● As a result, Israel would have to force withdrawal from 63 established settlements on the West Bank;

● Remarkably — a fact that few seem to recall — also for the first time in Israeli history, an Israeli government leader endorsed the principle of some right of return to the Palestinian state of Palestinian refugees, endorsing “reparations” of $30 billion from an international fund for displaced Palestinians; and

● The Palestinians would maintain control over the holy places and would be given desalinization plants to assure their water supply.

The only concessions made by Arafat was Israeli sovereignty over the parts of the Western Wall that were religiously significant to Jews (i.e., not the entire Temple Mount of the ancient and holy temple of King Solomon) and three early warning stations in the Jordan valley, from which Israel would withdraw after six years.

But tragically, on January 2, Arafat changed his mind on critical issues, and backed away from the agreement, even refusing to countenance Israeli control over the limited holy places in Jerusalem.

So when Obama goes to Israel, my hope is that he will read these facts of history and recognize that the best path to peace is to reassure the Israeli people, who live with an existential threat of destruction by their immediate neighbors in a nation roughly the size of New Jersey, that America stands with them and their right to exist as a Jewish state.

Most importantly, he must declare without ambiguity that America will support Israel’s position that we cannot allow Iran — a country publicly committed to Israel’s destruction — to develop a nuclear bomb.

History teaches us that when Israel knows that America stands with them and its president has a personal bond and relationship with Israel’s prime minister, the chances of peace in the Middle East are enhanced. And just as important, the rejectionists, the fundamentalist Islamic extremists and terrorists and the Iranians — all dedicated to the destruction of Israel — will know that their way is a pathway to their own destruction, with the world of civilized humanity arrayed against them, led by the United States.

Lanny Davis, a Washington attorney and principal in the firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, specializing in legal crisis management and dispute resolution, served as President Clinton’s special counsel from 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board from 2006-07. He currently serves as special counsel to Dilworth Paxson and is the author of the forthcoming book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping With Crises in Business, Politics, and Life, to be published by Simon & Schuster in March.