In Cairo, President Obama reached out to both Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs. He called for a new beginning in the relationship between the US and the Muslim world. He also said that the bond between the US and Israel is unbreakable. President Obama spoke out against any attempts at Holocaust denial. Our President will clearly be a supporter of Israel.
The President also spoke of the suffering of the Palestinian people. He pointed to the expansion of the settlements in the West Bank as a major roadblock in striving towards peace. President Obama called for the Palestinians to renounce violence and terror and for Israel to stop all settlement construction, with the goal of creating two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.
President Obama’s goals of the end of Palestinian violence and Israeli settlement construction are positions that are shared by the majority of American Jews, including the leadership of the Reform Movement. I too believe that the solution to the conflict is to stop the violence and the settlements and work towards two independent states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side. The problem is that there is little to no chance of either the renunciation of Palestinian violence or the cessation of Israeli settlements at this time.
The West Bank and Gaza Strip are currently independent of each other, with the Palestinian Authority ruling the West Bank and Hamas leading Gaza. Hamas, a terrorist organization that uses suicide bombers, does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and its charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state. In addition, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which holds a more moderate position towards Israel, cannot get along and there are occasional outbreaks of violence between Palestinians. I cannot see Hamas renouncing violence and coming to the Peace table.
At the same time, the chances that Israel will freeze the construction of Settlements in the West Bank is slim with the recent election of Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel. Netanyahu takes a hard line towards the Palestinians and supports the growth of settlements as necessary for Israel’s security.
Clouding the prospects of peace even further is Iran and their drive for nuclear weapons and influence in the Middle East. Iran seems to want to further the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by providing funds and weapons for Hamas and Hezbollah, a terrorist organization in Lebanon which also wishes for the destruction of Israel. With the reelection of Ahmadinejad, Iran seems bent on continuing its hard-line path.
Since Palestinian terror groups will not renounce violence, and Israel will not stop building settlements, what path can we go down in search of Middle East peace? A recent editorial in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, called for the completion of the Separation Fence, a wall being built between Israel and the West Bank.
Construction of the fence began in 2002 after an outbreak of Palestinian violence, with the theory that if the two people could not live together, they needed to be separated with a wall. In some places, the wall is 25 feet high, and includes razor wire and guard posts. Building a barrier between warring peoples is a strategy that worked in Berlin for decades. The separation fence could give Israelis and Palestinians time to “cool off” and perhaps someday it could come down, as did the Berlin Wall.
Begun in 2002, the separation fence today is only 60 percent completed. Since November 2007, almost all work related to the fence has come to a halt. There are many reasons for the stoppage in construction including a lull in terrorism and violence in Israel, making the need for the wall seem less pressing and the meltdown of the global economy and lack of funds. In addition, the gaps in the wall are in disputed areas between Israelis and Palestinians, for example near Jerusalem, so that any new construction may lead to an outbreak of violence.
While I certainly understand the desire not to provoke violence at a time of relative peace, I believe that the long-term solution to the conflict lies in completing the separation fence. With the Palestinians unable for decades to find real leadership and a government that will develop their economy or infrastructure, Israel is best served by separating from the Palestinians. A physical wall is necessary to accomplish this.
President Obama’s speech showed equal support for Israel and the Palestinians and did much to improve America’s image in Arab countries. But to move towards peace, our best bet is separation. I hope that the Israeli government will move forward in completing the security fence.