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November 4, 2009

Would Obama speak truth to Jews?

Alan Hart

Alan HartInformed and honest analysis suggests that no American president will ever be able to break the Zionist lobby's stranglehold on Congress on matters to do with Israel/Palestine unless and until a majority of Jewish Americans, in order to protect their own best interests and those of all their fellow Americans, indicate that they wish him to do so, or that they will not object if he tries.

In the context of the conflict in and over Palestine that became Israel, what those best interests are can be summarised in two sentences. America, on account of its unconditional support for the Zionist state and its contempt for international law, has made enemies of many if not most of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims.

A change of American policy that required Israel to behave in accordance with international law would convert almost all Arabs and most other Muslims into friends and allies of America. (I agree that America’s unconditional support for Israel right-or-wrong is not the only cause of the hurt, humiliation and anger that drives Arab and other Muslim anti-Americanism, but the Palestine problem is the cancer at the heart of international affairs, and a cure for it would make many other problems more manageable).

From the perspective summarised above, it can be said that Jewish Americans, all of them not just the 25% or thereabouts who are cannon fodder for the Zionist lobby in its various manifestations, have real political power, actually more democratic power if those choose to exercise it than AIPAC can mobilize by playing the fear card.

On 9 November, when he addresses the General Assembly of The United Jewish Communities (UJC), to be known from then on as The Jewish Federations of North America, President Obama has the opportunity to speak truth to that power (or at least a very significant number of its representatives).

If I was writing Obama’s speech for that occasion I would have him say this:

To make peace in the Middle East on terms that provide security for Israel and an acceptable amount of justice for the Palestinians, I need two irrevocable, good faith commitments of intent - one from the Arab and wider Muslim world, the other from Israel.

In headline terms, the irrevocable commitment I need from the Arab and wider Muslim world comes down to this. In return for an end to Israeli occupation of all Arab land captured in 1967, it will make a full and final peace with Israel and establish normal state-to-state relations.

The irrevocable commitment I need from Israel comes down to this. In return for the Arab and wider Muslim world’s commitment of intent, Israel commits to withdrawing its military forces and settlers to the borders as they were on 4 June 1967, to make the space, on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, for the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Of course the headlines don’t tell the whole story. It includes the fact that there is a Saudi-inspired peace plan that’s been on the table since its adoption by an Arab summit in Beirut in 2002.

It comes close to the irrevocable commitment I am seeking from the Arab and wider Muslim world, but Barack Obama the honest broker has to say this about it. Under two headings, that peace plan requires some clarification and amendment if it is to be transformed into the commitment I need.

-                     The Arab peace plan calls for “the achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.” That resolution, passed on 11 December 1948, declares that all Palestinian refugees wishing to return to their homes and live in peace with their neighbours “should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date”. It also declares that “compensation should be paid for the property of those not wishing to return”.

Sixty years on it could be said, and I do say, that it’s more than reasonable for all Palestinians who were dispossessed of their homes, their land and their rights to have the expectation of returning in accordance with Resolution 194, which itself is in accordance with international law.

But as things are today, it’s not a practical proposition. If there was no limit to the number of Palestinians who returned, the Jews of an Israel inside its borders as they were on 4 June 1967 would be out-numbered by Arabs; and, if Israel remained a democracy, it would be voted out of existence.

As some might put it, an unlimited return would lead to the “de-Zionisation” of Israel, “the end of Zionism’s colonial enterprise”. No Israeli government is ever going to agree to that. 

I therefore suggest that the commitment of intent I am seeking from the Arab and wider Muslim world should declare that the Palestinian right of return will be limited to the Palestinian state of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and that those Palestinians wanting to return and who cannot be accommodated will be cash compensated.

I wish to add here my own recognition of the fact that such a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem would be far from ideal. It would require the Palestinians to settle for something considerably less than full and complete justice. But they have to be realistic.

-                     The Arab peace plan calls for the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state “with East Jerusalem as its capital”.

-                     In the context of the history of the conflict and appropriate UN resolutions for a solution to it, that’s a perfectly reasonable proposition.

-                     However, a possible implication is that the Jerusalem of the peace the Arabs want will be divided. I think the prospects for a real and lasting peace would be best served by Jerusalem being an open, undivided city and the capital of two states. I would therefore like to see a statement to that effect in the commitment of intent I am seeking from the Arab and wider Muslim world.

Now let me share a private thought with you.

During my presidency to date there have been moments when I wondered if I was naïve and possibly even stupid to have had “Yes, we can!” as my campaign slogan. On some of the problems I am dealing with, the jury in my own mind is still out, but not on the matter of making peace in the Middle East. If I get the two commitments of intent I am seeking, I can and will do it!

I would also have the President anticipate and address one key question (actually the key question). Suppose you get the commitment you seek from the Arab and wider Muslim world but not from Israel. What will you do then?

I would have President Obama answer as follows.

When I met briefly with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas in September, I said to them, “We must all take risks for peace”. In the event of it becoming clear that Israel is the obstacle to peace, I would take a risk.

The first duty of any president is to protect America’s best interests. I have to tell you very frankly that it would not be in America’s best interests to go on giving unconditional support to an Israel that had been shown itself to be the obstacle to peace - peace on terms which, in my view, would be accepted with relief by any rational government and people in Israel.

Some commentators have said that the name of the game is “saving Israel from itself”. In my assessment that’s not the whole game but it is an important part of it.

In the event of Israel not be willing, for a real and lasting peace, to commit to withdraw from all Arab land it occupied in 1967, I would seek to prevail upon Congress to enable me to use all the leverage the United States has to oblige Israel to do what is required of it by the spirit as well as the letter of UN resolutions representing the will of the organised international community and international law.

Though much denied, it is true that the lobby which supports Israel right-wrong has had enough influence in Congress to block policy initiatives that were not to Israel’s liking.

If necessary I would seek to counter that influence by personally lobbying each and every member of Congress.  I would ask them all a very simple question - Are you an American first or a supporter if only by default of a foreign power?

And if still I was blocked, I would go over the heads of Congress and appeal directly to all my fellow Americans. I would ask them to play their part in calling and holding their elected representatives to account in order to make our democracy work for justice and peace.

If I had to go down that road, I would hope to have the support of the vast majority of my Jewish fellow Americans. Your response to me here today will give me a first indication of whether or not that hope would be justified.

Because I came to this meeting determined to be completely honest about my own thoughts and feelings, there is more I must say.

In my view there is no bigger threat to the security of America and all Americans than continuing and unending conflict in the Middle East and the hatreds it fuels in the region and far beyond.

And that’s why national security adviser James Jones told “J” Street’s first conference that advancing the Israel-Palestinian peace process is the “epicenter” of U.S. foreign policy. He put it this way: “If there was one problem I could recommend to the president if he could solve only one problem, this would be it. Bringing about an Israel-Palestinian peace agreement would create ripples around the world. The reverse is not true. This is the epicenter.”

When I spoke recently in Hackensack I called for the cynics and skeptics to be cast aside to prove that “leaders who do what’s right and what’s hard will be rewarded not rejected”.

On that occasion I was appealing for understanding of Jon Corzine in his bid for re-election to the governorship of New Jersey, and for him to be rewarded not rejected. Today I can tell you that the time may be coming when I will have to make that same appeal on behalf of myself. And this is why.

If it became apparent that Israel is the obstacle to peace, and if then I was prevented from using the necessary leverage to bring an intransigent Israel to its senses, I would resign.

As I said earlier, the first duty of any president is to protect America’s best interests. If I was not allowed to do that, I would see no point in being president.

I wish to add only this. It’s time to stop regarding politics as “the art of the possible”.

That’s a cover for the politics of expediency which are taking us and the whole world to hell. It’s also time to recognise that “Yes, we can” is not an urgent enough call to action.

With a number of problems threatening the wellbeing and perhaps even the survival of humankind, we need to regard politics as the art of doing what must be done if our children wherever they live are to have a future worth having. And our call to action should be “Yes, we must!

If anybody who reads what I have written above has a way of drawing it to President Obama’s attention, please do so.

Footnote: As I was preparing to post this article, Secretary of State Clinton was saying that peace talks (about talks) will go ahead “with or without a freeze on settlements”. I find myself wondering if that was a two-fingered gesture from her to Obama as well as to the Palestinians.

Alan Hart is a former ITN and BBC Panorama correspondent who covered wars and conflicts wherever they were taking place in the world and a specialist on the Middle East. He’s the author of Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews. He blogs on and tweets on

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