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Israel/Middle East Peace Process

Israel is a vibrant democracy, whose struggle for life, liberty, and its own pursuit of happiness is reminiscent of our formative years. Israel is and will always remain our foremost ally in the Middle East, a relationship based on an unbreakable bond of shared democratic values, the pursuit of opportunity and excellence, artistic and scientific achievement, and peace with security. Quite simply, we are a close family; we disagree at times and even have our spats, but the basic ties of kinship, respect, and similar values outweigh all others.

The U.S. and Israel face many similar threats today, stemming from the dangerous combination of religious extremism, terrorism, and WMD. We must be unswerving in our commitment to Israel's security and provide the means necessary to ensure its security and qualitative edge. Israel is the only major ally which has never asked for a security guarantee or stationing of U.S. troops, and which fights its own battles. In many aspects, our security is linked to Israel's.

In the pursuit of peace, Israel has and continues to face historic, wrenching national decisions. We must continue to stand at Israel's side, providing encouragement and wherewithal, and stating our own interests and values, but bearing in mind that what may appear a minor concession to us can be critical for Israel; thus, only Israel can decide what is appropriate for its future.

Sixty-two years after Israel's establishment, many in the Middle East and elsewhere still do not recognize the legitimacy of its existence and seek its destruction. Nevertheless, both Premier Barak (Camp David, 1986; ‘Clinton Parameters’, 2000) and Premier Olmert (fall, 2008) were willing to cede 100% of Gaza and virtually all of the West Bank, but these dramatic proposals were rejected by Palestinian leaders Arafat and Abbas, respectively. Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in 2005 in the hope that this would lead to a negotiated agreement on the West Bank, but was met with thousands of rockets fired into its territory instead.

Israel's historic initiatives towards peace are forgotten, its mistaken policies excoriated by the international community, the fact that the Palestinians have never once proposed a peace initiative of their own ignored. Just recently, Arab countries rejected our request that they finally agree to such minimal signs of normalization as allowing El Al (Israel's national airliner) to fly over their territory. Even when we differ with Israel (e.g., settlements which make Israel's own commitment to a ‘two-state solution’ that much harder to accomplish), we should be careful about how it is expressed, for experience has demonstrated that American public criticism of Israel often results in hardening of Palestinian and Arab demands.

The Palestinians and Arab states face similarly fateful decisions. Peace will require establishment of a Palestinian state and bilateral rather than one-sided calls for Israeli concessions on Jerusalem and the other remaining issues. Palestinian reunification between the West Bank and Gaza is today the single greatest obstacle to progress; governmental and security reform, concessions regarding refugees, an end to terrorism, and an unequivocal ‘end of conflict’, are essential for a breakthrough. We must be unflagging in our proactive and engaged peace efforts, but still recognize not all conflicts can be resolved in the time frames we desire.

The U.S. must lead the international community in the battle against terrorism and WMD. Hezbollah, Hamas, and al-Qaeda are threats to both the U.S. and Israel. Iran simply must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons (see Iran). Engagement has failed and nothing short of crippling sanctions (informal and formal) holds out any hope of changing Iran's policy. Effort to secure Russian and Chinese support for sanctions in the Security Council should be made, but the West should move forward with multilateral sanctions in any case (and unilateral sanctions in the interim). Additional measures may eventually prove necessary. We must work very closely with Israel to formulate a shared policy in the face of the existential Iranian threat. On this issue, as on no other, there can be no light between our public stances.

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