Take a Deep Breath

JEWISH LIGHT EDITORIAL

There’s been so much screaming from the fringes both before and after the meeting between United States President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, you’d think the two nations were mortal enemies.

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Rightists have been complaining that Washington must not do anything to appear disrespectful of Israel’s unilateral authority. Leftists have wanted Netanyahu to drop his intransigence regarding a two-state solution.

The truth of the matter is, there is no one truth. It is overreaching to insist that Israel will make all the right and best moves on its own, and that the U.S. should support any move by Israel no matter what. On the other hand, to suggest naively that Israel should be forced into acting unilaterally in favor of an insecure and untenable solution is equally unrealistic and impractical.

Certainly, we are not suggesting that people and organizations aren’t entitled to their opinions. We just don’t know why so many are prejudging and spinning the process before it’s had a chance to get into gear.

To the hawks in the room, we would say: We take as a given that the words and actions of Hamas and other like-minded organizations are abhorrent, that the Palestinian Authority is at best ineffectual, and that Israel has suffered substantially as a result of terrorist deeds and animus. We also accept the premise that a nuclear-armed Iran is a very, very bad thing indeed.

But to repeat these statements in mantra-like fashion as a justification for virtually anything Israeli leadership decides is not helpful. In fact, it’s downright destructive, because it leads to this kind of construct — Israel’s enemies are bad, so by definition anything Israel does is good. That logic is both flawed and harmful, because it encourages all parties to retreat to their respective corners.

To the ultradoves, we say yes, war is hellish. Peace is the only constructive ultimate solution. And certainly, there have been wrongs inflicted upon the Palestinian side, wrongs that have resulted in physical, psychological and emotional damage. We also accept that Israel has vacillated between leaders and political movements that have differing views of the situation and that inconsistency has contributed to failure to make peace in the past.

Yet the leftist view heavily discounts the extremist factions on the Palestinian side such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, that have shown little or no interest in peace, and who will not rest until there is an Israel-free Middle East. To refuse to acknowledge the raw, seething hatred of terrorist leaders, and to clothe the bombing of Sderot or urban pizza parlors in some kind of noble freedom-fighting garb, is intellectually dishonest and insulting.

So what is the point of encouraging the fringe players to exercise restraint? It’s this: President Obama’s Administration (which, by the way, has almost 20 Jewish personnel in key high-level positions) will bring calm deliberation to the table and to help mediate the situation. This in stark contrast to the Bush Administration, which chose to remain disengaged on the Israel-Palestinian question for seven years before Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice pushed hard enough after the Annapolis conference for a constructive role. And by then it was far too late to do anything of meaning and import.

If there’s one thing that President Obama has demonstrated during the campaign and his incipient presidency, it’s equanimity. But we do not confuse his calm for a lack of resolve. As the New York Times reported last week on the portion of the Obama-Netanyahu discussions dedicated to Iran: “‘We’re not going to have talks (with Iran) forever,’ Mr. Obama told Mr. Netanyahu after a two-hour session in the Oval Office. The president added that he did not intend to foreclose ‘a range of steps’ if Iran did not cooperate.” And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized the administration’s willingness to get tough with Iran in her statements before a Senate panel last week.

Obama is neither a Neville Chamberlain-like patsy, nor is he a war-mongering saber- rattler to no apparent end. He is an analytical leader who uses problem-solving skills to solve problems.

How utterly novel.

To be sure, the unknown scares everyone who has a vested interest in a particular position or outcome, because no one knows where the chips will fall. But here’s the thing — the status quo is going nowhere and not so fast. There’s no deal, there’s no lasting peace, there’s no assurances of Israel’s survival, there’s an Iran on the verge of nuclear capability.

Here’s our realpolitik perspective: Obama and Netanyahu, regardless of anyone’s personal views, are by everyone’s standards intelligent. We say, forget about whom else you’d rather have working on the problems; these are the guys we’ve got. Back off and let them do some work.