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The American error of taking sides in Middle East

In the midst of multiple foreign crises that demand our attention as a nation last month saw the little-noted collapse of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Each side blamed the other.  Possibly the U.S. shares some culpability since our country has rarely been an entirely neutral arbitrator in the dispute.

Alan Jilka

Alan Jilka

As if to underline the point Republican Presidential hopeful Chris Christie spent the evening of May 18, 2014, speaking to the Champions of Jewish Values International awards gala in New York. This was the second time in two months that Governor Christie had spoken to an influential group of Jewish donors. The audience included billionaire Sheldon Adelson (personal wealth estimated at $35 Billion by Forbes magazine), who funded much of Newt Gingrich’s ill-fated 2012 campaign.

During his speech Christie touted America as “the strongest moral power for what is good and right in the world.” The governor, speaking a month earlier in Las Vegas to a Jewish group that included Adelson, had made reference to “the occupied territories,” land taken by Israel in the 1967 war. Afterwards he scrambled to assure Adelson that he had “misspoke.” The pro-Israeli lobby cites the Bible and regards all occupied territory as a permanent part of the Jewish state.

One of the best accounts of the behind-the-scenes machinations leading to the creation of Israel can be found in David McCullough’s Pulitzer-Prize winning biography of Harry Truman. Recognition of an independent Jewish state was fiercely opposed by our Department of State and the then Secretary of State Gen. George Marshall (namesake of the Marshall Plan).

What followed Truman’s decision to recognize Israel remains largely forgotten by Americans. Nearly a half a million Palestinians were forcibly made to flee their homes. Some who resisted were shot and many elderly who presumably could not walk long distances were left behind to their fate. Many who survived have subsisted in refugee camps for generations or live currently under Israeli military rule on the West Bank or Gaza Strip. Herein lies the heart of the problem.

Arnold Toynbee, former professor of Modern History at the University of Jerusalem, wrote in 1967 that “the Palestinian Arabs have suffered injustice.  To put it simply, they have been made to pay for the genocide of the Jews in Europe, which was committed by the Germans, not the Arabs.”

One cannot make light of the legitimate security concerns of the state of Israel.  On the other hand, its desire to pursue a peaceful solution over the years can be questioned in light of its continued refusal to curtail settlement activity in the occupied territories. According to U.S. government statistics 556,700 Israeli Jews now live in the occupied territories. Israel again refused to stop settlement activity at the beginning of the latest round of peace talks.

Any U.S. politician who tries to press Israel into a more accommodating stance with the Palestinians does so at his own risk. President Obama has tried to lean on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reign in settlement activity. As a result, 2012 Presidential challenger Mitt Romney vigorously attacked the President for not being sufficiently supportive of Israel.

When Obama nominated former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel to be the Secretary of Defense numerous Jewish groups cried foul and noted his past complaints about “intimidation” from the Jewish lobby. David Suissa, writing at the time in the “Jewish Journal,” also criticized Hagel for a 2006 remark that “the core of all challenges in the Middle East remains the underlying Arab-Israeli conflict.” Hagel went on to say that failure to address this problem allows the type of hate to fester that breeds terrorism. Jewish groups reject this linkage.

The 1979 Camp David Peace Agreement between Israel and Egypt taught us three lessons. First of all, it showed that peace is possible between Israel and the Arabs. Secondly, a U.S. role is key in the process. And lastly, a comprehensive Mideast solution must address the Palestinian issue. There lies the unfulfilled promise of the Camp David.

To achieve a lasting Middle East peace, the American people need to insist that our government be a neutral party pushing both sides towards a compromise.

Alan Jilka is a businessman and former mayor of Salina.

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  • Smadge

    Mr Jilka you ever been to Israel, Kuwait, Iraq, Saudi, Qatar, Afghanistan? Highly doubtful! Those countries with the exception of Israel hate everything we stand for and Isral is the only friend we have in the region. I have been there numerous times and as long as we keep pumping money in their countries it’s ok, but they aren’t true friends to our Great Nation. I would say maybe get out of the couch in your furniture store, open your eyes and mind and see the problem for what it is.

    • yahooserious

      So your saying it’s okay for Israel to meddle in our U.S. politics? Good answer bro.. Keep them politicians clamoring for those Israeli campaign dollars. Good idea. Israel is the same as the rest. Give us some money and we’ll put on a happy face for you, strippers do the same thing, man, doesn’t mean I would ever sleep with one. Well though out hommie.

      • williambilek

        “So your saying it’s okay for Israel to meddle in our U.S. politics?”
        You mean like every other country on the face of this earth? Why not?

        “those Israeli campaign dollars. ”

        Provide factual evidence for this allegation.

      • Smadge

        yahooserious- Where in my statement did I state anything about campaign $$$$. I would suggest you take time to read the links provided by Williambilek and then make some informed comments. The Arab world is trying to establish a world wide Caliphate and all you have to do is look at Europe to see that they are succeeding. I would assume we are from different generations as I am not your Bro or Hommie and I wouldn’t know about the strippers as I don’t make a habit of visiting those establishments.

  • williambilek

    So here is my question: Why the need to try to support one’s opinion with lies?

    “The pro-Israeli lobby cites the Bible and regards all occupied territory as a permanent part of the Jewish state.”

    There is no “pro-Israel lobby”. There is a lobby of American citizens, of all colors, creeds and religions, that support and lobby for a strong US-Israel relationship which they believe is in the best interests of America and Israel. The lobby supports the claims of this and every preceding government of Israel to territories which are currently IN DISPUTE, pending a negotiated agreement, but which, by INTERNATIONAL LAW, written in 1922, were destined to become the National Home of the Jewish People (and of which the international community was urged to assist in the “close settlement” by the Jewish People”).

    “Recognition of an independent Jewish state was fiercely opposed by our Department of State”

    And still is. What is the point being made?

    “Nearly a half a million Palestinians were forcibly made to flee their homes.”

    Untrue!

    “Some who resisted were shot and many elderly who presumably could not walk long distances were left behind to their fate.”

    An absolute, through-your-teet-, bald-faced LIE!

    “Many who survived have subsisted in refugee camps for generations”

    Because their Arab “brothers” refuse to let them leave or integrate into their “brotherly Arab societies”.

    “live currently under Israeli military rule on the West Bank or Gaza Strip”

    Because, having lost their genocidal attempt to exterminate the remnants of Hitler’s survivors in 1948, having refused to establish their putative state in the West Bank and Gaza for the 19 years from 1949-1967, they attacked again…and lost again. And then, for some inexplicable reason, Jilka “forgot” to mention the 1.2 million Arab citizens of Israel who heeded the calls of the Israeli government in 1948 to stay, and who have lived well and prospered in the Jewish State for the last 66 years.

    “its desire to pursue a peaceful solution over the years can be questioned in light of its continued refusal to curtail settlement activity in the occupied territories.”

    Male bovine excrement. “Over the years” Israel has offered the Arabs cooperation in establishing their state (for the first time ever in history) repeatedly, most recently in 2000, 2005, 2008, 2009. Each time the Arabs refused (if it meant accepting the secure existence of a nation state of the Jewish People on any part of its ancestral homeland.) Furthermore, why would Jews building homes on 2% of the land area of Judea and Samaria, something which has never been proscribed in any treaty, international, nor between the parties to the conflict, be an “obstacle to peace”, but the repeated violation of the repeated legal commitments to end incitement against the Jewish State and the Jewish People is not seen as any impediment?

    “Israel again refused to stop settlement activity at the beginning of the latest round of peace talks.” And the US and the Arabs accepted that refusal,opting for Israel’s offer for the staged release of murderers instead.

    “Any U.S. politician who tries to press Israel into a more accommodating stance with the Palestinians does so at his own risk.”

    And why is there no demand for a “US politician” to “press the Palestinians into a more accommodating stance”?

    “First of all, it showed that peace is possible between Israel and the Arabs.”

    IF!! the Arab side is ready for it. And obviously, “settlements” (such as Yamit, and other Sinai settlements evacuated by the Israelis in return for what was believed to be a true peace) were not then, and are not now, an issue.

    “And lastly, a comprehensive Mideast solution must address the Palestinian issue.”

    What is “comprehensive”?
    What is “Mideast”?
    What is “the Palestinian issue?

    And once again, why the lies?

    • Toby Prine

      Williambilek….I enjoy reading your analysis. While my personal knowledge of Israeli history is limited to Biblical history, history of WWII and the Holocaust, and IDF military history, it’s apparent to me you are well read in the contemporary political situation regarding the Middle East. Great insight!

    • Smadge

      Williambilek– I agree with Toby very informative reading. My knowledge of this is from the military end as that is how I know that I would much rather have an Israeli in my foxhole than an Arab. As one can be considered a loyal friend and the other not so much as you could never turn your back on them.

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