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Op-Ed

Obama in Israel: Can he overcome low expectations?

Obama's upcoming visit to Israel offers a chance to revive a relationship crucial to both countries.

March 08, 2013|By Yisrael Medad
  • A large Israeli flag flies near a small Jewish settlement of Ha Tamar, just outside the large Efrat settlement in the West Bank.
A large Israeli flag flies near a small Jewish settlement of Ha Tamar, just… (Jim Hollander / EPA )

Later this month, President Obama will visit Israel, a country intended by an act of international law to be the reconstituted Jewish national home. The visit will be highly charged, but at the same time, many Israelis have low expectations for what could come of it.

The president's protracted but unsuccessful attempts to stifle Iran's nuclear weapons program, his insistence on zealously challenging Israel's right to a united Jerusalem and his inability to pressure the Palestinian Authority to fulfill its obligations are among the chief reasons for the lack of excitement in Israel.

Still, as befits the representative of Israel's most faithful ally, Obama will be treated with respect, for it is our hope that the visit will help the president come to a truer understanding of the needs of Israel and the reality of the region. In the meantime, he might want to contemplate a few issues.

In September 2009, at the United Nations, Obama referred to Israeli communities established across the former Green Line as the "settlements." His exact words were: "We continue to emphasize that America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements."

I live in such a community, Shiloh, which sits less than 30 miles north of Jerusalem, and I can't imagine how my village and its inhabitants can be considered illegitimate. As archaeological excavations prove, the site was where Jews had lived for many centuries until the 2nd century. Our community, along with other cities, towns and villages, was established in territory where Jews had even lived in the 20th century, until forced to move by Palestinians during the period of the British Mandate and Jordanian occupation. How can reclaiming land that was lost through what some would term ethnic cleansing be considered illegitimate?

The president should be careful about using the word "illegitimate," by the way. A lot of Israelis are particularly sensitive to it because it is a word favored by those who think our state shouldn't exist. In an October 2006 live broadcast, for example, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad labeled Israel a "counterfeit and illegitimate regime that cannot survive."

Israel's presence in Judea and Samaria is quite legitimate. For 90 years, our enemies rejected all partition proposals and employed terror against us. Finally, in a war of defense in 1967, Israel assumed the administration of what are now commonly called the Palestinian territories. It's true that their status is disputed. But would it not be apartheid if Jews were prohibited from living there? Should Arabs be banned from Israel, where they are 20% of the population?

Moreover, a land-for-peace approach cannot resolve a problem that's not territorial. There were no "settlements" before 1967, but there was Arab terror, and a war broke out. Indeed, our communities could be a bridge to peace and coexistence. Until Israel is accepted as the Jewish national state, no border is sufficient.

Another matter of deep concern to Israelis is the case of Jonathan Pollard, a U.S. intelligence analyst who supplied classified information to Israel (an ally of the United States) that he felt was vital to its security. He has already served more than 25 years of a life term for his actions, much longer than in similar cases. He should be pardoned.

Not only Israelis but also at least one U.S. federal judge and many former government officials and elected representatives have made clear in statements that Pollard's situation is unfair and deserves a presidential act of grace.

When it comes to Israel, Americans too question the president's positions. In a recent poll by the website the Hill of 1,000 people, for example, only 13% of respondents said the president's policies toward Israel were too supportive, whereas a full 39% said he was not supportive enough, up from 31% in 2011. These numbers should be of concern to Obama.

The president's upcoming visit could be an opportunity to reorient the administration's outlooks and policies and to reestablish the foundations of our countries' long-standing friendship and strategic relationships. It could also assist the principles of democracy, peace, security and civic well-being in the face of a disappointing Arab Spring. Weakening Israel would endanger America as well.

Yisrael Medad resides in Shiloh and acts as a foreign media spokesperson for the YESHA Council of Jewish Communities in Judea and Samaria.

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