The Middle East is in the news again. This time, the story line seems to be President Obama’s upcoming trip to Israel and his new administration’s relationship with the new Israeli administration. Their talk appears to concern the challenge of preventing Iranian nuclear capability and the question of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Can Obama and Netanyahu succeed in making peace when multiple American presidents and Israeli prime ministers have failed in the past? In order to answer that, we must look at the bigger picture: why do we still have conflict in the Middle East in 2013?
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said in his Proclamation of Independence, “we extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace.” The next day, Israel was invaded by five neighboring Arab armies. The declaration of war stated their intent to create a “United State of Palestine” — an Arab country, in place of the world’s one and only Jewish country.
Since 1948, Israel has fought seven wars and suffered through countless terrorist attacks. All of these disputes were, at their core, a struggle of self-defense. Yet despite the violence and the immense tolls it has taken on innocent lives, Israelis have repeatedly extended their collective hand for peace.
In 1979, in exchange for peace and normalized relations with Egypt, Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had captured in the defensive Six Day War. In 1993, Israel handed over much of its territory in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority in exchange for peace.
Today, the Palestinian Authority controls all West Bank cities, including many Jewish and Christian holy sites that Israelis can no longer visit. In return for this compromise, Israel still did not receive peace. In 2005, Israel evacuated all Israeli citizens from Gaza, part of its historic homeland. This was an extremely painful and difficult decision for Israelis, but it was done in the hopes of creating goodwill on the Palestinian side and paving the way for an independent Palestinian state. Israel asked for nothing in return. Once again, the peaceful gesture did not work. Since the 2005 withdrawal, the terrorist group Hamas increased the rocket attacks from Gaza. What the international community and Israel hoped would be a thriving Palestinian democracy had turned into a launching pad for rockets aimed at Israelis. Hamas has shot more than 12,000 rockets into southern Israel, where men, women, and children, must live in constant fear and always keep a close proximity to bomb shelters.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority is in talks with Hamas to create a joint Palestinian government. All the while, Hamas’s main sponsors—the Iranian regime—marches closer to a nuclear weapon while violently discriminating against women and minorities, and threaten to destroy the only Jewish state in the world.
It is clear that many of the leaders of Hamas and Al-Asqa Mosque Brigades are not interested in peace, or in recognizing Israel’s right to exist. During Operation Pillar of Defense, rockets were launched in the direction of Jerusalem and towards Tel-Aviv. There was minimum condemnation from the Palestinian Authority.
As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address to the U.S. Congress in 2011, “All six Israeli prime ministers since the signing of the Oslo Accords agreed to establish a Palestinian state, myself included.” Indeed, polls show that Israelis support a two-state solution. In a recent OneVoice Movement poll, 78% of Israelis indicated they would be willing to accept a Palestinian State in historic Israel if it leads to peace.
No people long for peace more than the people of Israel. Every Israeli man and woman has mandatory army service at age 18. In the southern city of Sderot, residents have grown accustomed to living with missiles landing near their schools, homes, and playgrounds. Just a few years ago, during the Palestinian intifada, even public buses were blown up, sometimes multiple times per week, in major Israeli cities. Though this threat has been curbed, it still exists.
Nearly every Israeli knows someone who has been killed or injured by terror or in the line of duty. What parents could wish that for their children? With peace comes the hope of not fighting any more.
President Obama has said, “we have Israel’s back.” And he will show that again when he visits Israel next month.
But maybe he should do more. Maybe President Obama should lead the way for peace. He should start making demands from the rest of the Middle East. While Israel has made sacrifices for peace, its neighboring regimes have not reciprocated. President Obama should push them to do so — for the sake of everyone in the Middle East.