Great Expectations and Pious Hopes

Our government must take a stand on the principle that Jews have a right to live in the Land of Israel regardless of where the eventual borders are delineated.


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on June 8, 2009.)

“America is not at war with Islam” declared U.S. President Barack Obama in his speech in Cairo. If he intended to improve the atmosphere coloring the relations between America and the Muslim world, the speech was a masterpiece. He pulled out all the stops. He started with salaam aleikum and referred to his middle name, Hussein, and his Muslim ancestry. He quoted from the “Holy Koran” and reminded his audience that Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States, in the Treaty of Tripoli of 1796. He also mentioned the many Muslims who live in the United States. Obama reached out to the hearts and minds of Muslims around the word, and especially in the Middle East. The speech was intended to spell out a new beginning in the relations between Muslims and the United States. The people in the auditorium at Cairo University loved it.

As for those Muslims in the ranks of Al-Qaida and the Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas, it’s another story. Though Obama may have had some success in reaching some of them over their leaders’ heads – bin Laden, Khamenei, Nasrallah and the Hamas leadership – no real change is to be expected in that quarter. Their minds are made up, and sweet-talking them is not going to bring them around. If anything, they may conclude from Obama’s speech that they have nothing to fear from the “Great Satan.” They will continue with their murderous plans. And, unfortunately, they’re the ones at the root of all the region’s troubles.

To Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabia’s rulers, Obama’s reference to women’s rights and the advantages of democratic rule may not exactly be music to their ears. Their main concern continues to be political survival. Will Obama’s words, expressing evenhandedness between Israel and the Palestinians, create the basis for a grand Arab coalition that will line up alongside the United States and Israel in an attempt to halt the Iranian race toward nuclear weaponry, or better yet coax Iran to forego its nuclear ambitions? This does not seem very likely at the moment. His great speech may in the end be little more than an expression of pious hopes.

Nowhere did Obama have a more attentive audience than in Israel. There were great expectations on the left and signs of anxiety on the right. On the surface, at least, no Israeli should have been disappointed. The mention of the “unbreakable bond” between America and Israel and Obama’s eloquent words about the victims of the Holocaust touched Israelis of all political persuasions, even though many must have found the parallel he drew between the Holocaust and the Palestinians’ suffering somewhat jarring.

Obama chose the words in his long speech very carefully. The word terror was omitted and replaced by the word violence. Even Hamas and Hezbollah received a little encouragement. But the president of the United States told Israel in no uncertain terms what was expected of it: “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements …. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

This is what the Israeli left had been so eager to hear. But it is wrong. There is nothing illegitimate about Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. The right of Jews to settle in the Land of Israel, and not only on one side of the Green Line, is not only based on the Bible and the history of the Jewish people, but has received international recognition in the League of Nations mandate for Palestine and U.S. approval in the Anglo-American Convention of 1924. This international recognition and the subsequent American approval have never been revoked. Insistence that certain areas in the Land of Israel be closed to Jews stands in opposition to these rights and the accepted values common to all Western societies.

The Israeli government must take a clear stand on this issue. It is not a question of building requirements determined by the natural increase in existing settlements in Judea and Samaria. It is the principle that Jews have a right to live in the Land of Israel regardless of where the eventual borders are delineated.

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