37 Years, 3 Major Themes
I’ve been writing for the Baltimore Jewish Times since 1976. Over the years, my articles have had three major themes: the foolishness of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank outside of the environs of Jerusalem; the lack of consistency of U.S. policy in the Middle East, most particularly toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, an inconsistency also demonstrated by the current president, Barack Obama; the discovery of Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program in late 2002, I have emphasized the necessity of its removal, something neither the United States nor Israel has yet accomplished.
Perhaps my most controversial column came early in the premiership of Menachem Begin (1977-1983), when I condemned his policy of seizing Palestinian-owned land on the West Bank for “security reasons” and then turning that land over to Israeli Jews to build settlements. Not only did I assert that this was theft, but I also warned that the more the settlements spread on the West Bank, the more difficult it would be to reach a two-state solution. Unfortunately, since I wrote the first of a series of articles condemning Israeli settlement policy in early 1978, Israeli settlements have proliferated, and — along with the issues of Jerusalem, Israeli security requirements and the Palestinian refugees — settlements have become a central problem in forging Israeli-Palestinian peace.
On my second theme: It started with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. In his shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel in the mid-1970s, he had come to realize that the only way to reconcile America’s multiple goals in the Middle East — keeping Israel alive, keeping friendly Arab regimes in power and maintaining access to oil and strategic communication routes — was for the U.S. to actively work for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter embraced this concept. Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did not. Their Middle East policies suffered accordingly. In the case of Obama, his tactics have been less than consistent. He deliberately cooled relations with Israel between 2009 and 2011 only to embrace the Jewish state warmly from 2011 to 2013, virtually quoting the Jewish national anthem, Hatikvah, during his visit to Israel last March. Obama has fluctuated between emphasizing the importance of stopping settlement construction, emphasizing the primacy of the issues of borders and security and calling for the resolution of all the “final status” issues.
On Iran: Its leaders have consistently threatened to “wipe Israel off the face of the map.” Slogans such as “Death to Israel” are inscribed on Iranian missiles. George W. Bush, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, chose not to strike Iranian nuclear facilities; Obama, who, to his credit, did develop a very strong sanctions system against Iran, has nonetheless chosen to use diplomacy rather than force. The six-month agreement with Iran has numerous flaws, including allowing Iran to continue building its heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak. Whether these flaws can be corrected in a follow-up agreement is a very open question.
It has been a pleasure sharing my views of the Middle East. Thank you.
Dr. Robert O. Freedman is the Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone professor of political science emeritus at Baltimore Hebrew University and visiting professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.