- The Washington Times - Friday, January 16, 2009


Dear Mr. President-elect, on November, 30, 1947, United Nation General Assembly Resolution 181 created the state of Israel on Palestinian land, with the full opposition of all the Arab States. Israel won the ensuing war, in 1948, and became an independent Jewish state. The Palestinians, and the Arabs in general, opposed the newly formed state, and over the last 61 years the two sides have fought two more full-scale wars, plus two wars in Lebanon following major incursions by Israel in response to the shelling of Israeli cities by the PLO in 1982 and by Hezbollah in 2006. Needless to say, a state of distrust, enmity and hate has prevailed between the two sides, culminating in the present tragedy in Gaza.

Mr. Obama, six decades after its founding, and after becoming the superpower in the Middle East, Israel, despite winning every war against its neighbors, is not safer today than it was immediately after it’s founding! Israelis live in constant fear of terror attacks and missiles fired from neighboring territories, while the Palestinians live in a state of deprivation and hopelessness under Israeli occupation.

Fear of attacks, on one side, and suffering under occupation and oppression, on the other, have created the prevailing climate of intimidation and resulted in the escalation of a cycle of violence and bloodshed, with no end in sight.

The time for assigning blame to one side or the other is long past. Too many innocent lives have been lost or damaged on both sides. And both sides bear responsibility for the suffering of innocents. It is a crime for one side to fire unguided, albeit largely ineffective, missiles against a neighbor, and it is equally unacceptable to have a people living under occupation for such a long period of time. There must be an end to this ongoing tragedy and the United States is the only country that can bring about the conditions where Palestinians and Israelis respect each others’ right to live in peace, free from threats, intimidation and harassment.

To achieve this desired result, Sir, your involvement is needed, starting on Inauguration Day. None of your predecessors succeeded is solving this chronic problem. You are in a great position to set America on the right track in the Middle East by moving the Palestinians and the Israelis to implement the Two-State Road Map that President George W. Bush proposed. Unfortunately, your predecessor became involved a few years too late and could not accomplish what he began due to his ill advised involvement in Iraq.

America’s top priority, with due respect to the feelings of our friends on both sides of the conflict, must be our long-term national interest in this important region of the world. To be an effective and honest mediator, we need to be trusted by both sides. I agree with you that Israel’s security and freedom are non negotiable. The Jews have suffered more than any people in modern history and they deserve our support. But for us to be successful in our mediations, we should recognize that the Palestinians have also suffered greatly and need and deserve to live in peace and freedom within secure borders.

To bring America’s efforts to fruition, we should respect the God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of both parties. Israel’s long-term interests dictate that the Palestinians and other Arab states accept it as a partner and treat it as a good neighbor. For this to become a reality, our diplomatic offensive must start by calling on both parties to stop all hostilities in Gaza. Hamas must be made to understand that firing missiles into Israel must cease, once and for all! Hamas must also recognize Israel’s sacred right to exist, side by side, with an Arab Palestinian state.

Mr. President-Elect, the Palestinians, like the Israelis, have suffered greatly since their country was partitioned 61 years ago. They have lived under untenable conditions of misery and depravation. As a result of the numerous wars with Israel, many of them were forced to become refugees two or three times in their lifetime. Under occupation, gross unemployment, poverty, land confiscations and a feeling that they are imprisoned in their own country have taken a heavy toll on these people, not to speak of what they suffer because of their own governments’ shortcomings. Unfortunately, hopelessness led some of them to resort to suicide bombings and other unacceptable acts of terror, which in turn incurred massive and crushing retaliation by Israel.

If you, Sir, fail to solve this problem, there will eventually be more firing of missiles by Hamas, and retaliation by Israel, with consequent escalation of the conflict. There is a danger of Iran and other nations increasing their involvement in the fighting, with untold negative consequences for the region and American interests there.

As a frequent traveler in the Middle East, I know firsthand how much you are loved and respected in the region. Please make the task of bringing reconciliation and peace to the Middle East a top priority, in the same way that you are working to solve America’s economic crisis. You can count on the support of the European Union and our friends in the area, such as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah of Jordan, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and all the Arab Gulf states. You may also consider a peacekeeping force (provided by the United Nations or a coalition of forces accepted by both sides). A key element for building lasting peace would be an economic reconstruction program to replace the destroyed infrastructure, homes and businesses in Gaza and the West Bank. To succeed, this reconstruction program should have the full support of the industrialized nations and wealthy Arab countries.

If you succeed in this task, Mr. Obama, you will have given Israel the greatest present since its creation. You will have put the nail in the coffin of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, which feed on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and you will earn the eternal gratitude of the nations of the world. Most of all, God will bless you as a peacemaker and will bless America.

Sam H. Zakhem is former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain.

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