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A foolish letter from ‘wise men’ on the Middle East

Jun 27, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 39 • By ELLIOTT ABRAMS
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These proposals would cause the president political damage, not political risk. Further damage would be caused were he ever to adopt not only these positions but in addition the threatening attitude that is proposed. In his cover letter, Lee Hamilton explains:

Prospects for the implementation of these principles depend entirely on an understanding by both parties that there are consequences for their rejection. .  .  . In his speech, President Obama omitted reference to consequences. We believe the cost-benefit calculations of neither party will be changed without that understanding.

So these are not to be American proposals, but an American ultimatum to Israel. It is striking that the toughest language, about “consequences” and changing Israel’s “cost-benefit calculations,” is found not in the letter to the president but only in the introductory description from Lee Hamilton. Whether all of the signers agree with this approach cannot be certain, but it must be assumed that all of this was hashed out in advance.

The analysis and the proposals made in this letter reveal that many of America’s most experienced former senior officials now blame Israel alone for the freeze in Middle East peace negotiations. And they believe that Israel should be forced into compromises and sacrifices under enormous American pressure, even if the vast majority of Israelis oppose them and view them as dangerous. This is, to use State Department terminology, “deeply disturbing,” even if the likelihood that any president would accept this advice is small. 

No doubt the signers of the letter are frustrated that, in the age of the Arab Spring, there is no visible progress toward ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But as we all celebrate the demands for democracy in Arab lands, we can be thankful that American democracy remains strong. This fact ensures that neither the president nor Congress would ever accept the demands made here: to blame Israel alone for the failure to reach a peace agreement, threaten her, adopt positions that undermine her security, and abandon pledges made by American presidents of both parties.

Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was a deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.

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