Thursday, August 06, 2009

Cantor, Settlements, Iran and the Middle East Peace Process

In his latest visit to Israel, U.S. Representative Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) distanced himself from the president's focus on the Israeli settlements when they should, in his opinion direct their attention to Iran's purported attempt to manufacture nuclear weapons.

The Obama administration, however, criticized the Israeli government after it expelled several Palestinians were evicted from their homes in East Jerusalem, a city which both the Israelis and the Palestinians claim as their own. The administration apparently will try to get the now defunct Middle East peace process back on track by proposing a series of confidence building measures that would be endorsed by Israel's Arabic neighbors.

It believes several trust-building measures will be needed before either side could negotiate over the Palestinian territories' future. The Palestinians would be expected to reform their security forces and weed out those who incite violence. For their part, the Israelis would be required to freeze settlement construction projects.

King Abduallah II of Jordan reportedly has agreed to sign onto the administration's strategy but Saud al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, said his country does not support the approach.

The administration's concern with the Israelis' settlement program is warranted. Those settlements have been and are continuing to be constructed on the land which the Palestinians expect to gain in exchange for peace. Israel would cede the West Bank and Gaza to a newly created Palestinian state and in return the Palestinians would recognize a Jewish Israeli state's right to exist and the permanent cessation of hostilities. Terrorism would be thwarted.

Iran's nuclear program can no doubt destabilize the region further as its Sunni neighbors on the Arabian peninsula seek to offset its gains by seeking nuclear weapons for themselves but the Iranians would not dare to bomb the Israelis knowing full well there will be a reprisal. Nor should our concerns about Iran's nuclear program deprive us from our goal to eliminate an obstacle for achieving peace in the Middle East. Administrative officials can initiate negotiation talks on both tracks - one to restart the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and one with the Iranians to re-establish diplomatic ties and eliminate Iran's nuclear weapons program.

U.S. Representative Cantor and his Republican entourage offered the Israelis false hope. They are deluding themselves and the Israelis if they believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be sidestepped and they are, it should be noted, engaging in an activity their conservative backers condemned when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Syria in 2007.

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