The United States and Israel stand at a crossroads in our historic special relationship. Since recognizing Israel’s independence in 1948, we have stood by her as a beacon of political and economic freedom in the midst of tyrannical regimes and terrorists determined to destroy her. American support has been crucial to Israel’s continued existence and must be part of its future.
Today, the “Arab Spring” that toppled authoritarian rulers in Tunisia and Egypt now threatens tyrants in Libya and Syria. America should be working to ensure that these transitions do not come at the expense of security, especially Israel’s. But instead, our bond with Israel is unconscionably being torn apart by the Obama administration’s policies and its bizarre adversarial treatment of a long-standing friend.
Relations have been strained since President Obama came into office in 2009, but they reached an absurdly low level last week as, without warning, he called for Israel to return to its 1967 borders as a pre-condition for peace negotiations. In both style and substance, this is a dangerous innovation in U.S. policy that undermines the entire peace process by insisting on an unworkable goal that ignores what has transpired over the past 44 years and jeopardizes Israel’s security.
The U.S. must not predetermine the outcome of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Our focus should be on encouraging direct and meaningful negotiations between the sides and continuing to serve as a security guarantor in the region.
America’s role in this effort should be guided by a set of key principles that would ultimately resolve fundamental disagreements, end the conflict, and result in two democratic states living in peace and with security.
First, we must recognize that the safety of the Israeli people is first and foremost in the mind of every Israeli decision-maker. Decades of tough negotiations demonstrate Israel’s record of making enormous sacrifices to achieve peace with its neighbors when its people are reassured of their safety. Instead of pressuring Israel to accept demands we would never tolerate if we were in their shoes, we should do everything possible to assure Israeli safety and security.
Second, Israel should not be compelled to negotiate with any entity that openly denies its right to exist, refuses to reject terrorism, and refuses to honor previous agreements made with Israel and international organizations. Israel could only achieve lasting peace with a Palestinian state based on democratic values and with functioning institutions. The U.S. should actively support pragmatic efforts to build Palestinian institutions in Samaria, so that Palestinian self-rule becomes possible. However, implementation of the recently announced Fatah-Hamas agreement will compel Congress to cut off direct U.S. assistance to such a Palestinian governing authority and further delay the dream of Palestinian self-rule.
Third, any agreements on borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state should be the outcome of direct negotiations between the sides. After more than six decades of the modern state of Israel, it is unrealistic to believe that such negotiations will not be based on the defensibility of Israel’s borders as well as the demographic changes that have taken place. To ignore these realities would be a disservice to the Palestinian people who are in desperate need of strong leadership. On the refugee question, the right of return of Palestinians should mark a return to the eventual Palestinian state negotiated by both parties.
Fourth, in working towards a solution, we must secure verifiable commitments from the Arab nations to take meaningful steps to normalize relations with Israel and actively eradicate terrorist organizations that threaten the security not only of Israelis, but ultimately of the region as a whole. This is especially important during this period of transition in the Middle East.
Fifth, although the president failed to address the status of Jerusalem, we must make clear that it is Israel’s capital, as the U.S. Congress has repeatedly recognized. Jerusalem should never be divided again. Any eventual recognition of a Palestinian state should be accompanied by America’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state by finally relocating our embassy there.
And sixth, a legitimate agreement must include a Palestinian commitment to reject violence and live in peace with Israel and their neighbors. To date, the Palestinians have not been prepared to commit to this. The recently announced Fatah-Hamas coalition imperils this non-negotiable requirement for a final agreement and lasting peace. But no two-state solution is acceptable if it allows for perpetual conflict.
In the end, a two-state solution is only worth pursuing if it enhances Israel’s security and serves as a foundation for long-lasting peace in the region. This is more likely to be achieved if America reaffirms its unshakable commitment to the security of the democratic Jewish state of Israel.
At this moment of uncertainty and transition in the Middle East, with the threats from Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah as grave as ever, America must make clear to the world that we stand by our most loyal ally in the world and that, if Israel is left with only one friend in the world, that will be the United States.
— Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.